Florida St.-Miami Preview
CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP)
A burly man with a big grin hollered in support of the Miami Hurricanes, his voice standing out even amid the crowd's clamor.
"I heard somebody scream my name when I was shooting a free throw," guard Shane Larkin said. "I looked, and it was Warren Sapp. I was like, that's crazy."
Even for a 300-pound former NFL star, there's still room on the Miami bandwagon. But it's growing fast.
Off to their best ACC start and alone atop the league standings, the No. 25 Hurricanes look to build on an emphatic win Sunday when they host rival Florida State.
A rare capacity crowd of 7,972, including Sapp, turned out for Miami's latest victory, a 90-63 drubbing of No. 1 Duke on Wednesday night.
"This is my fifth year here, and I've never ever seen the gym like that before," center Reggie Johnson said. "It was special. Hopefully we can keep it going."
The sellout was only the 10th in the Hurricanes' 10-year-old on-campus arena, and another full house is expected Sunday.
"That's our goal - to get people excited about our program," coach Jim Larranaga said. "It's the first time in the university's basketball history that we've been able to create that kind of buzz."
Larranaga has the Hurricanes (14-3, 5-0) on the rise in only his second season with the school, and their success is welcome tonic as the athletic department awaits the results of an NCAA investigation that began more than a year ago.
The Hurricanes cracked the rankings this week for the first time in three years. The victory over a No. 1 team was their first ever.
"It's something that has never been done before, and the guys are very excited about it," said guard Durand Scott, who scored a season-high 25 against Duke and averages a team-best 14.6 points. "But we know this is just now. We've got more to work on, and more that's ahead of us. Now everybody is going to see Miami as 'that team.' We've got to come out every game like it's the last."
The Hurricanes' schedule ranks among the toughest in the nation. Their six-game winning streak includes three road league victories, and they beat No. 13 Michigan State at home in November. They appear likely to make the NCAA tournament for only the second time since 2002, thanks to a team that is deep, big and experienced.
Larranaga, who led George Mason to a Final Four berth in 2006, preaches aggressiveness on defense and balance on offense. Scott, Larkin and Trey McKinney Jones are solid perimeter players, while 6-10 Johnson, 6-10 Julian Gamble and 6-11 Kenny Kadji are forces inside.
Gamble is a sixth-year senior; Scott, Johnson, Kadji and McKinney Jones and are also seniors. The five have started 282 games for the Hurricanes.
The 292-pound Johnson, an intriguing NBA prospect, gave the Hurricanes a lift when he came off the bench against Duke after being sidelined since Dec. 18 with a broken left thumb. He hadn't been able to practice but called Larranaga on Wednesday morning with the surprising news he was ready to return.
Johnson, who averages 11.3 points and 9.5 rebounds, gives the Hurricanes extra heft going into the heart of their ACC schedule.
While Miami is suddenly the darling of the ACC, the Seminoles would love to deal them a loss, and they've done a good job of that lately having won 12 of the last 14 meetings.
Florida State (11-7, 3-2) is led by Michael Snaer, who averages 14.5 points and is shooting 40.0 percent from beyond the arc. The senior guard lifted the Seminoles to a 60-57 win over Clemson on Thursday by hitting a 3-pointer at the buzzer, and he also had game-winners last season against Duke and Virginia Tech.
Snaer averaged 17.3 points and was 9 of 16 from 3-point range as Florida State went 2-1 against Miami in 2011-12, including an 82-71 victory in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament.