The Hurricanes, with a two-game lead in the ACC, see tough test ahead when they face NC State.
By CHARLIE McCARTHYFS Florida
Miami and North Carolina State have traded places in the past 3½ months.
The Hurricanes, picked to finish fourth in preseason voting by Atlantic Coast Conference coaches, currently own a perfect league mark and hold a two-game lead atop the standings.
Wolfpack, No. 1 in the preseason poll, are in fourth place and 2.5 games behind Miami.
So much for preseason rankings … at least to this point.
“I don’t agree with people saying NC State is going to win the ACC flat out,” 'Canes center Reggie Johnson said Friday on the phone from Raleigh, N.C. “You still have to battle.”
The two teams will do just that on Saturday afternoon, when Miami visits NC State in a regionally televised game at PNC Arena.
“That’s definitely motivation, knowing everybody expected them to be the best team in the ACC,” Miami point guard Shane Larkin said. “They definitely are one of the better teams in the ACC, just like we are one of the best teams in the ACC.”
The 14th-ranked Hurricanes (16-3) are the first ACC team not named Duke or North Carolina to begin conference play 7-0 since Virginia in 1981, when Miami coach Jim Larranaga was a Cavaliers assistant.
Miami, however, is 0-6 all-time at NC State. The Canes dropped both meetings with the Wolfpack last season.
No. 19 NC State (16-5, 5-3) has lost three league road games by a total of six points. The Wolfpack are 12-0 overall at home this season.
Saturday’s game could be determined by which team controls the tempo. The Wolfpack’s offense has averaged 73.9 points in league games and likes to get up the floor. The Hurricanes defense has held ACC foes to 55.4 points per game.
NC State might be without point guard Lorenzo Brown, a member of the All-ACC preseason team. The junior suffered a left-ankle sprain during Tuesday night’s 58-55 loss at Virginia.
"We'll see how he feels (Saturday)," NC State coach Mark Gottfried said. "The probability in my mind for him to be able to cut and move and spring and jump is pretty slim. We have to prepare as if he is not going to play, and then we will see."
Larkin, whom Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton called the best point guard in the ACC, said he hopes Brown plays.
“You always look forward to games like that, when you’re going to be up against one of the better players in the country,” Larkin said. “If he doesn’t play, I’m still going to go out there and play my hardest.
“At the end of the day, you always want to play against the best players. And on top of that, you don’t people saying, ‘Yeah, Miami beat them, but Lorenzo Brown didn’t play.’ ”
Johnson will be playing his fourth game since returning from a fractured thumb that forced him to miss eight games. A starter before the injury, the senior has come off the bench in victories against Duke, Florida State and at Virginia Tech.
“We’re winning right now, that’s the only thing that matters,” Johnson said. “I don’t want to change anything.”
So it really is all about the W?
“Yeah man, that’s the way it is. If people don’t understand that about us by now, I don’t think they’re ever going to get it,” said Johnson, who grew up in Winston-Salem, N.C., about 90 minutes from Raleigh.
Johnson, Julian Gamble and the other Miami big men will oppose a frontline led by junior forward C.J. Leslie (15.6 points, 7.3 rebounds) and senior forward Richard Howell (12.7 points, 11 rebounds). Leslie joined Brown on the preseason All-ACC team.
Miami’s lack of preseason honors means little to Gottfriend.
"The thing that stands out with Miami is that they play like a veteran team," the coach said. "They understand exactly offensively what they are trying to do and how they want to score and who needs to do what. They have size inside, three legitimate big, strong, capable post players.
"This is a team that is built for a lot of success."