Duke is coming off its fourth ACC loss, second defeat in two weeks, and dropped its first matchup this season with Miami by 27 points. Yet, the Hurricanes, who are 14-1 in the ACC, are the team that much of the nation believes has something to prove when they venture into Cameron Indoor Stadium on Saturday evening in a battle between top-five teams.
The game has historic implications for Miami (23-4). With a victory, the Hurricanes will win their first outright regular season title in basketball. They will also sweep the Blue Devils, effectively knocking Duke from any chance at landing a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament while assuming a spot on the top line themselves.
This is a big game for Miami, maybe the biggest in school history. Though don’t tell that to coach Jim Larranaga.
“I think, quite frankly, the media makes it out to be the be all and end all,” the Hurricanes’ coach said Thursday afternoon. “When we talk, we talk about every game being of equal importance. … Every game is hugely important.”
But no matter where the Hurricanes’ players go, they can’t escape the hysteria.
“People are reading about our team and are excited about our team and there’s a great buzz and people are looking forward to this game on Saturday since we played them last,” the second-year coach said. “But for us, we’ve had to take them one game at a time.”
Senior forward Kenny Kadji, who must play well – which means hit shots along with the other intangibles he brings to the floor – can’t wait to suit up and go at it.
“It’s the biggest game of the year. We can win the ACC there,” the 6-foot-11 Kadji said before alluding to the controversy over Miami slapping the floor when it beat Duke. “The whole thing about slapping the floor, and I think whoever wins that game will get a No. 1 ranking for next week. … We know they will be ready and have probably been talking about it since they lost here. It will be fun.”
Duke (22-4, 11-4) must quickly rebound from losing at Virginia less than 48 hours before this game will tip off. The Blue Devils still have a chance at tying the Canes for the regular season title, but must win out and hope Miami loses out.
Pick: Miami, 71-66.
Maryland (19-9, 7-8) at Wake Forest (12-15, 5-10)
When: Noon Full Court Press: Maryland can’t afford another regular season loss if it’s to have any chance at making the NCAA Tournament as an at-large team. The Terrapins have lost at Boston College and Georgia Tech in the last two weeks, and a loss at Wake Forest likely will seal their fate. The Demon Deacons have been pretty good at home, having beaten Miami, Virginia, N.C. State and Xavier at Joel Coliseum, so expect another solid effort by Jeff Bzdelik’s squad. Pick: Wake Forest, 73-66.
Clemson (13-14, 5-10) at Virginia Tech (12-16, 3-12)
When: 8 p.m. Full Court Press: Not much at stake in this game other than that Clemson still has a chance to finish with a winning overall record. So this is really more an opportunity to improve and build bridges to next year as much as anything else. Clemson may have more talent but the Hokies are at home and should get enough from the other guys to complement Erick Green. Pick: Virginia Tech, 66-60.
Florida State (15-13, 7-8) at North Carolina (20-8, 10-5)
When: 2 p.m. Full Court Press: The Tar Heels are on a roll, even if they didn’t play to Roy Williams’ liking Thursday at Clemson. But Williams isn’t always happy with his teams because he has high expectations. Carolina is coming off a nice road win over the Tigers and no must deal with an FSU team that hasn’t played well of late and is young. The Dean Dome likely will beat the young Seminoles. Pick: UNC, 75-61.
Virginia (20-8, 10-5) at Boston College (12-16, 4-11)
When: 4 p.m. Full Court Press: The Cavaliers must guard against a led down heading to Chestnut Hill after beating Duke on Thursday night. The last team (Maryland) that beat Duke lost at BC in their next game, but the Wahoos are a smarter bunch, a better team and better coached. Joe Harris may not go off for 36 in this one, and it might be good for Virginia if some of the other guys have big games. BC must run a more fluid offense than it did in recent losses at Duke and N.C. State. Pick: Virginia, 62-56.
N.C. State (20-8, 9-6) at Georgia Tech (15-12, 5-10)
When: 6 p.m. Full Court Press: Dangerous game for the Wolfpack, who haven’t been very good on the road this season. NCSU is 2-5 on the road in ACC play with the wins by five points at Boston College and at the buzzer at Clemson. Tech is better than both the Eagles and Tigers and have improved more than any of the lower half teams in the league over the last five weeks. The Wolfpack needs for Scott Wood to keep hitting 3s and freshmen T.J. Warren (forward) and Rodney Purvis (guard) to complement the other veterans. Pick: Georgia Tech, 69-65.