Miami playing with chip on its shoulder

GREENSBORO, N.C. — In a strange sort of way, Miami had something to prove Saturday afternoon. The Hurricanes are still flying under the national radar, and they don’t mind one bit.

The ‘Canes won the ACC regular-season title outright and had beaten Boston College on Friday in the ACC tournament quarterfinals hours before second-seed Duke, also in contention for an NCAA top seed, lost to Maryland. Yet, it’s Miami that has had a difficult time corralling the respect of the nation, despite the obvious: It is a darn good team.

So Saturday’s 81-71 semifinals victory over North Carolina State was crucial for the ‘Canes in terms of finding more believers and, most important, impressing the NCAA selection committee. Miami (26-6) had already won at N.C. State in February, and two victories over the athletic and talented Wolfpack in their own state is something the committee notices. And it wasn’t exactly a split crowd in the stands at the Greensboro Coliseum, either.

You could count on both hands a few times over the number of Hurricanes fans here, but half of the building was rooting for the Wolfpack. So this was a literal road game for the ‘Canes.

But they handled it well. The ‘Canes came out strong, led by an early onslaught by senior guard Durand Scott, who scored 17 of their first 30 points, hit five 3-pointers on the day and converted a bunch of driving layups and finished with 32 points. Fellow guard Shane Larkin totaled 23 points, and the backcourt tandem combined for 10 rebounds.

Together, they combined for 55 points while the Hurricanes still won the rebounding battle 37-27. It isn’t often a team can dominate so thoroughly in both aspects of the game, but this Miami team is built to handle just about anything.

“It’s our talent and our coaching,” senior forward Julian Gamble said. “It’s our personnel. If you look at our roster, we have every type of player that you could possibly want on a college team. … Basically, it’s like pick your poison; you can’t stop all of (their) options.”

Miami’s strengths aren’t just limited to scoring from the perimeter and grabbing rebounds. It can score inside, too, and the ‘Canes can be quite stingy on defense. They also tend to play better and more aggressively with a chip on their shoulders.

It was a driving force for most of the season, fueled by being selected fourth in the ACC.  While it fell off for a few weeks, the chip has returned. And as far as Kenny Kadji sees it, that’s a good thing. The chip is going to stick around.

“It’s unbelievable,” Kadji said, “how many people voted us to win this tournament, like two, I think? And now we’re in the championship. We love to be the underdog. We started out the season like that, and I hope we are that way until the end.”

On Saturday, Miami opened up a 16-5 lead and never let up.  The lead stretched to 19 at one time and usually dangled in the low-to-mid teens. Only a few flurries by N.C. State teased Wolfpack supporters they had a chance. Everyone else in the massive arena knew this was Miami’s game, and in 2013 this may be Miami’s league.

“I think, for these guys, they’ve earned the right to play in the championship game by how well they’ve played in this tournament. …” Miami coach Jim Larranaga said. “We did a great job of moving to the finals.”

And the Hurricanes will do so with their collective rhino horns pointed in the same direction, bulling through the perceptions that continue. And with one more victory, senior forward Reggie Johnson says, the ‘Canes can reach two more goals, though they don’t plan on stopping there.

“We have to continue doing our work,” Johnson said. “If we win this tournament, I’d think we would have done enough and hopefully we will come out tomorrow ready to win, and if we do we definitely deserve a No. 1 seed. And then, more goals to conquer.”