CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) – Miami Hurricanes center Julian Gamble learned about his team’s latest ranking when he received a flurry of phone messages, including one from his mother in North Carolina.
“She texted me – ‘No. 3. Wow. That’s crazy,'” Gamble said. “I didn’t even know what she was talking about.”
For the sixth-year senior, the Hurricanes’ unprecedented achievement was a little tough to grasp. They were ranked behind only No. 1 Indiana and No. 2 Duke in Monday’s poll, and received a school-record 17 first-place votes.
The Hurricanes (19-3, 10-0 ACC) had never previously been ranked higher than No. 8. Last week they achieved that spot for the first time since 1960, and they’ll put their new ranking on the line Wednesday night when they visit archrival Florida State.
“I’ve never really thought that Miami could be a top 10 program,” senior center Reggie Johnson said. “I didn’t think we’d be here in February. It’s surreal.”
Miami cracked the Top 25 three weeks ago and has since enjoyed a rapid rise, thanks to a succession of impressive victories and a flurry of losses by highly ranked teams. With the Hurricanes’ 87-61 win Saturday over North Carolina, they became the first ACC team ever to beat the Tar Heels and Duke by at least 25 points in the same season.
The Hurricanes, who defeated then-No. 1 Duke 90-63 on Jan. 23, are so good they’ve even started to quibble that their ranking isn’t high enough.
“It does feel strange Duke is still ahead of our team,” Johnson said. “I feel like if the poll’s really legit, we should be ranked in front of them.”
Coach Jim Larranaga said the Hurricanes are handling success and attention well in part because they’re a senior-laden team. Miami takes an 11-game winning streak into Wednesday, and several players said they expect the games to start getting tougher.
“The target on our back is bigger than it ever was,” Gamble said.
“We’re going to get everybody’s best shot,” added guard Shane Larkin, who is averaging 16.5 points on 61.5 percent shooting and 5.5 assists in his last four games.
Larkin’s only a sophomore, but Miami’s other four starters are seniors who are well aware the program’s in uncharted territory. So is Larranaga, who is in his second season with Miami after leading George Mason to the Final Four in 2006.
The Hurricanes have already set a school record for ACC victories in a season, and the last time they received any votes for No. 1 was in March 1960.
“This is what every program strives for,” Larranaga said. “Carolina and Duke have this every year. It’s a little different for us.”
Miami’s last result against the Seminoles (13-10, 5-5) was also a little different. The Hurricanes posted their third victory in the last 15 meetings, dominating Florida State in a 71-47 win at home Jan. 27.
Coach Leonard Hamilton, whose Seminoles shot a season-low 30.8 percent in that game, came away impressed with the Hurricanes.
“They played like a mature team that understands what it takes to grind it out,” Hamilton said. “They could do great things this year.”
The Seminoles had another poor shooting effort Saturday, hitting 32.6 percent and committing 17 turnovers in a 71-46 loss at Wake Forest. Florida State, the reigning ACC tournament champion, has dropped five of eight, with senior Michael Snaer averaging 8.4 points in those defeats – 5.5 less than his team-leading average. He had a season-low four versus Miami.
“We put our uniforms on right,” Hamilton said. “That’s about where it stopped. … I look at the stats, even though the stats are not very good from my standpoint, I think we probably played worse than the stats say.”