Miami in spotlight as Duke seeks revenge

A television commercial is letting it be known Duke wants revenge against a certain team. Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski is talking about how that team is “really good.’’
Nope, it’s not Duke’s traditional rival North Carolina. And it’s not anybody that ever has been a rival with the Blue Devils.
It’s the Miami Hurricanes, once a college basketball afterthought.
But the fifth-ranked Hurricanes will be in the national spotlight Saturday night when they play No. 3 Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium. A win would clinch the ACC regular-season title, could vault Miami into the No. 1 spot in the nation and would prove the 90-63 dissecting of then top-ranked Duke on Jan. 23 at the BankUnited Center was no fluke.
“It’s very strange,’’ Hurricanes senior center Kenny Kadji admits about seeing his team in this position. “We were talking (when Miami coach Jim Larranaga) got here (in 2011), and it was like, ‘Who are best teams in the ACC?’ And we say Duke and North Carolina, and they’re in a place where they have to chase us. They’re behind us. That’s kind of weird.’’
But it’s true. The Hurricanes will play on national television (ESPN) in the most anticipated game in their hoops history.
The game lost some luster when the Blue Devils were upset 73-68 Thursday at Virginia. But you better believe they will still be hungry to avenge that ugly defeat from earlier in the season.
With No. 1 Indiana and No. 4 Michigan already having lost this week, the Hurricanes are in position to at least return to the No. 2 ranking they had before losing 80-65 last Saturday at Wake Forest. No. 2 Gonzaga probably won’t fall Saturday at home to lowly Portland, but a big win over Duke could get the Hurricanes to No. 1.
The way the Hurricanes took apart the Blue Devils the last time they played, who’s to think it can’t happen again?
“If we can go into Duke, one of the traditional powerhouses of college and one of the best teams in the ACC every year and clinch, that would be an amazing experience and add another moment to an already special season,’’ said Miami point guard Shane Larkin, who had 18 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in the rout of the Blue Devils.
When Duke (24-4, 11-4 ACC) lost Thursday, the Hurricanes (23-4, 14-1 ACC) clinched at least a tie for their first ACC regular-season title. The only way they won’t win it outright is if they drop their last three games and the Blue Devils win their final three.
It’s unlikely the Hurricanes are going to blow that lead, but they sure would find it more fun to win the crown at Duke.
“We can win the ACC at their place, them being a powerhouse and a great program,’’ Kadji said. “It would be great to do that there… You know they’re going to be ready. They probably have been talking about (Saturday’s game) since they lost here. So they’re going to be pumped.’’
If there’s any doubt about that, check out a commercial ESPN has been running all week. It displays on the screen in big letters that Duke wants “Revenge.’’
One wonders if the Blue Devils were looking a bit ahead when they faced Virginia. Even Krzyzewski was talking in an ESPN Radio interview early this week about the Hurricanes.
“Miami is really good,’’ Krzyzewski said. “And they’re old. They’re old together as a team and they’re old in age. Kadji is going to be 25 in May and (center Julian) Gamble is a six-year guy. They’ve got two other (key) guys who are seniors (in guard Durand Scott and big man Reggie Johnson), and so that helps. Whenever you have an older team that’s talented, I think you have an advantage. They’ve earned that advantage. That’s not a knock on them. They use their resources well, and Jim Larranaga has definitely done that.’’
Not surprisingly, the game was being talked about on the Miami campus before the Hurricanes faced Virginia Tech on Wednesday. Fortunately for the Hurricanes, the Hokies are the worst team in the ACC and it was a 76-58 mismatch.
“Since the Wake Forest game, we didn’t even play Virginia Tech yet and everybody was like, ‘Beat Duke’ and ‘I can’t wait for Saturday’ and things like that,’’ Kadji said. “I saw the commercial. It was great.’’
Larranaga was not thrilled with all the talk about Duke before the Hurricanes had faced the Hokies. And he sounded an alarm that perhaps too much emphasis was being placed on Saturday’s game.
“Quite frankly, the media makes it out to be the be all, end all,’’ Larranaga said. “But when we talk, we talk about every game being of equal importance… One of things that’s happening right now is people are reading about our team and excited about our team. There’s a great buzz. People have been looking forward to this game on Saturday since we played them last. But for us we had to take it one game at a time.’’
At least the Blue Devils are now the next opponent. So Larranaga might not mind that Kadji said it’s “going to be the best game of the year’’ or that Larkin said “it’s just another game on the schedule’’ and then laughed along with the media.
Even though the game earlier this season in Miami is getting all the attention, it should be noted the Hurricanes actually have a two-game winning streak against the Blue Devils.
An unranked Miami outfit won at No. 5 Duke 78-74 in overtime on Feb. 5, 2012. That was the first time the Hurricanes ever at won at Cameron Indoor Stadium after seven straight losses.
“Having won there last year gives you a sense of understanding that you can win but you have to play very, very well,’’ Larranaga said.
It will be a tough chore for the Hurricanes to do it again. It’s not out of the question Duke could get back key forward Ryan Kelly, who has missed the past 13 games due to a foot injury.
And then there are the Cameron Crazies, who can intimidate many a foe. As the television ad suggests, they’ll come Saturday with revenge on their minds.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at or on Twitter @christomasson