Miami looks to prove itself vs. No. 1 Duke
CORAL GABLES, Fla. — Duke University students long have camped outside Cameron Indoor Stadium before men’s basketball games. They form an area dubbed “Krzyzewskiville” in honor of the school’s Hall of Fame coach.
With Mike Krzyzewski and the top-ranked Blue Devils visiting the BankUnited Center for Wednesday night’s nationally televised game, Miami students planned to pitch some tents themselves.
One sign promoted “Larranaga’s Lawn,” while Hurricanes guard Shane Larkin suggested the location be known as “Larranagaland.”
UM coach Jim Larranaga didn’t have a preference.
“I’m just happy our students know there’s a game on Wednesday and they plan on coming,” said Larranaga, who added he sensed a special atmosphere around campus this week.
“There’s a buzz, there’s no question about it. There’s a lot of talk,” he said. “There’s been a lot of people I haven’t heard from in years call and ask me for tickets. Although I was sorry to say no to them, I’m very happy the reason I’m saying no to them is we’ll have a sellout crowd and great student participation.”
The Hurricanes (13-3, 4-0) entered the national rankings this week at No. 25, their first appearance in the AP Poll since being 23rd on Jan. 11, 2010.
Miami’s non-conference strength of schedule is No. 1 and its RPI (Ratings Percentage Index) is among the top 5 nationally. If a school such as Duke had that resume, the Blue Devils likely would have been ranked throughout the season so far.
Such is life for a program trying to establish itself as a perennial powerhouse.
“We have a lot of opportunities to play in front of the nation and on TV, so I think we have an opportunity to show them what we have,” Canes forward/center Julian Gamble said. “I think that if we just continue winning, obviously the ranking will come. But that’s not the most important thing to me. The most important number to me and to our team is the wins.”
Miami is among the many schools that often lose out to more tradition-rich programs when the preseason Top 25 gets released every fall. Thus, the Hurricanes must play their way into the rankings while hoping some schools play their way out.
“I do think the Top 25 begins before anybody’s played a game, so you have no idea who’s good, but there’s a perception as to who’s good,” Larranaga said. “To us, (the ranking) is not really important, nor relevant, as to what kind of team you have. What is relevant is the RPI.”
The biggest reason for an RPI’s relevance is its importance to the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament Selection Committee in determining at-large bids for the Big Dance.
“Anyone can have an opinion as to who’s good, but you are greatly influenced by a lot of factors,” Larranaga said. “A computer ranking isn’t influenced by any personal feelings. It’s only influenced by the input into the system. The computer doesn’t know Kentucky won the national championship last year. It only knows what it’s doing this year.”
Thus, the computer doesn’t know Miami defeated then-No. 7 Duke 78-74 in overtime at Cameron last season. Reggie Johnson had a career-high 27 points and 12 rebounds in that game.
Johnson, however, will sit Wednesday night. The senior center remains sidelined with a fractured thumb, although he has traded a cast for a splint and has resumed some basketball activities. Based on the initial 6-8 week prognosis, Johnson could return as soon as early February.
Coach K’s Blue Devils (16-1, 3-1) also will be without a key starter. Forward Ryan Kelly is sidelined 2-4 weeks with a foot injury.
Miami will enter the meeting 3-15 all-time vs. Duke, and 0-6 all-time against teams ranked No. 1 in the nation.
“When you get the schedule, you always circle that game because you know they’re always one of the best teams in the country and you always want to beat them,” Larkin said. “When I came here, I actually said I wanted to beat Duke, I wanted to beat (North) Carolina, and I’ve done that.
“(But) I’ve never beaten a No. 1 team. I don’t think I ever played against a No. 1 team. Definitely, with them coming here and the way we’re playing, it’s a great opportunity for our team and our program.”