Between the rowdy and reenergized home crowd, the brash showboating and floor-slapping—a derisive imitation of Duke’s trademark defensive gesture—Miami is exhibiting the moxie typical of a league favorite.
That’s the Hurricanes, not the Heat, by the way.
There was no differentiating the two on Wednesday night, as Jim Larranaga’s team, in its best impression of the “Big Three,” turned to a scaled-down triumvirate of Durand Scott, Shane Larkin and Kenny Kadji to undress and unseat top-ranked Duke. The 27-point throttling dealt the Blue Devils a chilling blow, an even more distressing reality check, while lifting the Hurricanes to a cozy two-game lead atop the ACC standings. Yes, in basketball.
Three weeks into an ACC season that promised intrigue from the get-go, if only because of its watered-down form, long-slighted Miami controls its own destiny. The Hurricanes, which have played without their wide-bodied game-changer in the middle for all but 16 measly minutes in conference play, have taken the league by storm, producing winds strong enough to ensnare the preseason conference favorite and nation’s No. 1 team [for now] all at once.
The first-place Canes may not be the ACC’s best team over a filling 18-game schedule. Long-term questions remain unanswered, including the health of Reggie Johnson, who rushed back several weeks ahead of schedule from a broken thumb to suit up against Duke. Larranaga’s veteran-laden squad understands the tall task at hand, that bigger games and stiffer tests lie ahead as the bull’s eye transfers onto their backs. And that’s precisely why this quietly dangerous gang has a legitimate chance of winning the league.
“We’ve got a lot of important games ahead,” Larranaga rationalized after the program’s first-ever win over a No 1 team. “This is one of many that you have to play well in.”
Other important games than just beating No. 1? That’s fresh. He’s right.
North Carolina State, picked in October by the coaches and writers to win the ACC outright, was mistaken in thinking its season ended after dethroning then-No. 1 Duke eleven days ago in a quasi national championship game. Since then, the Wolfpack have been reeling, losers of two of their last three games against subpar competition.