It took a while, but the University of Miami men’s basketball team is finally being noticed on campus and around the country.
The Hurricanes cracked the Top 25 on Monday for the first time since Jan. 11, 2010, and their nationally-televised showdown against top-ranked Duke on Wednesday at the BankUnited Center is creating such a buzz that students are expected to camp out on “Larranaga Lawn” adjacent to the arena in order to secure the 1,300 designated student tickets.
UM entered the Associated Press poll at No. 25, and was one spot away from making the USA Today coaches’ poll.
As of late Monday afternoon, fewer than 120 tickets remained on sale to the general public for Wednesday’s 7 p.m. game, which will be televised on ESPN with Dick Vitale as commentator. The Canes are 13-3 and sit alone atop the Atlantic Coast Conference with a 4-0 record, ahead of N.C. State (15-3, 4-1) and Duke (16-1, 3-1).
The last time UM played Duke, on Feb. 25, 2012, at Cameron Indoor, the Canes upset the Blue Devils 78-74 in overtime. Miami coach Jim Larranaga, always urging his players to treat all games equally, admitted this one feels different already.
“There’s a buzz, no question about it,” Larranaga told reporters Monday morning. “There’s a lot of talk, a lot of people I haven’t seen in a long time asking for tickets.”
As for how he feels about the grass alongside the arena being dubbed “Larranaga Lawn,” the coach smiled and said: “I’m just happy our students know we have a game on Wednesday and they plan on attending.”
Larranaga said his message to his players leading into the Duke game is not to let the buzz surrounding the game affect their approach or preparation.
“My message to them is to be who we are and not try to be something different,” he said. “They are very highly regarded, ranked very high in the national rankings, but the game has to be played and the game plan executed on Wednesday night. … We have handled big games well, but also stumbled a few times. We know if you don’t play your best, you do not have a good chance to win.”
The top 25 polls had not been released at the time of Larranaga’s press conference, but he was asked if it bothered him that his team was left off the rankings last week despite a Top 5 Ratings Percentage Index and Strength of Schedule on computer ranking systems. He lamented that the poll system is affected by preseason “perceptions,” based on reputation and last year’s results, and “once those perceptions and rankings are solidified in November, if you’re in it, you have to play your way out, and if you’re out, you have to play your way in. You can’t do that by beating one team. You’ve gotta beat a lot of teams.”
Apparently, the Canes’ ACC wins over Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Maryland and Boston College did the trick.