The secret is out.
The University of Miami men’s basketball team, which was unranked until last week, barged its way into the national consciousness following blowout wins over top-ranked Duke and Florida State. The Hurricanes moved up from No. 25 to No. 14 in The Associated Press poll released Monday, and made their season debut in the USA Today Coaches’ Poll at No. 15.
UM is 15-3, and sits alone atop the Atlantic Coast Conference with a 6-0 record. The Canes have not been ranked this high in the AP poll since Feb. 5, 2002, when they were No. 12. Their highest ranking ever was No. 8 on March 1, 1960, and their highest since the 1985 resurrection of the program is No. 9 on March 1, 1999.
“It is wonderful that the pollsters have selected us in the top 15 schools in the country at this point in our season,” UM coach Jim Larranaga said. “Our players have worked very hard to achieve certain goals and being ranked was one of them. However, it is still very early in the conference race with 12 games still remaining. Our goal is really to be at our best at the end of February and throughout March.”
An 11-point jump in the AP poll is rare. Since 1989, only four teams have leaped that many spots in one week. Miami humiliated then-No. 1 Duke 90-63 on ESPN last Wednesday and was equally dominant in a 71-47 win over FSU on Sunday night.
The Hurricanes have an experienced team with six seniors on the roster, including four starters. That savvy, and the team chemistry that has formed over the years, is a big reason for UM’s success. But there is more to it than that, said North Carolina coach Roy Williams, whose team lost at home 68-59 to the Canes earlier this month. UM’s talent, he said, is underrated.
“Having veteran players is a tremendous asset, and some people say that’s the only reason UM is winning, but the truth is, they’re pretty doggone good,” Williams said Monday on a teleconference. “You’ve got [Shane] Larkin and [Durand] Scott in the backcourt, [Kenny] Kadji presents such matchup problems. You go down the line, and they’ve got all the parts. [Julian] Gamble makes fewer mistakes, and I’m just looking at it from a distance, than almost any of those quote role players. He dunks the ball every chance he gets, plays great defense. ... Bottom line, he’s pretty doggone good.
“Everybody would love to have talent and experienced talent, and they have both. ... I have a lot of freshmen, and in today’s times of college basketball, I’ll ask those kids: ‘Have you ever heard of this guy?’ They’ll say, ‘No.’ And I say, ‘Well, you should because he’s getting ready to kick your rear end tomorrow night. He may not be a McDonald’s All-American, but he’s really good.’ ”
FSU coach Leonard Hamilton, who coached the Canes to a No. 9 ranking and the Sweet 16, said after Sunday’s game that this UM team would eventually be noticed by the pollsters.
“You think the voters sit around all night and watch all the games? No. Most of the voters don’t see the teams play,” he said. “They vote on tradition, feel, scores. That’s why all that really matters is where you are at the end of the season. There is no question this is a top team in America, a nationally ranked team, and they will have a chance to earn their rightful place.”
The Canes are on the road Wednesday at Virginia Tech (11-8, 2-4 ACC) and Saturday at No. 19 North Carolina State (16-4, 5-2).