The surging University of Miami men’s basketball team, which jumped to No. 14 in the Associated Press poll this week, is about to find out what it’s like to be the hunted.
After years of being a middle-of-the-pack team hoping to win Atlantic Coast Conference games, the Hurricanes are 15-3 and have sole possession of the league lead with a 6-0 record heading into Wednesday night’s game at Virginia Tech.
UM raised its national profile last week with a 90-63 thumping of then-top-ranked Duke and a 71-47 rout of Florida State. Only once since 1990 had a team leaped 11 spots in the rankings in one week.
Although Hurricanes fans are giddy about seeing Miami ahead of Duke and North Carolina in the ACC standings for a change, UM players realize it means every opponent will now give them their best.
“I’ve explained to our guys that we’re not flying under the radar screen anymore,” UM coach Jim Larranaga said. “We’ve got people’s attention. We have a target on our backs. That excitement we felt before we played Duke, that’s how excited our opponents are going to be to play us.”
The Canes are on a seven-game win streak and have won their ACC games by an average of 13.5 points. Their veteran roster — six seniors, including four of the starters — has been winning with poise, confidence and tenacious defense. They are holding opponents to an average of 54 points and a conference-low 34.3 percent shooting. Duke shot a season-low 29.7 percent against UM, as did FSU (30.8 percent).
Virginia Tech coach James Johnson, a former assistant of Larranaga’s at George Mason, conceded it will be a very tough matchup for his Hokies (11-8, 2-4), who have lost eight of their past 12 games.
“We’re coming off two tough losses and now face a tough test against a team playing what I think is some of the best basketball in the country right now,” Johnson said. “For them, it all starts with the little general, Shane Larkin. He is one of the better point guards in the league, running the show, distributing the ball, rebounding. He almost had a triple-double the other night.”
Johnson went on to praise the Hurricanes’ front court, as well.
“Kenny Kadji is an inside-outside threat. [Julian] Gamble is physical, a great defender, a sixth-year guy playing really good basketball. Then you’ve got [Reggie] Johnson, Trey McKinney Jones, Durand Scott, an all-league type of player. They are very talented at every position, have a very good coach, and are playing with a lot of confidence.’’
UM’s biggest challenge will be stopping Hokies guard Erick Green, whose 25.2-point average leads the nation.
“The guy is a scoring machine,” Larranaga said. “He is tremendous in the open court. He’s good at getting fouled and cashing in at the free-throw line. He has scored 20 points every game, but one. He’s a handful for anybody.”