Kenny Kadji is as big a University of Miami football fan as anybody on campus (figuratively, and, at 6-11, literally), but he sheepishly admitted he’s glad the football season is over because now maybe the basketball program will get more attention.
In fact, the Hurricanes forward hopes fans start paying attention Wednesday night. No. 13 Michigan State is playing UM in an Atlantic Coast Conference-Big Ten Challenge game at BankUnited Center. The 7:30 p.m. game is being shown on ESPN, and it is the most high-profile home nonconference game in recent years. UM has played just two ranked nonconference opponents at home over the past seven seasons.
Last year, the Canes lost 71-54 to No. 21 Memphis. The last significant nonconference home win for UM was Dec. 15, 2001, when the Canes upset No. 21 Indiana 58-53 in the Orange Bowl Classic in front of a crowd of 8,949 at AmericanAirlines Arena.
Kadji and his teammates would like nothing more than to have that kind of night, in front of a huge crowd. He said he has sensed a bit of a buzz around campus: In his sports marketing class, one student ended a presentation on how to market the UM basketball program with a reminder about Wednesday’s game.
“Everybody [in the class] said they were coming to the game, but I’ll wait and see,” Kadji said.
Center Reggie Johnson is also hoping to draw energy from the home crowd.
“It’s ESPN, prime time, a top 20 team,” he said.
“If that doesn’t get fans here juiced, I don’t know what to say.”
Michigan State (5-1) hasn’t lost since its season opener against No. 23 Connecticut in Germany, but the Spartans committed 20 turnovers in back-to-back games last week. Spartans coach Tom Izzo, furious, vowed to correct the problem. The return of guard Travis Trice might help. Trice has been out since sustaining a concussion against UConn. He hopes to play Wednesday.
Izzo said he expects a tough battle from UM (3-1), especially now that Durand Scott is back from a six-game NCAA suspension. Izzo said Scott is “the guy that stirs the drink” for the Hurricanes.
UM coach Jim Larranaga heaped praise on Izzo, called him a “Hall of Fame” coach, and said his team is excited to face the Spartans because of “the status they hold in college basketball.” Larranaga has a good track record against Izzo. When he was the coach at Bowling Green, two of his teams beat MSU teams of which Izzo was an assistant. His most memorable win against Izzo was during George Mason’s magical run to the 2006 Final Four. His 11th-seeded team beat MSU 75-65 in the first round.
“Hopefully there will be a national audience watching [Wednesday] and hopefully the recruits that watch it will be impressed with the way we play,” Larranaga said. “It will be huge for future attendance.”