If the University of Miami men’s basketball team is feeling any pressure with a No. 14 national ranking, a perfect 7-0 record in the Atlantic Coast Conference and an eight-game win streak heading into Saturday’s game at No. 19 North Carolina State, it sure isn’t letting on.
The seemingly unflappable Hurricanes rolled into Raleigh, N.C., by bus on Thursday from Blacksburg, Va., where they overcame a 12-point deficit and the nation’s leading scorer to beat Virginia Tech. Nothing seems to rattle this bunch, which boasts six seniors and cool-as-a-cucumber sophomore point guard Shane Larkin, who poured in 25 points against the Hokies.
Top-ranked Duke came to town, students camped out, sold-out arena, Dick Vitale and a national TV audience. No worries. The Hurricanes humiliated the Blue Devils by 27.
Rival Florida State shows up a few days later, champing at the bit and with former UM coach Leonard Hamilton determined to shut down the multifaceted Miami offense. Not a chance. Canes by 24.
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UM coach Jim Larranaga and his staff have managed to keep the Hurricanes (16-3) focused on their task despite the team’s growing list of accolades.
Larranaga was particularly proud of the win at Virginia Tech.
“I had told the team on Monday that Virginia Tech would be a perfect test for us because they are very, very good at home, they had the nation’s top scorer in Erick Green, and they play both man and zone defense,” Larranaga said by phone Friday. “I knew we’d be tested to the ultimate. It was a gut check, and we handled it. I expect a similar type of test against N.C. State.”
He pointed out that the Wolfpack (16-5, 5-3) leads the nation in transition baskets, boasts six players in double figures and ranks in the top 10 nationally in field-goal percentage. The key, he said, will be Miami’s defense in transition and the half court.
“They have a lot of weapons and share the ball as well as anybody,” Larranaga said. “We will need the kind of poise we had against Virginia Tech. That was the kind of road win you really appreciate as a coach.”
One of the most anticipated matchups of Saturday’s game — the point guard battle between Larkin and N.C. State’s Lorenzo Brown — might not happen. Brown, who averaged 14.7 points and a league-leading 8.7 assists in the past seven games, injured his ankle during Tuesday’s 58-55 loss to Virginia. He was still in a walking boot on Friday, and coach Mark Gottfried said his status was questionable for the game.
If Brown doesn’t play, the ball will be in the care of freshman guard Rodney Purvis and backup Tyler Lewis.
Larranaga said he has no doubt his players will be ready for the Wolfpack.
“This league is so good, that your next opponent is always very, very good, so you have no choice but to stay focused,” Larranaga said. “If we worry about our win streak or rankings, or gloat on our last victories, our minds won’t be focused on the present task. So far, we’ve been very focused no matter if we’ve been home or away, and that makes coaches very happy.”