Another day, another milestone for the plucky University of Miami men’s basketball team, which in the past two weeks has gone from unranked and little-noticed to one of the national feel-good stories of the season.
On Monday, the Hurricanes moved up to (gulp!) No. 8 in The Associated Press poll and No. 11 in the USA Today coaches poll.
The last time the Hurricanes were ranked this high was March 1, 1960. The Canes played their home games at the Miami Beach Convention Center back then, Dick Hickox was about to become the school’s first All-American and John F. Kennedy was preparing his presidential campaign.
UM broke into the Top 25 two weeks ago after thumping then-No. 1 Duke by 27 points. They moved up to No. 14 last week, and this week jumped up six more spots after road wins at Virginia Tech and then-No. 19 North Carolina State. The Canes are 17-3 and 8-0 in the Atlantic Coast Conference heading into Tuesday’s home game against Boston College.
“This is special,” said senior center Reggie Johnson, whose tip-in with 0.8 seconds remaining edged N.C. State 79-78 on the road Saturday. “The highest we’ve been ranked since I’ve been here was 16th preseason my freshman year, and I didn’t even play. For me to be able to be part of a top-10 program in the country is crazy. I would have never thought that, especially being in Miami. Fans don’t come to our gym. The knock on us was you come to our gym and there’s no home-court advantage.
“But our fans are definitely coming out now. I told Shane [Larkin], top 10 is a different world. Top 25 is cool, don’t get me wrong, but top 10 is a different world.”
UM coach Jim Larranaga, who is trying to keep his players focused on Boston College, hopes a climb in the rankings will attract more fans to Tuesday night’s game. The BankUnited Center was sold out for the Duke and Florida State games and is already sold out for Saturday’s North Carolina game. Students camped out before the Duke and FSU games, and were waiting for the team bus late Saturday night when the Hurricanes returned from Raleigh, N.C.
“It’s great for our fans and students to hear and read more and more about us because hopefully that will sell more tickets, and I think we’ll have a very good crowd for Boston College,” he said. “It was very, very special to see the students come out and greet the bus. My message to the team was appreciate this, don’t just run by them and go into the locker room. Take pictures, shake hands, high-five them and thank them for coming out.”
The Hurricanes have always drawn well against high-profile teams such as Duke, Carolina and state-rival FSU. They hope they have reached a point where fans come out to watch them rather than the opponent.
“Tuesday night will really show what kind of fan base we have,” said Larkin, who Monday was named ACC Player of the Week. “Boston College isn’t one of the premier teams, so I’m looking forward to seeing how the crowd comes out and reacts to the game. We’re 8-0 and playing well.”
The Hurricanes insist they won’t look past Boston College to the North Carolina game on Saturday. The last time they played the Eagles, up there on Jan. 16, they struggled before squeaking out a 60-59 win.
“Our focus level has to be at an all-time high,” Johnson said. “Every team looks at us as a trap game, because we’re undefeated. Coach L makes sure we take one game at a time. We will not look ahead. He won’t let us.”
Added Larranaga: “You can’t rest on your laurels. You can’t look at how you played in the last game and think that’s how you’re going to play in the next game because every game is different, every opponent is different, every player you guard is different, his strengths, his weaknesses, his size, speed. I told our kids after the N.C. State game to enjoy it that night, but come Sunday, our minds had to be on Boston College.”