Further proof that the University of Miami men’s basketball program has evolved from afterthought to Major Player: Duke students began pitching their tents in Krzyzewskiville at 5 p.m. Tuesday in anticipation of Saturday’s nationally televised game between the fifth-ranked Hurricanes and No. 3 Blue Devils.
That’s right. The Cameron Crazies, Duke’s clever, witty, ultra-passionate fans — the ones who invented the “Air ball!” chant in the mid-1970s and have been rattling opponents ever since — are fired up about a game against Miami. Word is, they have been working overtime on their posters and legendary cheer sheets.
Who can blame them? An unranked Hurricanes team upset then-No. 5 Duke 78-74 in overtime at Cameron Indoor Stadium last February. And then, on Jan. 23 of this year, the ultimate indignity: UM embarrassed a top-ranked Duke team by 27 points on ESPN, the third-worst loss ever for a No. 1 team.
Duke stars Seth Curry, Quinn Cook and Mason Plumlee shot a combined 6 for 37, and the Blue Devils were 4 of 23 from three-point range, while the Canes shot 57 percent and made nine threes.
In that game, the Canes played with a swagger reminiscent of the UM football teams of the 1980s. They even slapped the floor in unison at the request of NFL great Warren Sapp, who was sitting courtside. The floor slap is a longtime Duke tradition, and the Hurricanes’ gesture was viewed as mockery by many Blue Devils fans.
An ESPN promo for Saturday’s game features highlights from the Jan. 23 game — UM coach Jim Larranaga delivering his pregame talk, guard Shane Larkin dunking and then the word “REMATCH!”. A shot of the Cameron Crazies bobbing up and down then appears, and the deep-voiced announcer declares: “The Crazies will be out for revenge.”
In other words, the Canes best show up in Durham, N.C., on Saturday wearing their thickest skin. If they could play with ear plugs, that would probably be a good idea.
Reggie Johnson, UM’s 300-pound center, can expect taunts about his weight. Don’t be surprised if pizza boxes, doughnuts or Twinkies wind up as props. Larkin might be subjected to their infamous “Stand Up!” chants because of his (lack of) height. And there could be references to Nevin Shapiro and the NCAA probe. The Crazies do their homework.
When University of Virginia’s Olden Polynice showed up at Cameron after being accused of plagiarism, the Crazies made jokes about him being at the copy machine. When North Carolina State’s Clyde Austin had one too many cars registered to his name, the Crazies rattled keys every time he touched the ball. After North Carolina guard Jeff Hale punctured a lung, Duke fans chanted: “In-Hale! Ex-Hale!”
And the first time North Carolina coach Roy Williams played there after leaving Kansas, he was greeted by a pair of ruby slippers on his seat and a yellow brick road coming out of the locker room. The message: No, Roy, you’re not in Kansas anymore.
The Hurricanes say they can’t wait to enter the cauldron. The game took on added significance for UM when Duke (24-4, 11-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) lost at Virginia on Thursday, ensuring the Canes (23-4, 14-1 ACC) of at least a share of the conference regular-season title. With No. 1 Indiana and No. 4 Michigan losing this week, UM could return to at least No. 2 in the next AP poll.
“It’s going to be a blast,” UM senior guard Trey McKinney Jones said. “We beat them here this year, and we beat them there last year, so they’re going to be gunning for our heads.”
Duke is 14-0 at home this season, and the team could get a big lift if 6-11 senior forward Ryan Kelly returns to the lineup after sitting out since Jan. 8 with a foot injury. Kelly practiced this week, and coach Mike Krzyzewski will make a game-time decision on his status, just as Larranaga did with Johnson the day of the first Duke game. Johnson had broken his thumb and wasn’t expected to play, but he did, which might have messed with Duke’s psyche a bit as the center had scored 27 against the Blue Devils last February.
The fact that Duke considers UM a rival is taking some getting used to for the Hurricanes.
“It’s very strange,” forward Kenny Kadji said. “In our first meeting with Coach Larranaga when he got here, he asked us, ‘Who are the best teams in the ACC?’ And we said, ‘Duke and North Carolina,’ and now being in a place where they have to chase us … they’re behind us. It’s kind of weird.”
He went on to say he expects Saturday’s game to be a thriller.
“It’s going to be the best game of the year, in my opinion,” Kadji said. “A coach like Coach K, who in my opinion is the best coach in the world, he’s going to have them ready. The whole program, the whole school is going to be ready.”
Larranaga agreed: “People have been looking forward to this game since we played them last. They’ve got great fan support, and the place will be packed and rockin’, probably hours before the game.”
Rematch. Revenge. March Madness is here.