“Blowout City!” ESPN commentator Dick Vitale screamed into his microphone on that stunning night last January. “I can’t ever remember them being beaten like this! It’s been a humiliation!”
Top-ranked Duke, steeped in tradition and coached by a legend, had just been thoroughly outplayed and thumped 90-63 by the upstart University of Miami Hurricanes, ranked No. 25 after a perfect start to their conference season.
UM students — typically an apathetic bunch — had camped out overnight to get into BankUnited Center. A raucous sellout crowd roared as the Hurricanes, displaying the swagger of their 1980s football teams, went on a 25-1 first-half run. Students stormed the floor when it was all over. It was the third-worst loss ever for a No. 1 team and worst since 1968. It was the first win over a top-ranked team in UM history.
Duke is back in town Wednesday night. A near-sellout is expected (including at least 15 NBA scouts, likely eager to see Duke freshman sensation Jabari Parker). More reporters than usual showed up for Jim Larrañaga’s Tuesday news conference. Still, it is nothing like the buzz around last year’s game.
The Canes (10-7) are unranked and 2-3 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Duke is No. 18 with a 14-4 record and a 3-2 conference mark after road losses at Notre Dame and Clemson.
Though the game isn’t as high profile this time around, Larrañaga would love to replicate that special victory. He watched a tape of the game the other night, ready to take notes.
“I wasn’t watching it from an emotional standpoint,” he said. “I was watching it from a preparation standpoint. What did we do against them last year that was effective, and does it apply to anything we can do this year?”
The answer: “No,” he said, laughing.
“Last year we were playing man-to-man. Last year we had Kenny Kadji launching threes. He was incredible that night.”
Kadji finished with 22 points on 9-of-11 shooting, impressing the pack of NBA scouts in attendance. Durand Scott scored 25 in that game. Shane Larkin had 18 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. Julian Gamble had 10 rebounds and four blocks.
“None of those guys are here,” Larrañaga said. “They have a much different team, too. Quinn Cook is back. But if they start Matt Jones, he’s a freshman. Hood is a transfer. Jabari Parker is a freshman.”
UM’s top six scorers are gone, and a few of UM’s key players weren’t on the team last season.
Manu Lecomte, a freshman guard, watched last year’s game on YouTube at home in Belgium. “I was like, ‘Wow!’ I didn’t expect that. They just killed them.”
Donnavan Kirk watched from his dorm room at DePaul, where he spent the past three seasons before transferring back to Miami, where he started his career.
“I thought, ‘Man, they’re playing great,’ ” Kirk said. “I was happy for them. It motivated me to play better at DePaul. I remember I texted [UM guard] Justin Heller after to congratulate the team.”
This new edition of UM will have its hands full with a Blue Devils team that leads the ACC with 82.6 points per game, and forced its last opponent, North Carolina State, into 21 turnovers. The biggest challenge will be limiting 6-8 Parker, who has scored at least 20 points in 11 games, and defending the perimeter.
“It’s not like we’re where we were last year, fighting for national recognition,” Larranaga said. “We’re fighting for survival. We’re trying to compete with best teams in the country, trying to figure out ways to overcome our limitations.
“Everyone knows Duke is a major challenge for us. They’ve got the winningest coach in college basketball history [Mike Krzyzewski] and a player the NBA scouts are drooling over. They got a lot of things going for them. For me, it’s exciting, a great opportunity. We’re in the same league, the ACC, it’s not like we’re intimidated or in awe of anybody.”