Yes, it was great to reach No. 2 in the nation. Sure, the 14-game win streak was exciting, especially beating Duke (by 27) and North Carolina (twice). And certainly, few career moments will match standing atop a ladder clipping off a piece of net after clinching your school’s first outright conference regular-season title.
The ninth-ranked University of Miami Hurricanes have had loads of fun going from afterthought to one of college basketball’s best feel-good stories this season. They have been honored hearing the likes of Dick Vitale gush over them on national TV.
But they are not satisfied as they head into Friday’s Atlantic Coast Conference tournament quarterfinal against eighth-seeded Boston College, an 84-64 winner over Georgia Tech on Thursday. The Canes (24-6, 15-3 ACC) are the No. 1 seed and insist they are hungry as ever.
Senior Julian Gamble joked that the team was going to bring along sharper scissors than the ones they struggled to cut the nets with last Saturday. They will also need to bring their razor-sharp game.
“We want more,” senior forward Kenny Kadji said. “We want more cutting nets, more celebrations. We have three games to win. If you don’t win on Friday, you don’t play Saturday. It’s one and done, you have to give everything we have. No playing around the hotel or staying up late. This is serious.”
Sophomore point guard Shane Larkin, the Hurricanes’ lightning-quick little general, could hardly contain his enthusiasm talking about the postseason.
“This year’s been historic. We’ve done a lot of things, and there’s no reason we can’t keep doing it,” he said. “There’s going to be a lot of attention on us. We like that. And there’s more to accomplish.”
Depending which stats you choose to rely on, the Canes are either heavy favorites or out-of-state underdogs.
The No. 1 seed in the ACC tournament is 35-2 over the No. 8 seed. The only two eight seeds to win a quarterfinal were Maryland in 1989 and North Carolina State in 1997.
On the other hand, a team from the state of North Carolina has won the title 18 of the past 20 years. The only two outsiders to take home the trophy were Maryland in 2004 and Florida State last year. This year, with the tournament at the Greensboro Coliseum in North Carolina, there’s no doubt North Carolina, Duke, North Carolina State and Wake Forest will have home-court advantage.
Miami players are expecting more green and orange in the stands than usual. A Miami-to-Greensboro flight Thursday morning included a couple dozen UM fans. One of them was Stan Pargman, who has attended games since the Rick Barry days. He proudly wore his green satin Hurricanes jacket on the flight.
“I’ve always been a fan, but I never expected the team to get as far as it did this year,” he said. “I went to all the Big East tournaments when UM was in them, but we usually lost in the first round. This time, it’s a different story. I believe we have a great chance to win it.”
So does ESPN analyst Sean Farnham, who has called several UM games this season. “North Carolina’s playing its best basketball of the season, but I think it still comes down to Miami and Duke. Shane is one of the elite guards in the nation. Kadji’s been sensational, and Jim Larranaga is a superb coach. If Reggie [Johnson] gets his edge back, they could go from a Sweet 16-type team to a Final Four-type team.”
Their most immediate goal: stop an on-the-rise Boston College team that starts two freshmen and three sophomores, including Miami native Eddie Odio. Against Georgia Tech on Thursday, freshman guard Olivier Hanlan scored an ACC freshman-record 41 points, topping Tyler Hansbrough and Harrison Barnes.
“Boston College ended the regular season on a three-game winning streak and continues to play at a very high level,” Larranaga said. “They were very impressive in the first round of the ACC tournament against Georgia Tech, and Olivier Hanlan showed why he was the ACC Rookie of the Year. The whole key with our game against Boston College is to play great team defense as well as individual defense because they are a very potent offensive team.”
UM beat BC both times they played this year. The first time, Jan. 16 in Boston, the Canes needed four free throws in the final 30 seconds to survive 60-59. The second time, Feb. 5 at home, they cruised 72-50.
“Mr. Curran meant the world to me,” Larranaga said. “He is the reason I went to Archbishop Molloy High School. He got me my scholarship to Providence College. He helped me get my first coaching job at Davidson College. He was my inspiration for wanting to be a coach. I wanted to be just like him. He was a great role model and mentor to me and countless basketball players and baseball players. He was one-of-a-kind.”