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Long Hawaii trip has long-term impact for Miami Hurricanes

The University of Miami men’s basketball team, which has quietly racked up a 7-1 record and a No. 10 RPI rating, crammed its long legs into an airplane and traveled 4,800 miles to Hawaii for the Diamond Head Classic, an eight-team holiday tournament that includes fourth-ranked Arizona and 18th-ranked San Diego State.

The Hurricanes arrived on Thursday night, took the obligatory leis-around-the-neck photo at the Honolulu airport, and spent Friday practicing and getting acclimated to the time difference. Their first game is Saturday at 7:30 p.m. local time (12:30 a.m. Sunday, Miami time) against the host University of Hawaii. Talk about a home-court advantage for the Warriors. The one team that didn’t have to travel will play the team that traveled the longest distance.

If UM wins, its Sunday opponent would be the winner of the game between Arizona and East Tennessee State. Other first-round games are Indiana State vs. Ole Miss and San Francisco vs. San Diego State. The final is Christmas Day.

Aside from the rare opportunity to play in Hawaii and visit Pearl Harbor, which the Canes plan to do Monday, UM coach Jim Larranaga views this tournament as an excellent chance for his team to maintain its high RPI before heading into the Atlantic Coast Conference schedule in January. The Canes received votes in the AP Top 25 poll last week, and a win over Arizona would surely vault them to the list.

“Your nonconference schedule is built with one thing in mind, and that is to have a quality RPI ranking at the end of your nonconference games,” Larranaga said. “The teams in this tournament, a number of them are in the top 20 to 40, and that’s the kind of competition you want to face if you want to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.

“So, it’s going to be vitally important for us to play well and advance to improve our status for the selection committee to look at us as a quality team deserving of a bid.’’

The Warriors are playing well of late and eager for the challenge.

“Obviously, we have a huge game against an outstanding team in Miami,” coach Gib Arnold said. “They’re getting top-20 votes and they’re big and strong and athletic like an ACC team. We have a lot to prove. We have a chance to play those guys at home, and we really want to play our best.”

The Warriors are 5-3 and back in Honolulu after playing last week on the island of Moloka’i, where they beat NCAA Division II neighbor Chaminade 104-93.

The Warriors hit season highs for points, field-goal percentage (.600), three-pointers made (11) and three-point percentage (.524).

“If we come out on top out there, I think we’d definitely be nationally ranked,” UM guard Rion Brown said. “We’re all excited to see Hawaii, but our main goal out there is to come home with the title.”

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