Greg Cote: Heat and Hurricanes put Miami in hoops heaven

It has happened twice in 66 years, to be exact, which for all intents and purposes means it really doesn’t happen. It is beyond rare. But it could occur in Miami this year, because Monday made what once seemed like a remote possibility — ridiculous, even — suddenly start to seem very real.

Basketball Heaven, is what I’m talking about.

The ultimate double-double.

The same city celebrating an NBA championship and an NCAA men’s basketball championship the same season.

You know the Heat are up for their half of that challenge.

That the Miami Hurricanes are now, too, no is longer loony/fanciful — not when UM rose like helium to No. 3 in The Associated Press poll on Monday. Not when 17 voters had Miami at No. 1. And not in a season in which top-ranked teams keep losing and no one team seems clearly dominant.

So, hello there, everybody, I’m coming to you today from the new Basketball Capital of America. The rest of the country might consider our claim to that title to be a bit of a hostile takeover. Whatever. Deal with it.

The Heat, the team America has loved to hate ever since The Decision by LeBron James in the summer of 2010, reigns as champion on the pro side of the court and is the betting favorite to repeat and enter “dynasty” into the national debate. (Would anyone who has seen LeBron play lately wager very confidently against that?)

Upstart team

Now the college side of the game must deal with these interlopers from Coral Gables, this most nontraditional of powers — the upstart team that has squared its boot on the neck of the mighty Atlantic Coast Conference and isn’t letting up.

And so a Miami-Miami double must at least be considered.

Such a thing has happened only in Los Angeles in 1972, when the Lakers and UCLA both reigned, and in Detroit in 1989, when the Pistons and Michigan (Ann Arbor is about 35 miles from downtown; close enough) both were champs.

(Only two other times have both champs even come from the same state: In 1975 with the Golden State Warriors and UCLA, and in 2006 with the Heat and Florida Gators. But both those pairs of cities are roughly 300 to 350 miles apart.)

That the Hurricanes might even be in this conversation is astonishing, twice.

First: This is nobody’s college-hoops hotbed. UM is so light on tradition that one must cast back to the early ’60s, to a young Rick Barry, for the school’s halcyon days. This program didn’t even exist from 1973 to 1983, and the school’s deepest NCAA Tournament run was to a Sweet 16 loss in 2000.

Second: The way this team and season have taken off. Remember the November loss to tiny Florida Gulf Coast? A month ago the Canes were unranked. Since then the victories have mounted and the poll position has gone from 25 to 14 to 8 to 3. That’s close to unheard of, and a rocket’s rise like that could only happen when a nontraditional power gets discovered. Becomes a phenomenon. An “it” team.

Might the rocket come crashing?

Sure. Miami faces a tough game at Florida State on Wednesday, and still must play at Duke. Maintaining that school-record No. 3 poll spot will be hugely difficult, and that’s not even mentioning the ACC tournament that will precede March Madness.

Do the math

For now, though, UM has not only earned that No. 3 ranking, but also arguably should be even higher.

Duke, after all, is No. 2 … the same Duke that the Canes crushed 90-63 just three weeks ago. By my math, calling Miami better than Duke seems fairly reasonable.

Indiana, No. 1, has lost to three unranked teams including to Illinois a few days ago. So I might wonder aloud who’s playing better right now: A Canes team unbeaten in the ACC, or a Hoosiers squad that is coming off a loss and ranks 11th to Miami’s second in national RPI — which rates records vs. strength of schedule.

No matter what happens from here with the Canes, second-year coach, Jim Larranaga, 63, has proved his best days didn’t end with that 2006 Cinderella run into the Final Four with George Mason. And Larranaga’s senior-dominated Hurricanes are reminding a one-and-done-infected sport that staying for the entirety of one’s college career can have its benefits, too.

I can explain the run these Canes are on no better than to suggest LeBron’s MVP season for the champion Heat could be the biggest story in basketball this season but might not even be the biggest story in town at the moment.

Together the Heat and Hurricanes challenge the old tradition-bound certainty that this is a Football Town, first and forever. Call it encroachment. The bounce of the basketball gets louder by degrees down here the more football offers less to enthrall us.

For now, let UM fans and the media chew over the possibilities and debate poll rankings, No. 1 seeds, Final Fours or championship chances.

I loved senior Kenny Kadji’s explanation Monday for why his Hurricanes can’t be bothered taking the time to wonder about any of that or worry about what’s ahead.

“We’re having too much fun,” he said.


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