A few days after Miami served notice it was a legit ACC title contender with its demolition of top-ranked Duke last month, point guard Shane Larkin described how a notoriously tepid college hoops market was beginning to embrace the Hurricanes.
LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and James Jones watched Miami's victory (AP)"The buzz around campus and the Miami area is amazing," Larkin said. "Everywhere we go – restaurants, grocery stores, anywhere – people are recognizing me and my teammates and they show a lot of love."
Saturday's 87-61 home victory over North Carolina was another step in the transformation of Miami basketball from anonymity to prominence. Miami Heat stars LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and James Jones were part of a sellout crowd, and they each appeared to be especially impressed by one play in particular.
With just less than eight minutes to go in the second half and Miami already leading by 22, Larkin caught an outlet pass in transition and decided to get a little fancy. He laid the ball high off glass and a trailing Kenny Kadji slammed it home with two hands, an alley-oop that had even James, Wade and Jones on their feet courtside, grinning and applauding.
The Larkin-to-Kadji jam in the above video was the highlight of a thoroughly impressive performance from the Hurricanes.
Larkin had 18 points and a career-high nine assists and Kadji and Durand Scott added 17 points apiece as Miami (19-3, 10-0) led from tipoff until the final buzzer to improve to 11-o at home this season. The Hurricanes' 10 ACC wins are a school record -- and they still have eight games left to go.
With a 2 1/2-game ACC lead and a manageable schedule remaining until a March 2 clash with second-place Duke, Miami appears to be a serious contender for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. There's even an outside chance the Hurricanes could jump from No. 8 to No. 1 in the polls on Monday considering four teams ranked ahead of them have already lost.
That Miami is even in the conversation along with the likes of Duke, Indiana and Arizona is a testament to the job coach Jim Larranaga has done.
Since rejoining Division I in basketball in 1985, Miami has made the NCAA tournament just six times and has reached the Sweet 16 only once. With Larkin and Scott attacking the rim from the backcourt and Kadji, Reggie Johnson and Julian Gamble highlighting a deep frontcourt, Larranaga has a roster capable of going further than any previous Hurricanes team has.
In the conversation a few weeks ago, Larkin made it clear that's this team's goal.
"The rise of Miami has definitely started," the sophomore said. "There's no reason this program shouldn't be in the Top 25 every year."
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