No. 5 Miami can wrap up ACC title at Duke
Title shot: No. 5 Miami knows it'll face a tall task when it tries to wrap ACC crown at Duke
One of Miami forward Kenny Kadji's recollections about Jim Larranaga's very first team meeting with the Hurricanes was a discussion about power-brokers in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Larranaga asked who the best teams were. Everyone answered Duke and North Carolina.
At least for this season, anyway, it's certainly looking like those answers would be incorrect.
The fifth-ranked Hurricanes will get a chance to wrap up the ACC's regular-season title on Saturday night — but to get it done this weekend, they will have to beat the third-ranked Blue Devils at raucous and rowdy Cameron Indoor Stadium, where the home team has won 92 of its last 97 games according to STATS LLC.
"Being in a place where they have to chase us, they're behind us, it's kind of weird," Kadji said. "Obviously, I saw it coming."
Miami (23-4, 14-1 ACC) has shown it can win on the road this season, its 10 victories outside of Coral Gables more than doubling what any other team in the conference posted entering Thursday's games.
More importantly, the Hurricanes have shown they can win at Duke.
The Hurricanes rode the strength of 27 points from Reggie Johnson to win at Cameron last season. And the number 27 might be in Duke's heads this time, but not because of what Johnson did on their floor last year — instead, because the Blue Devils and coach Mike Krzyzewski surely remember a 27-point loss at Miami earlier this year, the program's worst regular-season defeat in nearly three decades.
Kadji said Miami knows the stakes.
"It's going to be the best game of the year, in my opinion," Kadji said. "A coach like Coach K, who in my opinion is the best coach in the world, he's going to have them ready. The whole program, the whole school is going to be ready."
Duke was at Virginia on Thursday night. The Hurricanes were off Thursday, one day after Shane Larkin scored 22 points to help Miami top Virginia Tech 76-58.
Even if the Hurricanes lose on Saturday, they'll still be alone atop the ACC and on the inside track to claim the title and No. 1 seed for the conference tournament. Of course, there's also a sense of urgency to wrap up what would be Miami's first ACC crown.
"It would mean a lot," Miami guard Trey McKinney Jones said. "One of our long-term goals at the beginning of the season was to win the regular-season ACC championship. To do it there, just to do it at all, it would mean the world to me."
That is, especially since when he came out of high school, he never expected to be in this position. His college career started at Missouri-Kansas City, where he appeared in 61 games over two seasons, was part of only 19 wins and averaged 7.2 points per game.
Needing a change of scenery, he chose Miami.
"From where I came from, being at a mid-major school, you kind of don't think something like this is possible, like making the tournament," McKinney Jones said. "Here, one of our long-term goals is winning a national championship. Being at UMKC, I never really saw that as something as possible."
Making the tournament isn't exactly in doubt for Miami this year. For the first time since 2008, the Hurricanes will hear their names called on Selection Sunday.
Now, it's simply about getting in the best position on that bracket. And another win at Cameron might go a long way.
"People have been looking forward to this game on Saturday since we played them last," Larranaga said. "But for us, we've had to take it one game at a time. ... Almost every team in the ACC plays better at home than they do on the road and Duke is no different. They've got great fan support. The place will be packed and rockin', probably hours before the game."
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