Miami loses focus and grip on No. 1 overall seed at Wake Forest
The Miami Hurricanes had taken the nation by storm. Jim Larranaga's team was unbeaten in ACC play and had dominated Duke and North Carolina. However, the 'Canes were smacked on the road against Wake Forest -- and may have dropped off the No. 1 line in the process.
It was a matter of time for the Miami Hurricanes.
Jim Larranaga's team had turned into the story of this college basketball season. Our Gary Parrish wrote about it a couple of weeks ago after the 'Canes torched North Carolina. There was even some debate that this team was worthy of the No. 1 ranking due to resounding victories over Duke and North Carolina.
However, Larranaga & Co. had been playing with fire of late and it caught up them on Saturday in an 80-65 loss at Wake Forest. The Hurricanes struggled on the road to knock off Clemson a week ago and then escaped in Coral Gables with a 54-50 win over Virginia.
This was the first loss of the season for the 'Canes with all their pieces. The first came way back on Nov. 13 in Fort Myers against Florida Gulf Coast without Durand Scott. The other two came in Hawaii in late-December without injured big man Reggie Johnson. The 14-game winning streak is over -- and so is the march for perfection in ACC play. What also is temporarily history is the 'Canes' grasp on a No. 1 seed for the NCAA tournament.
However, I'm not certain this is altogether the worst thing for Miami. Everywhere you looked, there was Larranaga doing national interviews. I don't blame him at all; he needed to take advantage and utilize the recent success to help in recruiting. The players were saying the right things, but these guys went from a group who had received virtually no attention throughout their first three-plus seasons on campus to heroes for their recent play.
This is a good team. The pieces fit well together. There's sophomore point guard Shane Larkin, the versatile senior in Scott. The two big men complement one another extremely well; Johnson an interior force and Kenny Kadji a face-up forward who can step out and make shots. Trey McKinney Jones is a veteran who fills his role -- and backup forward Julian Gamble has matured into an effective player.
But this team needs to play with a chip on its shoulder. That's what made it successful.
Johnson told me Friday he was concerned about the team's defense -- and he was right. Wake Forest scorched the 'Canes, shooting 54 percent from the field, 58 percent from beyond the arc and also getting to the charity stripe 31 times. Johnson's return home (he grew up just a few minutes from Wake) was a disappointment, but what is more critical is how this team responds to the loss.
There's a home contest against Virginia Tech to get back on track, but next Saturday is the first-place ACC showdown against Duke. The Hurricanes won the first round down in Coral Gables in a 27-point rout that put them on the map. Ryan Kelly could be back for that one -- and hopefully the old Miami team will return as well.
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