The University of Miami men’s basketball team is proving it’s no fluke.
That No. 8 ranking? Might be too low.
The more relevant question right now for the surging Hurricanes is this: Are they college basketball’s best team?
The Hurricanes (19-3, 10-0 ACC) won their 11th consecutive game Saturday, blowing out North Carolina 87-61 before a capacity crowd of 7,972 at the BankUnited Center. Coupled with its 90-63 victory over then-No. 1 Duke on Jan. 23, Miami became the first team since ACC play began in 1953 to defeat the Tar Heels and Blue Devils, the conference’s longtime superpowers, by at least 25 points in the same season.
By Monday afternoon, UM might experience another program landmark: first-place votes in the Associated Press Top 25 rankings.
“I really don’t want to pay attention to that,” said 6-foot-11 senior Kenny Kadji, who contributed 17 points and six rebounds to UM’s rout. “We’re having too much fun. We’re 10-0 [in the ACC], and we just want to keep going.”
There might not be much anybody in the ACC can do to stop UM’s roll. Before this season, North Carolina had lost only two of 20 all-time meetings to Miami. But the Tar Heels (16-7, 6-4) have been victimized twice this season by the Hurricanes, who also beat Carolina in Chapel Hill, 68-59, on Jan. 10.
At times Saturday, North Carolina looked helpless. UM tied a school record by sinking 15 2-pointers in 27 attempts (57.7 percent) and led the game from beginning to end.
With eight conference games remaining, Miami has already won more ACC games than in any season since it joined the league in 2004. UM holds a 2 1/2-game lead over second-place Duke.
“There’s not a lot to say … we didn’t have many answers for them,” said North Carolina coach Roy Williams. “Miami’s pretty dadgum good. I think they have the whole package.”
Among those in the audience Saturday were Heat players LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and James Jones, who arrived at their courtside seats about six minutes after tipoff.
“They called us early in the week [requesting tickets],” UM coach Jim Larranaga said before adding jokingly, “We told them, ‘Sorry, it’s sold out.’ ”
The presence of the NBA stars wasn’t lost on Miami’s players. With less that eight minutes left in the game, point guard Shane Larkin assisted on a Kadji dunk by bouncing the ball off the backboard on a fast break. James and Wade jumped out of their seats in appreciation.
“Yeah, I guess you could say it was for them,” Larkin said. “It’s a great feeling knowing that people at that level are actually realizing what you’re doing down here.”
As he has been through much of the team’s winning streak, Larkin was the catalyst for the Hurricanes on Saturday. The sophomore scored a team-high 18 points by knocking down 5-of-8 2-pointers and handed out nine assists while playing stifling defense on the perimeter.
“Larkin just dominated the game,” Williams said.
As good as the Hurricanes were offensively Saturday, they might have been better on defense. North Carolina entered the game first in the ACC in scoring (79.1) but was held to its lowest output since the 68-59 loss to UM in January.
With losses this week by No. 1 Indiana, No. 2 Florida, No. 3 Michigan and No. 5 Kansas, the Hurricanes are likely to be ranked in the top 5 on Monday. UM has never been ranked higher than its present No. 8.
So is No. 1 realistic?
“No. 1 right now doesn’t mean anything,” Kadji said. “We want to be No. 1 at the end of the season.”
UM plays three of its next four games on the road, beginning Wednesday night against Florida State in Tallahassee.