Originally posted on Fox Sports Carolinas  |  Last updated 12/19/12
Forget the loss at Florida Gulf Coast, as just about every team gets a mulligan in college basketball, because the Miami Hurricanes are developing into one of the best teams in the ACC. And if you are one of the ACCs top clubs, you are among the best in the nation, too. Putting Miami in such company isnt much of a reach if you have seen the Hurricanes play in recent weeks. The Hurricanes have some issues, for sure. They can be a bit reckless with the ball, take some questionable shots, and dont have a great deal of proven depth right now. They could also use a more classic mid-sized slasher to complement their backcourt and front line. Otherwise, the 'Canes are good. Really good. While the national pundits have ignored them, the 'Canes have put together quite a run, including Tuesday nights 72-50 romp at Central Florida. Miami streaked to a 17-4 early lead that included three 3-pointers, one by Reggie Johnson, a beautiful backdoor layup, slam-dunk follow of a miss, a nifty layup by Shane Larkin on a feed from power forward Kenny Kadji, and a minute later a dunk by Kadji off a dish from Larkin. And this was against a UCF club that played in the CBI a year ago, entered the game 6-2 and started transfers from Oklahoma and Virginia. It also was on the road. Most impressive about Miami (7-1) in the last few weeks is how it has managed to move from one important game to the next without mental drop-offs. The 'Canes didnt even hit a speed bump going through the investment in the win over Michigan State, which included the school handing out-shirts to students to wear. The Hurricanes responded from beating the Spartans with an impressive win at a Massachusetts team that like will play in the NCAA Tournament. And following final exams and 13 days off from playing a game, Jim Larranagas club routed then-unbeaten Charlotte by 31 points and three days later clobbered UCF. The Hurricanes, who have five starters scoring in double figures, play with a confident swagger, but their dreams are no longer just fantasies, and the players know it. Johnson said in October the only difference between Miami and Duke and North Carolina are the names on the front of the jerseys. Of course, when the 'Canes lost to Florida Gulf Coast in early November, such a comment was swatted away like a gnat on a humid southern evening. In fairness to the 'Canes, senior guard Durand Scott didnt play that night, and not having him out there left a void that wasnt filled Durand is our leader vocally on the court, Larkin said about Scott. Hes the loudest person on the team. Hes always talking, getting everybody in the right position, and I think thats something we were missing when he was out. Nobody took that leadership role and stood up an didnt care what you thought about he said, he was going to tell you what you needed to do. So Miamis foundation was rattled a little, and overlooking an opponent was an obvious lesson. But it has handled it well and may be better long-term for the experience. Watching them tear apart UCF on Tuesday and nobody could ever guess this club had already suffered such an indignity. The 6-foot-10, 292-pound Johnson is smart and much more well-rounded a player than his body type might suggest. Scott is athletic and gives the team the kind of toughness usually associated with players from the Bronx. Kadji is a long athlete from Cameroon whose game continues to grow. Trey Mckinney Jones is a long-bomber and Larkin may be the most underrated point guard in the nation. He needs to distribute a bit more, but hes cat-quick and super fast. Larkin sees the floor well and comes from great bloodlines. His father, Barry Larkin, was recently inducted into the major League Baseball Hall of Fame. The 'Canes can run, they can bully you in a half-court game, they can adapt on the fly, and they play defense. Opponents are converting just 38 percent of their shots from the field, including just 29.5 percent from the perimeter. Four seniors start and two key reserves are also in their final years of eligibility. Plus, no other ACC team whose coach isnt named Williams or Krzyzewski has a coach that has already guided a team to the Final Four. Larranaga took George Mason there in 2006. Miami has more than enough to contend for the ACC regular season title and make a run for something special in March. All Larranaga must do is keep this bunch on the same page and thinking about this season and not their futures.
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