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Miami Climbs AP Poll, Vaults into Championship Discussion

In the AP Poll released on Monday, the Miami Hurricanes were ranked No. 3 overall. Ponder that for a second, and marvel at just how far this Hurricanes program has come. Indeed, they have never looked more impressive than they did on Saturday in a 81-67 rout of the North Carolina Tar Heels. Miami were 7.5-point favorites in the game, and going forward they’re going to be favored by much more, particularly at home.

Even though the Tar Heels aren’t as impressive this season as they usually are, it was still an impressive victory for a team that has everything to prove this season and nothing to lose. The marquee match even drew LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and James Jones from the Miami Heat, sitting courtside and cheering on South Beach’s best (college) basketball team. However, Miami coach Jim Larranaga didn’t miss an opportunity to mess with the superstars.

“I told them, ‘Sorry, it’s sold out.’ But then we said, ‘We think we can fit you in.’ For our recruiting purposes, it gives us a lot of credibility when we tell them we’re a hot ticket in town and our program is headed in the right direction,” he said.

“It was definitely a fun thing to have them come to a game,” Miami point guard Shane Larkin said. “It’s a great feeling knowing people at that level are realizing what you’re doing.”

The Hurricanes have been rock-steady this season, particularly in the ACC. How’s this for an impressive statistic? The 2012-13 Miami Hurricanes are the only basketball team since the creation of the ACC in1953 to beat both Duke and North Carolina by 25-plus points each in the same season. That’s pretty darn impressive, and the Canes are just getting started. The signature play of the game occurred when Larkin and Miami forward Kenny Kadji were on a fast break by themselves. Larkin threw the ball off the backboard and Kadji threw it down, sending the home crowd into a frenzy and earning a standing ovation from the NBA players in attendance.

“Kenny said, ‘Backboard, backboard,’ ” Larkin said. “I didn’t see anybody behind him, so I tossed it off the backboard really soft, and he killed it.”

Miami is playing like a team nobody believes in, and with good reason; nobody had any expectations for this Hurricanes program, this year or any. Their coach Jim Larranaga was the mastermind behind the magic at George Mason in their famous 2006 Final Four run, but nobody reasonably thought that he would necessitate the Hurricanes basketball program as rapidly or completely as he has.

“We definitely have a chip on the shoulder,” Larkin said. “We’re the University of Miami. We’re not a traditional powerhouse. Some people still don’t think we’re a top-10 team in the country and coach has done a very good job of letting us know what people think about us.”

“I wouldn’t call it stubborn or optimistic,” Larranaga said. “I’d say it’s experienced. They told me we couldn’t draw well at Bowling Green. There may have been 1,000 people there my first season. They told me we couldn’t get good players at George Mason, that they’d all go to Georgetown, Maryland or George Washington. When we went to the Final Four, eight of our guys lived within an hour of campus.”

If the Hurricanes keep playing like they are, they’ll find themselves with a top seed in next month’s tournament. They’ll also find themselves with increasingly big spreads from Vegas (this is probably the last time we seem them as favorites by less than eight points in their home building). After their recent beat down victories over excellent teams, they certainly won’t be able to play the underdog card for too much longer.

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