The confirmation that Duke once again has risen to the top of the weekly college basketball polls makes the Blue Devils’ visit Wednesday night without question the most anticipated game in the University of Miami’s basketball history.
A rare full house is expected to fill up the 8,000-seat BankUnited Center with about a fourth of them students who are being encouraged to camp outside the arena the night before before charging in for their end zone seats.
“This is an opportunity for us to do something that is really memorable,” senior center/forward Julian Gamble said, “and do something that we can really make a statement.”
Miami has played No. 1 teams before, six times in fact, but none of the previous meetings -- all losses for the Hurricanes -- has carried the weight this one does.
Though ranked lower in the polls, the 13-4 Hurricanes go into the game ahead of the 16-1 Blue Devils in the Atlantic Coast Conference standings. At 4-0, they are the only team unbeaten in the conference. Duke is 3-1 in the league.
“There’s a buzz, there’s no question about it,” Larranaga said. “ There’s a lot of talk. A lot of people who I haven’t heard from in years are calling me and asking for tickets.
“Although I was sorry to say no to them, I’m very happy that the reason I’m saying no to them is that we’ll have a sellout crowd and great student participation.”
The Hurricanes have hosted No. 1 teams three times, the last on Jan. 20, 1999, when they lost to Connecticut by two points, but this will be the first time a No. 1 team has visited their on-campus home in Coral Gables, which opened in January the 2002-03 season.
Previous home meetings were in the old arena in downtown Miami, the former home of the NBA’s Heat that has since been replaced (and torn down) by AmericanAirlines Arena.
Duke was one of those opponents, beating the Hurricanes 117-102 on Dec. 10, 1988, long before the two teams became conference colleagues in the 2004-05 season. The Blue Devils also were No. 1 when they beat the Hurricanes in Durham two years ago.
The three other top-ranked teams to beat Miami were Kanas in the 1989-90 season, North Carolina in the 1986-87 campaign, and Houston way back in the 1968-69 season. (Two years after that, the Hurricanes discontinued their program until resuming it for the 1985-86 season.)
As for this matchup to be nationally televised on ESPN, both teams will be without a key player. Miami lost center Reggie Johnson to a broken thumb back in late December. The Hurricanes lost two of their first three games without him, but have won five in a row since.
Duke lost power forward Ryan Kelly to a foot injury in the first half of the game against Clemson. The Blue Devils have split the two full games they have been without the 6-11 senior, losing at North Carolina State but beating Georgia Tech at home.
Johnson was averaging a double-double (12.6 points, 10.1 rebounds) and had blocked 13 shots in seven games for the Hurricanes at the time of his injury. He also had a huge game -- 27 points and 12 rebounds -- in Miami’s overtime win at Duke last season.
Kelly was averaging 13.4 points and 5.4 rebounds a game when he went down, but more key to the Blue Devils’ success on offense was ability to stretch opposing defenses with his 3-point accuracy while playing power forward. He had hit more than half (25) of his 48 attempts (52.1 percent).
“They’re different, very much like we are without Reggie Johnson,” Larranaga said when asked how Kelly’s absence had impacted the Blue Devils. “Ryan Kelly is what they call in the coaching vernacular today a ‘stretch-4,’ a big guy who can shoot the 3 very similar to Kenny Kadji.”
Kadji, a 6-11 forward, has hit 38-percent of his 3-point attempts in his two years with the Hurricanes.
“He was a very integral part of their offense,” Larranaga said, getting back to Kelly. “But they have a lot of good players, and (Josh) Hairston and (Amile) Jefferson are very, very capable of not only playing well but having a big impact on the game. And (Alex) Murphy as well.”
Quick hits: Tipoff for Wednesday’s game is 7 p.m. The crowd could eclipse the attendance record for the BankUnited Center, which is the 7,972 who showed up for the Duke game two years ago and saw the Blue Devils handle the Hurricanes 81-71. ... Miami has held its first four ACC opponents to under 60 points a game. The 53.5 points per game the Hurricanes have allowed in conference play ranks second to the 50.5 of Virginia. ... With Miami creeping into the No. 25 spot in this week’s Associated Press poll, this will be the third time the Hurricanes have played Duke when ranked in the top 25. The Blue Devils have won the two previous meetings, both in Durham. ... Senior guard Durand Scott is four short of 1,400 points for his career. When he gets those four, he will become the 12th Hurricane to reach the mark. ... In addition to the big game Johnson had for the Hurricanes last season at Duke, Kadji scored 15 points and gathered in eight rebounds, Scott had 11 points, six rebounds and two steals, and guard Shane Larkin had seven points and four assists. Those three along with Trey McKinney Jones (two points) and Gamble (injured and did not play) are expected to be in the starting lineup Wednesday. Duke’s leading scorers last year against Miami were guards Seth Curry (22 points) and Austin Rivers (20). Curry is No. 2 on the team in scoring (16.9 average) this season but Rivers is now playing for the New Orleans Hornets in the NBA.