Though technically it is still a matchup of the nation’s No. 3 college basketball team, Duke, against the No. 5-ranked team, Miami, much of the shine was taken from the matchup with Duke’s loss at Virginia Thursday night.
It was the fourth loss in Atlantic Coast Conference play for the Blue Devils and virtually hands the upstart Hurricanes the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament.
Miami needs only one more victory to secure the outright regular-season ACC title (an unofficial honor; officially, the conference champion is the tournament winner).
Miami is 14-1 in conference play to Duke’s 11-4.
But if some drama from the conference race has been lessened, there is still the little matter of payback on the part of the Blue Devils, who were embarrassed in a 27-point loss the first time the two teams met in Coral Gables.
Also, the Hurricanes are looking for a third straight win over Duke. They won in overtime in Durham last season.
You can expect the Cameron Crazies, as the Duke students who cram the on-campus home of the Blue Devils are known, to notch it up a bit for this one.
The atmosphere in the relatively small, cramped facility (9,314 capacity) is something else.
Miami coach Jim Larranaga remembers his first visit in 1971.
“I brought my freshman team to Duke,” said Larranaga, who was just getting his coaching career started as an assistant at Davidson. “I think we were either undefeated or had maybe one loss and we lost by 30 or 40 points.
“I remember thinking -- we were prelim to the varsity game -- I remember thinking this is one heckuva place to play college basketball. The fans are up and rocking before the game even begins even with freshmen.”
Larranaga was on the bench as an assistant at Virginia, which had Ralph Sampson, when he was on the winning side at Cameron for the first time.
He doesn’t have to share such memories with his current players, who are too young, he said with smile.
Besides, the Hurricanes have experienced Cameron first hand.
“It’s crazy,” Miami senior Trey McKinney Jones said. “I’d pretty much have to say all the North Carolina schools -- well, not all the North Carolina schools -- but N.C. State, North Carolina and Duke, their fans are insane.
“They have the best fans, and they show up before we even get out there to warm up, and they’re all talking to you.”
Putting those voices of the fans in the background could be crucial for the Hurricanes in this meeting.
“You look at them before the game and when you warm up,” senior forward Kenny Kadj said. “Then when you get in the game you can’t listen to that. You’ve got to keep focus on the game.”