By Jon Rothstein
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The buzz about the top teams in the ACC came and went this summer without Miami being mentioned.
The chatter surrounding the conference was fixated on the upside of NC State, the balance of Duke, and the potential of North Carolina.
The Hurricanes couldn’t really be a contender at the top of the league, could they?
We’ll have a pretty good idea if that’s possible after Wednesday night when Miami hosts Michigan State as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
“Everyone here is aware of the magnitude of this game,” Hurricanes coach Jim Larranaga said on Tuesday. “We had a pep rally and our student body is really excited. Our band size will quadruple for this game, making it almost like a football-related event.”
Miami (3-1) played their first game of the season on Saturday with senior guard Durand Scott in the lineup. Scott missed the first three games of the season due a suspension but scored 15 points and grabbed five rebounds in a 77-62 win over a solid Detroit team.
“He makes a huge difference,” Larranaga said of Scott. “He’s our leading scorer, (our) best perimeter defender and (our) energy guy.”
To beat the 13th-ranked Spartans, Miami will need big games out of their three frontcourt players – Julian Gamble, Kenny Kadji and Reggie Johnson, whom Larranaga said would return to the starting lineup against the Spartans after coming off the bench against Detroit.
“Michigan State is huge,” Larranaga said. “They’re a very big and strong team inside with (Derrick) Nix and (Adreian) Payne. They’re also getting great guard play from Keith Appling.”
It may be late November, but a victory over the Spartans could go a long way in the Hurricanes’ at-large resume for the NCAA Tournament. Miami already has suffered a bad loss when they fell at Florida Gulf Coast. A win against Michigan State, a team that is expected to be in the Top 25 for the duration of the season, could be pivotal down the road.
“Winning the game would be a huge boost to our RPI,” Larranaga said. “That’s the one thing you aim to build with your non-conference schedule, and that’s what we’re focused on.”
Can Miami pull off the upset against the Spartans? Sound off with your thoughts and comments below…