Top-five foes collide at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Saturday, as the fifth-ranked Miami Hurricanes can secure the Atlantic Coast Conference crown outright with a win over the third-ranked Duke Blue Devils.
Duke's 73-68 loss at Virginia earlier this week took a little bit of steam out of what was supposed to be a showdown with major conference implications. Now, Duke trails Miami in the conference standings by three games with three to play. While the Blue Devils have shown troubling signs on the road in- conference (4-4), they have been stellar at home, with an unblemished 14-0 record this year.
The Hurricanes weren't viewed as the best team in the conference to start the season, but Jim Larranaga's squad has really made believers of just about everyone, running through the league slate with a 14-1 mark. The lone loss came last weekend at Wake Forest (80-65), but Miami was able to get back in the win column and move one step closer to securing the conference title with a 76-58 rout of Virginia Tech on Wednesday.
Duke holds a 15-4 advantage in the all-time series, but Miami has won the last two meetings, including making a statement in Coral Gables on Jan. 23. throttling the Blue Devils, 90-63.
Miami got into an offensive rhythm against Virginia Tech and never let the Hokies get into the game, rolling to an 18-point win this week at BankUnited Center. The Hurricanes shot 50 percent from the floor in the game, and got a combined 42 points from Shane Larkin and Kenny Kadji. Larkin finished the game with 22 points, while also dishing out six assists. Kadji poured in 20 points, to go with six rebounds. Trey McKinney Jones also finished in double figures in the win, finishing with 11 points.
Miami usually gets it done with stellar defensive play, as opponents are averaging just 59.1 ppg and shooting a mere .384 from the floor. The Hurricanes are also capable of getting hot at the offensive end, thanks to the backcourt duo of Larkin (13.4 ppg, 4.3 apg) and Durand Scott (13.1 ppg). McKinney Jones (9.0 ppg) rounds out the team's three-guard set. Kadji (13.0 ppg) is right there in terms of scoring and is joined by Reggie Johnson (8.8 ppg, 7.9 rpg) and Julian Gamble (6.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg) to give the team frontcourt balance.
Seth Curry erupted for 28 points, including 23 in the second half, but it wasn't enough as Duke once again dropped an ACC road contest, falling in Charlottesville to Virginia. Fellow guard Quinn Cook poured in 22 points in the losing effort, but All-American candidate Mason Plumlee was held in check, finishing with 10 points and seven rebounds.
Plumlee has been much more dominant on the season, his first as the featured player on the Duke roster. Despite the modest numbers against the Cavaliers, the 6-foot-10 Plumlee is averaging 17.3 points and 10.5 rebounds per game, while shooting a strong .592 from the field. Curry's big game against Virginia has elevated him to a tie for the team-lead in scoring (17.3 ppg), as he is one of the nation's premier sharpshooters, converting 44 percent from behind the arc (73-of-166). The team really misses Ryan Kelly's perimeter game (13.4 ppg), although Cook (12.4 ppg) and Rasheed Sulaimon (12.1 ppg) have tried to assuage the loss.