Storin: Miami opening my eyes to college basketball before March Madness

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Storin: Miami opening my eyes to college basketball before March Madness

Published Thursday, February 14, 2013   |  608 Words  |  

The time has come for me to confess that for many years I have not paid much attention to college basketball until it was time to fill out my NCAA brackets in early March.

Funny how having your alma mater ranked No. 3 in the country changes things.

For about half a century the Miami Hurricanes have been, at best, an afterthought when it comes to basketball ratings. During that period they have produced just one All-American player. And Rick Barry didn't really make his mark until he moved to the NBA.

Now this season, instead of just checking the scores in The Island Packet, I am watching games on ESPN and Fox Sports South.

I am tuned to the fact that the Big Ten is the strongest conference, the ACC is having a down year and Florida and Miami are better than Kentucky, the defending NCAA champion. At least for the moment.

I have been paying attention as there have been five different No. 1 teams since early January. Just in the past week, No. 1 Indiana, No. 4 Michigan and No. 6 Florida have lost.

Through this February Frenzy, Miami has risen to No. 3 by winning 11 straight games and is the only unbeaten team (10-0) in the ACC.

By the time you read this, that streak may have come to an end.

The Canes played at Florida State on Wednesday night, and the way this season is going, I would not be surprised by a Seminoles victory.

But in South Florida they are asking the question: Is Miami now a "basketball town" rather than football?

That's what happens when the Miami Heat become the dominant team in pro basketball and the Hurricanes beat Duke, 90-63, in January and North Carolina, 87-61, two weeks later.

The Dolphins playing in Super Bowls? The Hurricanes contending for BCS titles? That's ancient history.

Today the place to be is the BankUnited Center, the Canes' home in Coral Gables. Last Saturday when Miami routed North Carolina, Lebron James and some of his Heat teammates were part of the sellout crowd, as was Hall of Fame shortstop Barry Larkin.

Larkin's son Shane is the young guy on this team that is packed with what some might call "Senior Citizens."

Larkin, the 5-11 sophomore playmaker, sent James and company leaping to their feet with his nifty play last Saturday. He had 18 points, nine assists and hit on 5 of 8 three-point attempts against the Tar Heels.

The rest of the starters are seasoned players. Seniors Julian Gamble and Reggie Johnson are 23, and Kenny Kadji turns 25 in May.

And then there's the coach, Jim Larranaga, no spring chicken at age 63. This is his second season at Miami after 13 years at George Mason, highlighted by a Final Four appearance in 2006.

"This team is old," said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski after his Blue Devils were blown out in January. "Really old and really good."

Quite a contrast to last year's national champions, Kentucky, which lost most of its team to the NBA after only one year with the Wildcats.

For the Hurricanes and their fans, it's still a long road to the Final Four, but so far it has been a nice ride.

I'll admit I'm biased, but I think it would be good for college basketball to have a champion built the old fashioned way.

Just maybe sticking around three or four years in college might catch on.