Miami’s Charlie Moore is aware that what he’s saying is a hard sell. He even tacks on a matter-of-fact “seriously” to reinforce his point.
Still, the notion that in less than 48 hours, Moore and his Hurricanes teammates have erased Saturday’s emotional win over then No. 2 Duke from their minds—a win that came at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Mike Krzyzewski’s final season—is a bit far-fetched, to say the least.
That win? In that place? In this year?
“You’re actually reminding me of it now,” Moore said with a laugh. “We haven’t mentioned it since Saturday. I mean, of course, I remember it, and, yes, it was a big win, but we’re on to the next now. We don’t talk about that anymore.”
Gotta respect the tunnel-vision approach for a team that needed just over a month to eclipse its ACC win total from last season (4–15).
Now, the Hurricanes (13–3, 5–0) are the talk of the ACC, sitting atop the league standings ahead of their big matchup with Florida State on Tuesday.
That said, Moore and the Canes don’t feel validated by what they deem to be belated acknowledgments and proverbial attaboys. In fact, they’re downright indifferent about your belief.
“We really believe in ourselves,” Miami guard Kameron McGusty said. “We’re not worried about who does or doesn’t believe we’re for real.”
You’d be hard-pressed to find naysayers after the manner in which they beat you-know-who Saturday, withstanding the classic late Duke run and countering with countless clutch plays down the stretch.
Still, the basketball-sized chip is understandable for a team picked to finish 12th in the conference in the preseason and one that remains unranked despite a nine-game winning streak.
“KenPom ranks us the third luckiest team in the country,” McGusty said with a laugh. “This is after we won on Saturday. That’s disrespectful. It just shows us we haven’t done anything, and it makes us hungrier. We know what we’ve got, and we know what we can do with what we’ve got.”
Jim Larrañaga certainly does.
Based on his personnel, the Hurricanes’ coach knew that their best chance for success this season was to implement a strategy he hadn’t used since 1990 when he was the head coach at Bowling Green.
The five-out offense spaces the floor and combats a lack of size with speed and quickness.
“We looked at our roster and saw that we were skinny,” Larrañaga said. “So, we designed the offense to accommodate the skill sets of the guys we have. We have older guys who have certain skills that we should be able to take advantage of.”
Larrañaga tasked associate head coach Chris Caputo and assistant coach Bill Courtney with researching modern variations of the five-out offense. The pair studied NBA teams like the Heat, the Rockets, the Spurs and Division II powerhouse Nova Southeastern.
If the D-II reference perplexed you, then you haven’t been paying attention.
Everyone from Heat coach Erik Spoelstra to Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens has made the call to Sharks coach Jim Crutchfield to pick his brain about how to operate his notorious, quick-hitting offense.
Larrañaga purposely set an exhibition against Nova Southeastern in October to give his team the experience against the Sharks’ frantic pace on both ends of the floor.
Miami eventually pulled out the 106–95 win.
“They came in here and trapped us all over the place, ran and shot in a way that they weren’t used to,” Larrañaga said. “I wanted to challenge them to handle the pressure and to see how to run the offense. That really helped us.”
Canes guard Isaiah Wong said the experience against the Sharks opened their eyes to the possibilities this season and planted the seed for a confidence that grows by the day.
“Not just by the win,” Wong said. “Our confidence grows every day in practice. I’ve never been a part of a team that has this level of focus and this level of confidence. Honestly, we expected to win that game at Duke.”
They certainly looked the part.
As they’ve done throughout their winning streak, the Canes and their stable of four sixth-year seniors tactically dismantled Duke, using stifling defensive pressure and active hands to snag 15 steals and force the Blue Devils into a season-high 17 turnovers.
Duke’s bulky guards had fits staying in front of Miami’s lean and quick playmakers, whose backdoor cuts and precision passing frustrated the Blue Devils all night.
“This is what we’ve done all year, it’s just a tough matchup with what we’re putting on the floor,” Moore said. “They’re a great team, but we showed what we’re capable of. Now it’s just about getting better and staying consistent going forward.”
This is where McGusty, a 24-year-old sixth-year senior, is hoping the “with age comes wisdom” axiom rings true.
“We take a lot of pride in the fact that we’re older and have more experience than most teams,” McGusty said. “It’s really a mental strength that turns into a physical strength for us. I feel like this is what will keep our focus throughout the ups and downs of the season. We don’t talk about that last win; it’s all about what’s in front of us. The only people we care about proving things to is ourselves, and we’re constantly doing that.”
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