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Full-Court Press: Sneaking into first place

8:11 AM, Jan 25, 2013   |    comments
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(Sports Network) - The 7,972 fans in attendance at the BankUnited Center chanted "over-rated" as the Miami Hurricanes put the finishing touches on their 90-63 rout of the No. 1 Duke Blue Devils.

Nobody is going to be accusing Miami of being overrated this season, as coach Jim Larranaga's squad improved to 14-3 overall and took sole possession of first place in the ACC standings.

The Hurricanes, who ended their season with a 78-60 loss to Minnesota in the NIT last year, will put their perfect 5-0 conference record on the line Saturday as they take on defending ACC champion Florida State.

Larranaga has a history of guiding his squads to shocking wins. The 63-year- old New York City native led George Mason to the 2006 Final Four before arriving in Coral Gables at the start of last year.

The Hurricanes were written off by some after falling by 12 points at Florida Gulf Coast in their second game, but the team was without star shooting guard Durand Scott, who transforms the Hurricanes into a much more explosive squad on the offensive end with his 14.6 points per game.

The 6-foot-3 Scott showed his value as he poured in a season-high 25 points in the triumph over Duke. But he is far from being a one-man show as Kenny Kadji's interior play yields 13.1 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks per game, while Shane Larkin chips in 12.5 points and 3.9 assists per game from the point guard slot.

Miami, which has knocked off Michigan State, La Salle, North Carolina and Maryland already, is only going to get better now that the 6-10, 292-pound Reggie Johnson has returned from an injury that kept him out for eight games prior to the victory over Duke, which also was the Blue Devils' loss since January 1984.

"It was a big time win for us, but we're definitely still hungry," Johnson said. "Some people probably still don't believe, but we believe in our self and that's what is important.

This all comes after Miami was picked to finish fourth in the conference's coaches poll behind North Carolina State, Duke and North Carolina, making it one of the biggest surprises of the 2012-13 campaign.

On the opposite coast, the highly improved Pac-12 Conference features some of the toughest teams in the NCAA. Arizona and UCLA were expected to be the class of the league, but Oregon clearly took some offense to its projected seventh- place finish in the preseason coaches poll.

Coach Dana Altman's Ducks are the only Pac-12 school with a perfect conference record still intact despite already clashing with the Wildcats and Bruins. They have won eight in a row since their triple overtime loss at Texas-El Paso to improve to 17-2.

Oregon is thriving with a balanced attack that has produced five players with double-digit scoring averages entering their Saturday matchup versus Washington. Freshman guard Damyean Dotson has become a key fixture right away as he is leading the team in scoring with 11.9 ppg.

Senior forward Arsalan Kazemi is making a big impact as well. Not only has the 6-9 Rice transfer averaged 8.8 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.2 steals per tilt as a Duck, he also gives Altman extra depth to work with in the frontcourt.

No coach in Oregon history has won 21 or more games in three straight seasons, meaning Altman will become the first with four more victories.

Oregon isn't the only team to be projected to finish seventh in its league by the conference coaches to be sitting atop the standings. Ole Miss has climbed into the Top 25 and won its first five conference games behind last season's national junior college player of the year, Marshall Henderson.

The 6-2 junior scorched Tennessee on Thursday night, scoring 24 of his game- high 28 points in the second half to raise his SEC-leading scoring average to 19.3 ppg. With Henderson's spark, the Rebels have managed to compile a 16-2 record that is highlighted by a 64-49 victory over Missouri.

Senior forward Murphy Holloway, who posts 15.8 points and 10.6 boards per outing, said good-bye to Ole Miss after his sophomore season and transferred to South Carolina. After redshirting in Columbia, Holloway decided to return to the Rebels' program, which has made a world of difference this season.

Coach Andy Kennedy and his team will be put to the test as it takes on Auburn, Kentucky and Florida over the next nine days.

Boise State, Lehigh and Bryant have all been marvelous this season although they are not playing in as highly regarded conferences as the Hurricanes, Ducks and Rebels.

Boise State stumbled last week, losing to both New Mexico and Air Force. However, the Broncos are still 14-4 overall with road victories over Creighton and Wyoming highlighting the resume. The Bluejays and Cowboys are both undefeated at home otherwise.

Boise State leads the Mountain West Conference in scoring (77.7 ppg) thanks to its dynamic one-two punch of Derrick Marks and Anthony Drmic.

Lehigh was expected to be a contender to return to the NCAA Tournament after it upset Duke in last season's second round behind the leadership of then- junior guard C.J. McCollum. However, the Mountain Hawks were dealt what was thought to be a devastating blow when the defending Patriot League Player of the Year broke his foot versus Virginia Commonwealth.

However, Lehigh has not lost since and picked up a significant victory at Bucknell on Wednesday to claim sole possession of first place in the conference standings.

Tim O'Shea took over the reins of Bryant's program in 2008-09, its first as a member of the Division I. The Bulldogs went 20-87 over the past four seasons, all of which they were ineligible for NCAA postseason play.

This season, Bryant shot off to a 13-4 start, including a 6-0 mark in Northeast Conference action before enduring an 87-76 loss at Sacred Heart on Thursday. The Bulldogs still sit alone in first place in the NEC in what has been by far their best season since moving up to the top tier.

The pleasant surprise teams of the college basketball season have come far enough to indicate they are much more than flukes. As March Madness continues to creep closer, they continue to prepare for the postseason, where all six will look to conclude their respective campaigns with exclamation points.

The Sports Network

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