The Duke Blue Devils are still the No. 1 ranked team in the nation, but they will have another big test to that ranking today at the Bank United Center in Coral Gables at 7 p.m. ET. The game will be televised nationally on ESPN, and the Miami Hurricanes come into the game boasting a No. 25 ranking.
That ranking is well-deserved, as they are currently undefeated in conference play with a notable win over the North Carolina Tar Heels. You could argue that the ‘Canes are more of a fringe top 25 team on the cusp of a ranking, but I’m not going to nit-pick here.
Miami is stocked with a multitude of key players in Julian Gamble, Kenny Kadji, Shane Larkin, and Durand Scott. Trey McKinney-Jones also gives the Hurricanes an above-average player who fills up the stat sheet to the tune of ten points per game, four rebounds per game, and a pair of assists per contest.
Duke will once again be missing Ryan Kelly, but they should still be able to win this game. It’s going to be incredibly close, though, because Miami is at home and has plenty of talent. However, they don’t have much depth due to injuries, and Duke’s starting talent is still at least as good as Miami’s even with Kelly out.
Mason Plumlee and the Blue Devils will also be facing a solid defensive team down south, but the loss of Reggie Johnson plays into Plumlee’s strength for sure. The importance of Plumlee and Seth Curry going forward has been increased greatly without Kelly, so the two John Wooden candidates will need to dominate in this one. This Duke squad showed a lot of resiliency against a poor Georgia Tech team by grouping together in the second-half and blowing Tech out by controlling the game down the stretch after a subpar first-half.
The loss of Kelly hurts Duke in the short term, but it benefits them in the long run. If Duke is able to win by at least five points against Miami, then there is a little doubt that they are the best team in the country since it would be a top 25 win without Kelly. Miami is definitely not a team to take lightly, because they are playing as well as anybody in conference play right now. In fact, they have been better than N.C. State in conference play and are firmly entrenched as the third best team in the conference, mostly due to the win over UNC.
I think we’ll see Gamble and Miami get behind the home crowd early and give the ‘Canes the lead, but Curry will start hitting some shots early on, the freshmen will pull it together, and Plumlee will continue to do work and wear the Miami defense down in the paint. This is definitely going to be the most entertaining game tonight, and you can bet Miami will come close to pulling off a home upset against the top-ranked team with Gamble leading the charge.
You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter @SorianoJoe.