Riding a nine-game winning streak and perfect 8-0 ACC score card, the University of Miami's men's basketball program hit another milestone yesterday: a spot on the Associated Press' top 10.
According to the number crunchers, the team is currently the eighth best in the country. Those new bragging rights are a particular surprise seeing as how two weeks ago, the Hurricanes were unranked and largely written off by hoops know-it-alls and talking heads.
Now, with a dismantling of Duke and a nail-biter finish against N.C. State in the rearview, the squad seems to be finally pocketing the respect its court play deserves.
Not that the road ahead isn't mined with challenges.
Tonight, Miami goes against Boston College at home in another ACC matchup. Saturday, North Carolina will be in Coral Gables. The schedule for the following week includes a road show landing at Florida State and Clemson.
But this week's AP ranking is a clear sign more attention will lock onto the Hurricanes as they push on.
Watchers are already stringing parallels between Miami's current run and the Cinderella Final Four long shot Larranaga helmed at George Mason in 2006. And comparisons like that can be a pain -- nothing kills concentration like a load of expectations hastily tossed on your shoulders.
At a Sunday news conference following the team's return from North Carolina, Larranaga acknowledged the similarities between the two situations. But George Mason, he was careful to point out, first began feeling the heat of national media coverage after a televised bracket buster win against Wichita State in late February '06.
"This is obviously happening much earlier in the regular season," Larranaga said of the attention aimed at his current squad. "There's still ten conference games remaining. So we're not even through the halfway mark of the conference race. It's still way too early to know what it's going to be like at the end of February and the first of March."
Even though he was keeping his feet on the ground and head level about the Hurricanes' prospects down the line, Larranaga seemed confident in his guys, particularly about the squad's evolving chemistry.
"I think one of the things that has happened that the team has developed some trust in each other and good understanding what's expected," Larranaga said. "As these games unwind, the more you win, the more you find ways to win because your team is persevering."