Miami Hurricanes Basketball: Canes Face Benchmark Game Against NC State

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistMarch 15, 2013

Larkin has keyed the offense in many of the Hurricanes' 25 wins this season.
Larkin has keyed the offense in many of the Hurricanes' 25 wins this season.Grant Halverson/Getty Images

After a well-documented scorching start to the ACC basketball season, it's no secret that the Miami Hurricanes have cooled off significantly.

Miami's first loss in conference play to Wake Forest started a stretch in which the team would lose three of four games.

Following a victory over Virginia Tech, the 'Canes fell to Duke in Cameron Indoor by three points and Georgia Tech at the buzzer.

ACC Coach of the Year Jim Larranaga's team recovered from the defeats and took out Clemson to clinch the outright ACC title for the first time in school history.

Fast-forward to Friday afternoon's matchup with Boston College, and Miami looked to be in control when they took an early 21-8 lead.

It appeared as if the 'Canes had put the late-season losses far, far in the rear-view mirror, but the Eagles had other plans.

Boston College took a slim two-point halftime lead and battled Miami for the entire second half. Although Larranaga's squad pulled away at the end to win 69-58, it was never a pretty game for Miami.

The Hurricanes advance to play North Carolina State in the semifinals on Saturday afternoon, and it's a game that will show the current status of this veteran Miami team.

Remember their only meeting during the regular season?

Reggie Johnson tipped in a Shane Larkin miss with 0.8 seconds remaining to lift the 'Canes over NC State 79-78. And let's not forget about Rodney Purvis' 80-foot heave rimming-out at the buzzer, either.

On Friday, senior sharpshooter Scott Wood drained seven three-pointers and the Wolfpack smacked around a dangerous Virginia squad 75-56.

A team littered with All-ACC selections, NC State's Richard Howell (First Team) chipped in six points and snagged 12 rebounds, Lorenzo Brown (Second Team) added nine points, six rebounds and five assists and C.J. Leslie (Third Team) earned a double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds.

Got all that?

The Wolfpack played an ultimate team game en route to their impressive victory, something the 'Canes have prided themselves on this year.

Sophomore and Cousy Award finalist Shane Larkin is undoubtedly the catalyst offensively for Miami, and senior Durand Scott is the best defender in the ACC.

Second-team All-ACC member Kenny Kadji averages 13.6 points per game while fellow senior Trey McKinney Jones scores 9.2 per contest.

See where this is going?

The first-seeded Hurricanes must play better team-oriented basketball than the fifth-seeded Wolfpack.

Of course, it's simple for me to write that as I'm not one of the players on the court.

What I can say, however, is North Carolina State provides one of—if not the best—tests for Miami heading into the NCAA tournament.

Both teams have significant depth at each position, so the phrase "taking a possession off" should never come into play.

Though the Wolfpack hold a clear edge in points per game (78 to the Canes' 69), the scoring for Miami and NC State is primarily split among six players on each team.

The Hurricanes have struggled to put together a complete game recently, and the Wolfpack will clearly demand Miami's undivided attention.

Ultimately, if you want to see how good Miami will likely be in the tournament, tune in to ESPN at 1 p.m. ET on Saturday.

You can bet a host of top teams will be watching, too.