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College basketball insider: Larranaga works Miami magic

| Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013, 10:43 p.m.

It didn't take long for Miami basketball coach Jim Larranaga to change the culture in south Florida. Once-indifferent fans who hardly bothered to show up for games now storm the court following big Hurricanes victories.

One of only two Atlantic Coast Conference teams ranked in the top 25 this week, Miami was the talk of the league after routing then-No. 1 Duke, 90-63, on Jan. 23 and setting off mass hysteria inside the BankUnited Center.

Since replacing Frank Haith in April 2011, Larranaga's goal has been selling the program nationally while repairing the team's image locally.

Last year, Larranaga became the first Miami coach to win 20 games in his inaugural season. In the process, the Hurricanes established milestones by winning for the first time at Duke and defeating Florida State for the first time since 2009.

For an encore, Miami has won 19 of its first 22 games while earning a No. 8 ranking in the polls this week. The Hurricanes carried an 11-game winning streak after Saturday's game against North Carolina.

“There is a difference in tradition (now),” Larranaga said. “You've got to remember that the Miami basketball program was dropped for a number of years and didn't come back until 1985. Back then, you're starting from the basement level, even below the basement, just trying to lay some form of foundation.”

Larranaga, who built a solid program at George Mason that made a Cinderella run to the Final Four in 2006, understands that selling basketball at Miami involves more than what occurs on the court.

“It's very, very challenging,” Larranaga said during his weekly conference call. “We had the same situation at George Mason. We were in a large metropolitan area where competition for the entertainment dollar was keen. Everybody said we couldn't draw and we couldn't build a great basketball program because, basically, Maryland and Georgetown dominated the D.C. area. And the fans that were sports fans or pro fans followed the Wizards and the Caps. But we didn't listen to the naysayers.”

Larranaga wore those same earplugs in Miami.

“We did (at George Mason) what we planned on doing here in Miami, and that is build a grassroots network of people who support our program,” Larranaga said. “My staff and I have reached out to the local community to try to get young kids to follow our program.

“We had our first high school basketball game in the BankUnited Center. Those are the kind of people that want to become season-ticket holders and fans of the Miami Hurricanes program.”

But you can't win over the fans without winning games. And that takes recruiting winning players such as sophomore guard Shane Larkin, the son of Hall of Fame baseball player Barry Larkin.

Larkin originally signed with DePaul but changed his mind and wanted to be closer to his family in Orlando, Fla. He transferred to play for Larranaga, who recruited the player when he was at George Mason.

Larkin leads Miami in assists and steals and is second in scoring this season.

“I think sometimes you connect with a young man or his family,” Larranaga said regarding his relationship with Larkin. “They feel like they know you. They listen to your approach to coaching, and they listen to how you develop your players and your program. Coming back to Florida, he had that familiarity with us.”

‘Forty minutes of hell' revisited

First, there was Nolan Richardson, whose Arkansas teams unleashed “40 minutes of hell” on opponents based on relentless defensive pressure. Arkansas won a national championship in 1994 and finished runner-up the following year.

Mike Anderson was the top assistant on those teams. Two decades later, Anderson is picking up where Richardson left off.

Anderson's team plays a style similar to his mentor's. But instead of “40 minutes of hell,” Anderson gave it a new name.

“We call it the fastest 40 minutes in basketball,” Anderson said when he took the Arkansas job.

Following nine years at Missouri and UAB, where he led his teams to the NCAA tournament six times, Anderson is trying to rekindle the fire in his second season at Arkansas.

Last year, the Razorbacks finished 18-14 and missed the postseason. Following Tuesday's 80-69 upset win over No. 2 Florida — the school's first win over a team ranked that high since 1999 — Arkansas improved to 14-8.

Fastest 40 minutes in basketball? Heck, yes.

Arkansas leads the SEC in turnover margin, assists and assist-turnover ratio. The Razorbacks rank No. 11 in the country in steals and forced Florida into 16 turnovers resulting in 21 points.

“I think we're progressing,” said Anderson, who has no seniors this year.

Arkansas' leading scorers against Florida were sophomore B.J. Young, freshman Michael Qualls and junior Marshawn Powell.

Around the country

UMass guard Chaz Williams' 27 points and eight assists helped beat Rhode Island. Williams is the only player in the country averaging 15 points, seven assists, four rebounds and two steals this season. Pitt's Brandon Knight did it in 2001-02. ... Free-wheeling Mississippi guard Marshall Henderson leads the SEC in scoring. Henderson has launched at least 10 3-pointers in seven consecutive games. ... Long Beach State's dominance in the Big West has been fueled by transfers Keala King (Arizona State), Tony Freeland (DePaul) and Dan Jennings (West Virginia), who combine for nearly 30 points per game. ... Oregon State's Joe Burton became the first Division I center to record at least 17 points, seven rebounds and 10 assists in a game since Northwestern's Evan Eschmeyer in 1999.

John Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jharris@tribweb.com or via Twitter @jharris_Trib.

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