Miami moved into the Top 25 for the first time in more than five years when the AP poll was released on Monday. Hours later, the Hurricanes did their best to prove they are worthy of the spot.
The 22nd-ranked Hurricanes look to extend their unbeaten streak and protect their first national ranking under fourth-year coach Frank Haith when they host North Florida on Thursday.
Miami (10-0) used a 9-0 start to climb to climb into this week’s poll - its first ranking since 2001-02, when the Hurricanes were ranked for the last 12 weeks of the season and rose as high as No. 12.
“It is early, but for where our program is and where we’re trying to be, it’s a great thing,” Haith said Monday afternoon. “We’re trying to build a program here and the more weeks you can stay ranked it helps build your resume for the end of the year.”
Haith’s team did its part to stay in the rankings later Monday, shooting a season-high 55 percent from the field in an 89-53 win over Stetson.
“Before the game, I told the guys, the bull’s-eye is on their chest now. We talked about not slopping the game up,” said Haith, whose team is 10-0 for the first time since winning its first 14 games in 2001-02. “We’re growing and getting more confidence each time out. But we haven’t peaked yet.”
Five Hurricanes scored in double figures including Brian Asbury, who led the team with 18 points and nine rebounds and added four assists and three steals. Asbury is one of four Miami players averaging 9.6 points or more.
“Each and every one of us can bring something to the table,” said forward Raymond Hicks, who added 15 points and six boards Monday. “We depend on each other and have confidence we can do the job.”
North Florida (1-8) has lost six in a row since notching its lone win on Nov. 16. The Ospreys used a 19-5 run to tie Tuesday’s game against Florida Atlantic with less than six minutes remaining, but eventually lost 70-64 to fall to 0-5 on the road.
“You are never pleased with a loss, but our guys are definitely showing improvement,” North Florida coach Matt Kilcullen said. “We made some nice plays to get ourselves back into the game, and we had chances late to take the lead. We just didn’t finish the job.”
“But I was happy with our effort, our energy and how hard the guys played together in a tough environment and against a tough team.”
This is the first meeting between these teams. The Hurricanes have won 44 of their last 52 games against in-state opponents, including all three such matchups this season.
The Ospreys have played only two games against ranked opponents since they moved to Division I in 2005, losing to Florida both times by an average of 48.5 points.