Ranked for the first four weeks of the season, Miami hasn’t even received a vote in the AP poll in each of the last two weeks. If the Hurricanes are looking to state their case for an NCAA tournament berth, though, they are entering the perfect stretch in which to do so.
Miami looks to avoid a fourth straight loss and notch a rare win over a top 10 opponent when it hosts No. 7 Wake Forest on Wednesday.
The Hurricanes (14-7, 3-5 ACC) were ranked 17th in the preseason, but two straight overtime losses and a 73-68 defeat at Maryland on Saturday has left them with a losing record halfway through conference play.
“We had two tough losses,” Miami coach Frank Haith said. “When you lose games in overtime back-to-back, you got a little sting there. We’ve got to get our guys back on track and moving forward.”
Miami will begin its toughest stretch of the season against Wake Forest, with a trip to No. 4 Duke and a home game against No. 3 North Carolina to follow. The Hurricanes have lost 19 of their last 20 games to top 10 teams - two this season.
“The one thing we gotta look at is this is just a great opportunity,” Haith said. “This league is just a great basketball league.”
Miami will be up against a Wake Forest team that is one of the best defensive squads in the country, holding foes to an ACC-low 36.8 shooting percentage. Demon Deacons coach Dino Gaudio has employed the “pack line” defensive scheme popularized by former Wisconsin coach Dick Bennett, in which one player pressures the ball and the others sag back in help positions.
“It’s been very, very good for us,” Gaudio said. “We’re only a year and a half into it. Everybody says after two full seasons, it’s even better.”
The Demon Deacons (17-2, 4-2), though, suffered some defensive breakdowns Saturday in a 76-74 loss at Georgia Tech - the first conference win of the season for the Yellow Jackets. Georgia Tech shot 41 percent, fourth-highest by a Wake Forest opponent this season.
“Our ball-screen defense wasn’t good,” Gaudio said. “They hurt us with that - they hurt us with their ball screens.”
Miami could hurt the Deacons with its 3-point shooting. The Hurricanes like to shoot 3s, as they average an ACC-high 20.4 per game.
However, prolific long-range shooting might not be the best strategy to employ against Wake. The Deacons’ “pack-line” scheme has helped limit foes to 27.3 percent from beyond the arc in 2008-09.
Plus, Miami is coming off 10-for-31 effort from 3-point range against Maryland.
“We got caught into shooting the ball too quickly,” Haith said. “We can’t play like that. That’s not our game.”
This game features a matchup of two of the top five scorers in the conference in Wake’s Jeff Teague, who averages 20.6 points, and Miami’s Jack McClinton, who’s scoring 18.4 points per game. Neither has shot well recently, with Teague averaging 35.7 percent from the field in his last two outings and McClinton shooting 39.6 percent during the Hurricanes’ three-game losing streak.
In the only previous meeting between the players, Teague scored 27 points and Ishmael Smith made a winning jumper over McClinton with three seconds left in a 70-68 Deacons victory last Jan. 29. McClinton had a team-high 16 points for Miami, which fell to 1-7 all-time against Wake Forest.