The Hurricanes are coming off one of the ugliest losses in program history, scoring only 38 points in a road defeat to Virginia. The schedule does not get any easier, as Miami hosts North Carolina on Saturday at 4 p.m.
But can the Hurricanes (15-8, 6-6 ACC) pull off the home upset against the No. 3 Tar Heels (18-5, 10-2 ACC)? Clemson just did. The Tigers, who have a similar record to Miami, took down North Carolina in Chapel Hill on Tuesday.
“It doesn’t matter who the opponent is,” UM guard Bensley Joseph said. “We play in such a tough conference, so any given night, a team can show up and beat you. This game is just another ACC game … but it’s on a bigger scale. We know what we have to do. We know we have to get as many ACC games as we can.”
But the Hurricanes will need to improve massively from their poor performance in Charlottesville to have a shot against the Tar Heels. UNC is the top team in the conference and boasts two of the ACC’s top players: veteran Armando Bacot and guard R.J. Davis.
“We know they’re really good in transition,” Miami guard Matthew Cleveland said. “They have one of the best bigs in the ACC and one of the best point guards in the ACC, so we know they’re going to try to get those two involved early and often.”
Davis, a senior, is leading the ACC with 21.3 points per game, which is also ninth nationally. Bacot, a fifth-year senior and two-time All-ACC pick, is averaging 14.3 points and 10 rebounds this year.
“(Bacot) and I, I think, are the same age,” Larrañaga said. “He’s just a tremendous role model for other student-athletes who decide that education is important.”
Larrañaga said the key to Clemson’s upset earlier in the week was the Tigers getting an early lead and not having to battle back against the tough Tar Heels late in the game.
“They had a great first half where they led from start to finish,” Larrañaga said. “And then in the second half, Carolina made its run, as you would expect, and tied the game up, but Clemson was still — because they had led the whole time — they weren’t the team fighting to get back. … They were able to execute down the stretch and win a very, very close game.”
Miami’s biggest issue throughout ACC play has been its inability to stay healthy. Four starters, Norchad Omier, Nijel Pack, Cleveland and Wooga Poplar, have all missed time during this season due to various injuries. Key freshman Kyshawn George suffered an injury early in the loss to Virginia, and Poplar has been using a walking boot to help relieve pain from his sprained ankle.
“We’re in the last five miles of the marathon and trying to gain some momentum,” Larrañaga said. “We haven’t been able to do that all year in 2024 because of injury. First, it was Nijel, then it was Wooga, then it was Norchad, then it was Matt. Now it’s Kyshawn.”
Larrañaga said Poplar is expected to play, but George’s status will be determined on Saturday. George participated in practice on Friday, according to 247Sports.
Miami announced a sellout crowd for Saturday’s game against the Tar Heels, and Larrañaga said he hopes the crowd brings the energy to get the team going like it did at times in their last home game, a win over Virginia Tech.
“I hope it’s loud and energetic and cheers our guys on,” Larrañaga said. “The other day … we were down and we started to make our run, and I was imploring the crowd to get into it and start cheering. They did, and that really helped energize us for those last five minutes. Hopefully, they can do that for 40 minutes.”