Miami and Clemson provide the only matchup of ranked ACC teams this weekend when the No. 18 Hurricanes and No. 19 Tigers clash Saturday in Clemson’s Littlejohn Coliseum.
The Hurricanes (13-2, 2-1 ACC) will be playing the second contest of a three-game stretch against ranked conference teams, having held on for an 80-74 victory over No. 23 Florida State on Sunday. They host No. 7 Duke on Monday night.
The Tigers (14-2, 3-1 ACC) will be looking to bounce back from Thursday night’s 78-77 loss at North Carolina State, a defeat that snapped a 10-game winning streak.
The Tigers moved into the rankings for the first time to start the new year, debuting at No. 25 in the Jan. 1 poll after beating the Wolfpack by 16 points in the first of their two scheduled meetings.
The respect and recognition for coach Brad Brownell’s club may be a recent development, but Miami’s Jim Larranaga wasn’t surprised at its rise. He saw the Tigers’ potential a year ago when they were struggling to a 17-16 record. Brownell will start a combination of two seniors, two redshirt juniors and a true junior.
“That’s a great formula for success — veterans who have been in the system, who really know the coach, know the coaching style, know the philosophy, have played in the system, and who know each other,” Larranaga said.
All starters average in double figures for the Tigers led by guard Marcquise Reed’s 15.9 average and forward Donte Grantham’s 14.7. But it is at the opposite end of the court where Brownell sees the big improvement.
“We have five guys scoring in double figures so we have some good depth that way in terms of our scoring,” Brownell said. “I think this team has improved defensively over last year’s team. I think that is part of the reason why we’re playing a little bit better.”
Larranaga sees a difference in defensive approaches as the issue his Hurricanes face this week. Against Florida State last game, the Hurricanes faced a Seminoles’ team that liked to play pressure and extend the court.
“That gave us the opportunity to run and to attack off the dribble,” he said. “Against Clemson, a team that plays much more like Virginia with a packing defense, the ball needs to move faster and you need to spread that defense out. And the way you do it is with passing and cutting, and that’s an adjustment.”
The Hurricanes got nice games out of their top two scorers in the win over Florida State with guard Bruce Brown (11.8 points per game) scoring 23 and forward Dewan Huell (13.9) adding 20, and freshman guard Chris Lykes (7.5) broke out with 18.
“Brad Brownell and I have coached against each other so many times,” Larranaga said. “I know he’s going to play a packing man-to-man, except on a specific guy he might deny.
“He might deny our 5-man or he might deny our point guard. But everybody else is going to be in the lane and try to stay between the ball and the basket. And that’s very challenging for your team.”