The opening game in the Tuesday night college basketball double-header on ESPN at 8 PM ET involves two teams from the Atlantic Coast Conference underperforming despite NCAA Tournament aspirations.
North Carolina snapped a two-game losing streak on Saturday with their 66-65 victory over Notre Dame as a 9.5-point favorite. The Tar Heels had lost on the road at Georgia Tech and North Carolina State before that win. Head coach Roy Williams’ team has also endured high-profile losses at Iowa and on a neutral court against Texas on a buzzer-beating shot. North Carolina has posted victories against Kentucky and Stanford.
Williams’ experienced his worst record as the North Carolina head coach last year, with his team finishing with a 14-19 record. While Cole Anthony moved on to the NBA from that team, Williams did see most of the contributors last season return. He buttressed that group with one of the top-three incoming freshmen classes in the nation with three five-star recruits and another three four-star recruits.
The Tar Heels continue to struggle to make baskets. Last year’s team had an effective field goal percentage of 46.4%, with that group making only 30.4% of their shots from the 3-point line. North Carolina has an effective field goal percentage of 46.5% this season, and they are making only 28.7% of their 3-pointers. Those marks rank 265th and 288th in the country. The Tar Heels are crashing the boards like a typical Williams-coached team as they rank third in the nation by rebounding 41.4% of their missed shots.
Miami (FL) has opened the season 4-4 after losing two straight games along with four of their last five contests. The Hurricanes last played on Saturday, where they lost at home to Clemson, 66-65, as a 4.5-point underdog. That setback came on the heels of a 2-point loss at Virginia Tech.
Expectations were high for head coach Jim Larranaga’s team that has finished below .500 in the last two seasons after four straight 20-win seasons. Larranaga brought back all but one starter and another rotation player from the team last year that finished 15-16. He added two freshmen rated in the top-100 along with Cincinnati transfer 7’1 Nysier Brooks.
Yet injuries have ravaged the Hurricanes, which left them to just six scholarship players at a low point in mid-December. Two starters in the frontcourt, Sam Waldenburg and Rodney Miller, are out the season. Their top-40 rated freshman Earl Timberlake missed time. Kameron McGusty, the team’s second-leader scorer last season, has been out with a hamstring injury. The most significant loss has been from the absence of pre-season All-American point guard Chris Lykes who has been out since early December with an ankle injury. McGusty returned to the court on Saturday, where he played 28 minutes and scored 9 points, but his status in this game remains in doubt after experiencing soreness afterward. Lykes remains out for this game.
The bright side of all this attrition for Larranaga has been that rising sophomores Isaiah Wong and Harlond Beverly have stepped up to fill in the void with scoring and leadership. Miami won as an underdog against Purdue but got upset against Florida Gulf Coast and lost to Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech in addition to the Tigers on Saturday.
Despite the losses on their frontline, the Hurricanes are still getting quality play from their interior players. They rank 32nd in the nation by limiting their opponents to rebounding only 21.9% of their missed shots. Miami is also blocking 14.2% of their opponent’s shot attempts, ranking 20th best in the nation. Larranaga’s team is not offering many freebies to their opposition either. They have a free throw attempt-to-field goal attempt ratio of 20.2%, sixth-lowest in the nation. The Hurricanes are struggling to score points. They rank 304th with a 28.0% clip from 3-point land.
The ESPN broadcasts start at 8 PM ET. BetOnline
lists North Carolina as a 3-point road favorite with the total set at 140.5.