They scared the heck out of undefeated No. 2 Syracuse at the Carrier Dome last Saturday before losing by five. The University of Miami Hurricanes now head to Chapel Hill, N.C., to face another perennial power in a famous dome.
The Hurricanes (8-6) play at North Carolina’s Dean Dome on Wednesday night in a nationally televised game (ESPN2, 9 p.m.).
They hope to extend their three-game win streak against UNC. After going 2-18 against North Carolina, the Canes won three in a row against the Heels last season — 68-59 at the Dean Dome, an 87-61 stunner at home and 87-77 in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game in Greensboro, N.C., in March.
After that game, legendary North Carolina coach Roy Williams waited outside the UM locker room, then went in to address the Hurricanes and tell them how impressed he was with them. It was an extraordinary gesture of sportsmanship, and UM players said they were truly honored.
No doubt Williams is taking Wednesday’s game seriously, especially considering how inconsistent his team has been this season.
North Carolina (10-4) fell out of the Top 25 this week after a 73-67 loss to Wake Forest. It is hard to figure out what to make of the Tar Heels. They beat No. 5 Michigan State, No. 12 defending champion Louisville and No. 14 Kentucky. But they lost 83-80 to Belmont, 63-59 to UAB, 86-83 to Texas and then the Wake Forest loss.
“Wake Forest is very, very good, so I don’t consider that an upset,’’ UM coach Jim Larrañaga said. “They are 10-0 at home this year, so them beating North Carolina at home doesn’t surprise me. As for the other games, some of them came down to free throws. They missed 26 free throws against Belmont.’’
Williams blamed the loss to Wake Forest on poor play in the paint, pointing out that despite 24 offensive rebounds, they got only 24 second-chance points and gave up 20 layups. The Heels also shot just 38.7 percent, their second-lowest outing of the season. He wants his team to be more physical and aggressive inside against UM, and spent most of Monday’s practice on that mission.
“It was the most physical practice we have had for an hour all year long,” Williams said on his radio show Monday. “They were beating each other up, and it didn’t bother me in the least bit. We’ve got to be more forceful around the basket and finish plays, and hopefully it helped us.’’
It should help the Tar Heels that center Joel James is expected back after missing four games with a sprained knee ligament.
Offensively, North Carolina relies on Marcus Paige, who was averaging 18.4 points before being held to eight points by Wake Forest. He had been a dangerous perimeter threat, shooting 40 percent on three-pointers, but was 1 for 8 against the Demon Deacons.
Miami ranks 12th in the nation in scoring defense, allowing 59.5 points per game. The Hurricanes switched to zone from man-to-man, and it seems to be working. Syracuse struggled to score last Saturday, and wound up winning 49-44.
UM was leading by six with seven minutes to go, and the score was tied with four minutes to go before Syracuse closed out the win.
“Our defense got stretched at the end,’’ Larrañaga said. “We gave up some easy baskets, and you can’t afford to do that against Syracuse. Can’t afford it against Carolina, either.’’
Although playing well against Syracuse should give UM players confidence, Larrañaga said each opponent is so different that they can’t rely on carryover from one game to the next.
“In the ACC, the styles of play are so extreme, so you have to prepare completely different for each game,’’ he said. “Syracuse plays almost exclusively 2-3 zone, Duke is almost all man-to-man, and Carolina changes their defenses five or six times a half. You have no idea what they’ll do. ... You have to prepare for all of it, and our two point guards (Manu Lecomte and Davon Reed) are freshmen, so this is all new to them.’’
The Tar Heels face Syracuse on Saturday, but Williams said he is not worried about his team looking past the UM game.
“If one of our guys is thinking for one freakin’ second about Syracuse, then I’ll say you’re the dumbest guy that’s ever lived,” Williams said. “Because we haven’t beaten the team that we’re playing Wednesday night yet.”