Befitting a team from Miami, the Hurricanes will make a fashionably late entrance to the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, playing their opening game at 9 p.m. Thursday.
The tournament has been going on since Tuesday at the Verizon Center in Washington, but as the third seed, 11th-ranked Miami got a double-bye into the latest quarterfinal. The Canes (24-6, 13-5 ACC) will play No. 6 seed Virginia Tech, which defeated Florida State 96-85 late Wednesday.
Miami lost its regular-season finale 77-62 at Virginia Tech last Saturday, and it was a game the Canes would like to forget. The inspired Hokies were riding a five-game winning streak after losing five in a row in late January, and coach Buzz Williams has them believing they can make noise in March.
Last season the Canes also played the Hokies four days apart in the season finale and the ACC opener. Miami won both games easily, but this season beating the Hokies (19-13) is not a given.
UM coach Jim Larrañaga is counting on his team’s experience at this most critical time of the season. The starting lineup includes redshirt seniors Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan, senior Tonye Jekiri, redshirt junior Kamari Murphy and junior Davon Reed. He said the team’s age is reminiscent of the 2013 UM team that made the Sweet 16 and his George Mason team that reached the 2006 Final Four.
“Our George Mason team had three seniors in the starting lineup,” Larrañaga said. “This year’s team has three seniors and a redshirt senior in the starting lineup. I would say the common denominator is experience. We have older guys, and I think they have a great deal of confidence in themselves and their ability to play at the highest level.”
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski concurs. His Blue Devils lost 80-69 to the Hurricanes on Jan. 25.
“They’re old and experienced,” Krzyzewski said. “Obviously, extremely well-coached and deep. They’re one of the better teams. Jim is one of the best coaches in the country. They’re terrific. It’s not like this is the first year. They’re really good. They’re usually old, with the transfers. And smart. They’re as respected as anybody in the league and throughout the country. They’re that good.”
The Canes should get a lift from the return of sophomore guard Ja’Quan Newton, who is back after a three-game suspension for violating team rules. Newton was averaging 10.9 points and 22 minutes per game before being suspended. He also got to the free-throw line 121 times, second only to McClellan.
“Any player that averages double figures is going to be missed,” Larrañaga said. “He is such a good offensive player getting to the basket, getting to the foul line.”
Thursday: No. 11 UM men vs. Virginia Tech or Florida State
When, where: 9 p.m., Verizon Center, Washington.
TV, radio: Channel 33, ESPN; WQAM (560), WVUM (90.5 FM).
Records: UM 24-6; Virginia Tech 18-13.
Scouting report: UM split with Virginia Tech this season — a 65-49 win at home and a 77-62 road loss in the season finale last Saturday. … The Canes won eight of their last 10 regular-season games and will get back sixth man Ja’Quan Newton, who was suspended for the past three games.