If University of Miami students and fans are still feeling blue about the football team’s funk, the 15th-ranked men’s basketball team will hope to ease their pain with a nationally televised home victory on Tuesday night over 24th-ranked Illinois.
The unbeaten Hurricanes (7-0) will battle the unbeaten Illini (6-0) in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. UM coach Jim Larrañaga and his players planned to dorm-storm on campus Monday night to urge students to help fill the BankUnited Center. UM has never been ranked as high as 15th this early in the season.
“I hope it’ll be sold out,” Larrañaga said. “We need the students to come out in large numbers. Hopefully, the community will know this is two Top 25 teams battling against each other, both undefeated, high-scoring teams, very exciting teams to watch. Even though they could stay home and watch it on ESPN2, it’s a late start and some people may choose to do that, but there’s nothing like being in that arena with that new scoreboard, video replay, like an NBA environment.”
UM point guard Angel Rodriguez, who dazzled against Florida with 24 points and gutsy late-game three-pointers, said he isn’t sure what kind of crowd to expect. He went to high school at Miami Krop, played two seasons at Kansas State and came back home. He knows Miami fans typically don’t show up unless a team is winning.
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“It’s something you have to earn here,” Rodriguez said. “There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s very different from Manhattan, Kansas, but at the end of the day, it’s going to be worth it. You know they’re coming because you’re doing something right. It will be a great feeling if one day we pack the BUC.”
The Illini rank fifth in the nation in scoring at 90 points per game, and the Canes like to run, so it promises to be “an up-tempo, high-scoring, highlight-reel type” of game, Larrañaga said. “I think you’ll see some spectacular shot making and play making and shot blocking, as well.”
Like the Hurricanes, who get a bulk of their scoring from guards Rodriguez, Sheldon McClellan and Manu Lecomte, Illinois is a guard-oriented team. Rayvonte Rice, Malcolm Hill and Aaron Cosby all figure to play key roles.
UM coaches have been stressing defense all week because the Canes let up against South Alabama on Friday night, giving up 54 second-half points. They also were outrebounded 28-12 in the second half, including 15-2 on the offensive glass.
“We haven’t played the kind of team or individual defense we need to in the past two games,” Larrañaga said. “We need to correct that. With Illinois, you have a team that is very, very good at scoring. We need to get back faster, contest their threes and rebound.”
Although the Canes are honored to be ranked 15th, they are trying not to get too excited yet.
“I’d like to be ranked No.1 all season, but what we don’t do is focus on the ranking and its significance this early,” Larrañaga said. “Right now, it’s a popularity contest. Nobody can determine who’s going to be the best in our league at this moment. There are certain teams that are showing that they could be, but it’s early. But we’re very proud of being ranked this high this early in the season because it’s a reflection of a lot of hard work that began last April.”
Tuesday: No.15 UM men vs. No.24 Illinois
When/where: 9 p.m.; BankUnited Center.
TV/radio: ESPN2; WQAM 560; WSUA 1260 (Spanish); WVUM 90.5 FM.
Records: UM 7-0; Illinois 6-0.
Noteworthy: The Hurricanes have never been ranked this high this early in the season. … The Illini rank fifth in the nation in scoring at 90 points per game, and the Canes have been averaging 77 points.
FIU men vs. Kennesaw State
When/where: 7:30 p.m.; FIU Arena.
TV/radio: PantherVision, at http://www.fiusports.com.
Records: FIU 4-3; Kennesaw State 3-4.
Noteworthy: FIU beat Kennesaw State by eight points last season at Kennesaw’s tournament. … This is FIU’s last home game until Jan.15, when Conference USA opponent Marshall comes to town. … The Panthers are holding opponents to 37.5 percent shooting.