From the moment the University of Miami men’s basketball schedule was released, Dec. 8 was a date that stood out. The University of Florida Gators are at the BankUnited Center on Tuesday night to face the 17th-ranked Hurricanes, and the arena is expected to be packed and loud.
The game is being televised at 7 p.m. on ESPN2, which always brings out the best in the Miami student section.
UM coach Jim Larrañaga said fans should expect a “Battle Royale” as the Canes and Gators go at it on the Miami home floor a year after Angel Rodriguez scored 24 points (five threes in the second half) to lead a furious rally and the Hurricanes pulled off a 69-67 upset of then-No. 8 UF in Gainesville.
“I know the guys will be excited with a sold-out crowd,” UM guard Sheldon McClellan said. “But we can’t let the crowd overwhelm us. We’ve got to play calm and play Miami basketball for 40 minutes. I think it will take everyone awhile — maybe the first five minutes — to settle down. After that, we should be fine.”
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Miami is 7-1, its lone loss at home to Northeastern. Florida is 6-1, with a loss to then-No. 21 and now No. 11 Purdue.
“This is by far the most talented team we’ve played,” Larrañaga said. “They’ve got not a good player, but a great player, at every position and they have a very deep and talented bench. Their size and length and their defensively ability, they’re ranked fourth in the nation in defensive efficiency on KenPom.com [an analytics website]. That creates a major challenge for any team.”
First-year UF coach Mike White was equally effusive about Miami.
“Miami is really good, like Purdue,” White said. “They’re the third-ranked, according to the Ken Pom numbers, offensive team in the country. That’s a huge test for us defensively. It’s of course a road game against an ACC opponent that I think will be very competitive in their league. Early on in the season, it’s an opportunity for us and it’s also a test to see where we’re at and what we need to continue to work on, strengths and weaknesses.”
He stressed the importance of guarding Rodriguez.
“We all need to know where Angel is for 40 minutes when you’re guarding Miami because he’s capable of stepping up, hitting a couple threes in transition as he did last year in the O’Dome and getting himself going,” White said. “Wow was he unbelievable in that game.”
UF forward Devin Robinson agreed that the Gators will focus on stopping Rodriguez.
“We have to make it a hard night for him from the beginning,” he said. “We can’t let him get off to an early start, get comfortable at home, start getting hot.”
Robinson expects a physical, emotional game.
“They’re going to talk and it’s going to be a hard-nosed game,” he said. “If we don’t come in there with the mentality, that dog mentality, then we’re going to lose at their place and they’re going to be talking like they’re are the best in Florida, and we definitely don’t want that to happen.”
No. 17 UM men vs. University of Florida
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday.
Where: BankUnited Center.
Records: UM 7-1; UF 6-1.
TV, radio: ESPN2; WHIM (1080), WVUM (90.5 FM).
Tickets: Sold out. Tickets available through StubHub starting $30.
Scouting report: Last year in Gainesville, the Hurricanes went on an 18-1 run, rallied from a 14-point deficit and shocked the then-No. 8 Gators 69-67. Guard Angel Rodriguez had 24 points, including five three-pointers in the final seven minutes. UF is a great rebounding team, led by Dorian Finney Smith (14. ppg/9 rpg), John Egbunu (12.7 ppg/ 8.3 rpg) and Devin Robinson (11.1 ppg/8 rpg)