University of Miami

UM basketball team wary as it prepares for struggling Virginia Tech

Coach Jim Larrañaga and the Hurricanes won two close games last week and will try not to overlook Virginia Tech before facing a tough stretch.
Coach Jim Larrañaga and the Hurricanes won two close games last week and will try not to overlook Virginia Tech before facing a tough stretch. AP

If there was any game this season that the 11th-ranked University of Miami Hurricanes could be in danger of looking past, it would be Wednesday’s 9 p.m. home game against Virginia Tech.

UM has won seven of its past eight games, and is undefeated at home against conference opponents this season. The Canes are 20-4 overall, and in second place in the Atlantic Coast Conference behind North Carolina with a 9-3 conference record. The Hokies, meanwhile, have lost six of seven, are 13-12 overall and have won just five conference games.

Miami’s Ratings Percentage Index is No. 9. Virginia Tech’s is No. 119.

After Wednesday’s game, the Hurricanes face four Top 25 teams in a row — No. 5 North Carolina on the road, No. 7 Virginia at home, No. 18 Louisville at home and No. 19 Notre Dame on the road.

UM coach Jim Larrañaga and his players have said all season that they won’t fall into any trap games, that they learned their lesson last year, when a few losses to unheralded, unranked opponents wound up costing them a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

But Hokies coach Buzz Williams certainly won’t argue that on paper, Miami looks like the heavy favorite.

“They’re so good,” Williams said of the Hurricanes. “They’re incredibly talented, have great experience per position, and are playing at a very high level. It’s not just their backcourt, it’s every starter and [players] off the bench. They’re as talented as any team in our league. We’ll have problems from the very beginning.”

UM senior guard Sheldon McClellan averages 16.3 points per game, which isn’t as high as some other players, but his efficiency stands out. He is shooting 51.9 percent, which ranks ninth in the nation among guards. He is shooting 60.3 percent from two-point range and 86.7 percent from the free-throw line.

“People look at points, but I value efficiency,” Larrañaga said. “If someone takes 20 shots and scores 20 points and another guy takes nine shots and averages 18, I want the guy who took nine shots because that means you have 11 additional possessions to keep scoring. Sheldon is great.”

Over the past six games, McClellan’s backcourt partner Angel Rodriguez has averaged seven assists and just 1.3 turnovers.

Despite the impressive record and statistics, the Hurricanes’ past two games — against Pitt at home and Florida State on the road — were won by two points in the final minute. They’d like to avoid that drama on Wednesday.

“Obviously, a good week for us, playing two very good teams, hard-fought, both won at the buzzer,” UM associate head coach Chris Caputo said. “We’re proud of our guys because we know the margin for error is very small. Last year, we had a few that went the other way for us. This year, we’ve been able to make a few big plays. But we have a very difficult stretch coming up here.”

Michelle Kaufman: 305-376-3438, @kaufsports

Wednesday: No. 11 UM men vs. Virginia Tech

When, where: 9 p.m., BankUnited Center, Coral Gables.

Records: UM 20-4 (9-3 ACC); Virginia Tech 13-12 (5-7).

TV, radio: Fox Sports Sun; WQAM (560 AM).

Scouting report: The Hurricanes escaped Tallahassee with a 67-65 win over FSU last Sunday, and needed an Angel Rodriguez put-back with 1.4 seconds remaining to beat Pittsburgh in the previous game. Virginia Tech is coming off a 67-49 loss to No. 7 Virginia, and has lost seven of its past eight games. Hokies guard Chris Clark missed eight weeks with a fractured foot, and returned last week.

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