Hurricanes can turn around season against red-hot Blue Devils

Junior guards Matthew Cleveland and Bensley Joseph attempt to steal the ball from NJIT player in the second half of Miami's game against NJIT at the Watsco Center on Nov. 6, 2023. Photo credit: Alexandra Fisher

It’s finally Duke day.

This is a game that Hurricanes fans circle on their calendars all year long. Luckily for Miami, this game is in Coral Gables this year, and the crowd at the Watsco Center should be as raucous as it is all year.

While the hype for this matchup is not as high as it may have been in December, any time Duke and Miami get together, there are bound to be some fireworks. This Miami team is a far cry from the Final Four hopefuls that fans had hoped for at the start of the year.

Miami comes into this game having lost four straight games and five of its last six overall. The Hurricanes sit at 11th in the ACC with a 6-9 record in the conference and a 15-11 record overall. With injuries and inconsistencies battering this team all season long, it’s been frustrating for head coach Jim Larrañaga.

The Hurricanes will be without starting point guard Nijel Pack once again. The junior from Indianapolis, Indiana will miss his second straight game with a lower-body injury that he’s been dealing with all season. UM had come to rely on the sharp shooting of Pack to bail out their inconsistent offensive play. Being the assist leader with 3.6 per game and the third-leading scorer with 13.7 points per contest.

Without Pack, the ‘Canes will be more reliant on guards Kyshawn George and Matthew Cleveland to step up. Cleveland’s inconsistencies have been a problem for Miami all year. The junior transfer from FSU is the second leading scorer and rebounder on the team, with 14.0 points and 5.8 rebounds, respectively.

But, there are games where Cleveland seems disengaged and hardly makes an impact on the game. Miami will need Cleveland to make a massive impact on both ends of the court and be the player he’s shown he can be.

George has made strides in his game throughout the year on both sides of the ball. The freshman will be needed as a strong defender against Duke’s numerous dangerous playmakers.

The Blue Devils have five players who score in double figures. They’re led by sophomore big man Kyle Filipowski, who is the team leader in points and boards. Miami’s Norchad Omier will have his hands full with the seven-footer. Omier is no stranger to running into foul trouble, and the task does not get any easier with Filipowski being one of the best big men in the country. Look for Miami freshman Michael Nwoko to get some minutes, as he’s a better matchup for Filipowski’s size.

Duke freshman Jared McCain might be only a few months into college, but he’s already not behind in the college basketball scene. Last week against Florida State, McCain scored 35 points on a ridiculous 8-of-11 from three-point land. McCain has flourished in his role with Duke’s sophomore guard Tyrese Proctor out with a concussion. In addition to McCain, senior Jeremy Roach is a veteran leader for the Blue Devils. Roach scores 14 points per game and adds a calming presence to a young Duke roster.

Larrañaga will need a superb defensive effort to try and slow down a Duke offense that averages 80.3 points per game; good for second-best in the ACC. If the ‘Canes want to have any chance, they will need strong defensive games from George and junior Bensely Joseph, who is known for his defense.

Duke has won seven of its last eight games, with the only loss coming against No. 3 ranked North Carolina, who also beat Miami at home earlier this month. ESPN gives Miami a 32.3% chance to win this game while being a five-and-a-half-point underdog.

Wednesday’s game at the Watsco Center tips off at 7 p.m.