February is upon us and the University of Miami, coming off a historic Final Four run last season, is not in the NCAA Tournament conversation heading into Saturday’s 4:00pm home game against the third-seeded Tar Heels of North Carolina.
The Hurricanes have suffered a series of ankle injuries and are unhappy with a 15-8 record, 6-6 in the ACC and going 60-38 at Virginia, Miami’s lowest total since 1948. An upset of Headlining the conference on ESPN Saturday in front of a sellout crowd would certainly help their resume and make national headlines.
The Hurricanes have a good record against UNC recently.
Miami won the last two times they played, by eight last year in Chapel Hill and by 28 last year in Coral Gables, UM’s largest margin of victory ever against the Tar Heels. The last time they played, on Feb. 13, 2023, UM was 21-5 and ranked No. 15 while UNC was unranked. Jordan Miller led the Hurricanes with 24 points and 11 rebounds. Nijel Pack shot 7 of 11 for 23 points.
This time, UM is facing a Tar Heels team that is ranked third with an 18-5 record and leads the conference with 82 points per game. The Heels will be highly motivated because they are coming off a four-point loss to Clemson.
At the heart of it all for UNC is fifth-year senior Armando Bacot, a 6-11, 240-pound preseason All-American. He had 24 points and 13 rebounds against Clemson. He had 25 points, 10 boards and five assists in the win over then-No. 7 Duke last Saturday. These were his 24th and 25th career games with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds.
Bacot was expected to enter the NBA Draft after last season, but chose to return to college for his final year of eligibility. He will turn 24 on March 6.
Asked about the veteran leadership Bacot brings to the Tar Heels, UM coach Jim Larranaga smiled and said, “Yeah, I think he and I are the same age.”
He went on to call Bacot “an incredible role model for other student-athletes who decide that education is important” and praised his loyalty to the university and his team, even though the team had a slump last season.
“I think Bacot is on a mission and doing everything he can,” Larranaga said. “He has sacrificed in several areas. His scoring numbers aren’t what they used to be, but he still has a huge impact on the game, offensively, defensively and rebounding.”
UM guard Bensley Joseph said of Bacot: “He brings that leadership, a true veteran in the ACC. He’s been in that system for a while doing amazing things, putting up big numbers. We just have to limit what he’s great at, beat him on the floor, be physical with him, keep him off the glass as much as we can.”
The other player the Canes will need to contain is point guard RJ Davis, who leads the ACC with 21.3 points per game.
“This year, he just took over being the number one option guard for UNC,” said Joseph, who will likely be tasked with covering Davis. “In recent years they always had incredible talent in the background, such as Caleb Love, but now he’s single, so he’s missed establishing himself and being a dynamic player. He’s been doing that all season.”
Miami could be without starting guard Kyshawn George, who injured his ankle in the opening minutes of the Virginia Tech game. He did not practice on Wednesday or Thursday and was limited on Friday. Wooga Poplar has been troubled by a sprained leg since late December. He had his foot in a boot around campus this week as a precaution, but practiced Thursday and Friday and is expected to play.
“One of the biggest challenges this season is when we have a player injured, we’re not as good,” Larranaga said. “We’re not one of those teams that has eight McDonald’s All-Americans and we can just rotate them. We will field the best possible team on Saturday and hopefully play well.”