Picked to finish fifth in the ACC preseason poll, head coach Jim Larrañaga’s Miami Hurricanes were considered by some to be a sleeper in the conference title race. After the Hurricanes’ showing Friday night against No. 16 Utah, it may be time to give them even more credit than that.
Sheldon McClellan scored 27 points and fellow senior Tonye Jekiri was a star in the post, accounting for a career-high 20 points to go along with 12 rebounds, as Miami blew out the Runnin’ Utes by the final score of 90-66. While Utah’s first half foul trouble didn’t help matters, Miami took over from the start and didn’t look back. The Hurricanes were efficient offensively, shooting 53.4 percent from the field, 9-for-17 from three and committing just seven turnovers.
By comparison Utah committed 16 turnovers and Miami made them pay for many of those mistakes, racking up 22 points off of turnovers. Larry Krystkowiak’s team shot the ball well, making half of their shots from the field. But when you lose the turnover battle as decisively as they did, field goal percentage doesn’t matter much at all.
Angel Rodriguez was solid at the point against a team still looking to account for what was lost at the position with Delon Wright’s graduation, scoring 11 points and dishing out four assists with just one turnover. Miami isn’t a team that will post a high assist rate due to their use of the dribble to get things going offensively, and Friday night just 13 of their 31 field goals were assisted.
But when they’re clicking things open up by way of the ball screen, either for the ball-handler, screener or wings, or breaking down their man off the dribble. Utah looked to a zone defense at times to slow down the Hurricanes but they couldn’t find the right answer for either McClellan or Jekiri, with Miami’s two leading scorers combining to shoot 18-for-22 from the field.
Next up for Miami is No. 22 in the title game of the Puerto Rico Tipoff Sunday night, giving them one more chance to make a national statement before returning stateside. Given the expectations surrounding North Carolina, Duke and Virginia, it would be unfair to paint Miami’s placement in the preseason ACC poll as some kind of “disrespect.” If anything, when combined with the Hurricanes’ play in San Juan it simply shows just how deep the conference will be this season.