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Feb 4, 2024 3:20 pm

Miami tries to tackle tough task at Virginia

Returning three starters from a Final Four team and adding a transfer who was the top scorer at Florida State made Miami a solid bet to return to the NCAA Tournament.

But three months into the season, the Hurricanes (15-7, 6-5 Atlantic Coast Conference) are nowhere to be found on most tournament projections as their resume has a dearth of quality wins.

Miami can remedy that this month, however, with a slate full of challenging assignments. The first comes Monday in Charlottesville, Va., when the Hurricanes take on Virginia (17-5, 8-3), which is riding a nation-high 22-game home winning streak.

“Every game now moving forward is vitally important,” Hurricanes guard Bensley Joseph said.

This month, in addition to playing Virginia, Miami faces North Carolina twice and Duke once.

The Hurricanes have a quick turnaround from an 82-74 win Saturday over Virginia Tech in which they rallied from a 10-point deficit over the final 11 minutes.

Florida State transfer Matthew Cleveland (15 points, 13 rebounds) led a balanced attack that included 16 points each from Norchad Omier and Kyshawn George and 14 apiece from Nijel Pack and Joseph.

The Hurricanes finally appear to be at full strength after nagging injuries over the past six weeks have forced each of their top four scorers to miss at least one game. On Saturday, Cleveland was the latest to come off the injury list after missing the previous two contests with a hip injury.

While the test with Virginia is coming quickly, Miami coach Jim Larranaga noted that the preparation is similar to that of facing Virginia Tech.

“They both play the pack (line) defense and they both run a lot of motion-type offense,” Larranaga said.

In addition to its long home streak, Virginia also has won its past three road games, including Saturday at Clemson 66-65 as Jacob Groves came off the bench to score 17 points.

The Oklahoma transfer began the season as a starter but then saw his role diminish. Over the past three games however, Groves has drained 12 of 16 shots from 3-point range to lift his accuracy rate to 50 percent for the season.

“We’re not a dominant interior team,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “So we have to get it by stretching the floor, (using) some drives.”

– Field Level Media

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