This has not been an easy way to start the season for the Miami Hurricanes or the North Carolina Tar Heels, who meet in an Atlantic Coast Conference game on Tuesday in Coral Gables, Fla.
North Carolina (6-4, 1-2 ACC) and Miami (4-4, 0-3 ACC) feature young lineups, especially the Tar Heels, whose recruiting class was ranked in the top three nationally. They have four freshmen who were McDonald’s All-Americans, and three of them have combined to start 20 games so far this season.
North Carolina coach Roy Williams said time is what his freshmen need most.
“The worst thing about our preparation for this season is that we have six freshmen in the mix for major playing time,” Williams said, “and we had no exhibition games (due to COVID).”
Still, the Tar Heels’ first-year players have been productive.
North Carolina’s top freshmen — so far — have been 6-foot-4 guard Caleb Love, who leads the team in assists and is averaging 10.2 points; and 6-foot guard RJ Davis, who is averaging 8.9 points while tying for the club lead in 3-pointers. They have each made nine starts.
In addition, 6-11 Day’Ron Sharpe, who has made two straight starts, is fourth on the team in scoring (9.6) and third in rebounds (7.4).
Sharpe had 25 points and nine rebounds — both team highs — in North Carolina’s 66-65 win over Notre Dame on Saturday.
Armando Bacot — just a sophomore — leads the team in scoring (11.4) and rebounding (8.2).
Meanwhile, Miami, which has lost three of its past four games, is relying more and more on freshmen Matt Cross and Earl Timberlake.
Cross, a 6-7 wing who signed with the Hurricanes when he was ranked as nation’s No. 86th-best recruit, has been a revelation, finding a myriad of ways to score, from tip-ins to 3-pointers. He leads the team in field-goal percentage (54.2) and ranks second on 3-pointers (45.8). He is averaging 8.3 points and 4.4 rebounds per game.
Timberlake, a 6-6 guard who arrived on campus as the nation’s No. 36 recruit, has played just three games due to an offseason injury, but he been a great passer, in addition to averaging 8.0 points and 5.7 rebounds.
With all the talk of freshmen, the Hurricanes would still love to get senior guard Chris Lykes back from an injured ankle. He led Miami in scoring last season (15.4), but he has missed the past six games.
The Hurricanes got senior guard Kameron McGusty back from the injury list in Miami’s most recent game, a 66-65 loss to Clemson on Saturday. McGusty had nine points in 28 minutes off the bench.
“I’m trying to figure out what I can and can’t do with my hamstring,” McGusty said. “But I can’t wait for Tuesday against North Carolina.”
Guard Isaiah Wong leads the Hurricanes in scoring, averaging 17.9 points per game.
Miami has lost two straight games — the other was an 80-78 defeat to Virginia Tech — but both would have been victories had shots by Isaiah Wong gone in at the buzzer. Against Virginia Tech, Wong’s 3-pointer that went in and out. Against Clemson, Wong took an 80-foot baseball pass from Cross, caught it in the lane and had his in-one-motion flip tick off the backboard and then the rim.
“Adversity tends to develop character,” Miami coach Jim Larranaga said, “and we’ve had a lot of adversity.”
North Carolina is 25-8 all-time against Miami, but the Hurricanes are an improved 6-9 against the Heels since Larranaga arrived in 2011.
–Field Level Media