After playing four games in the first 13 days of this season, the Miami Hurricanes’ fitness will be tested this weekend.
Miami (3-2) will play three games in four days, including Friday’s contest against the North Texas Mean Green (2-2) and then another matchup on Sunday against an opponent to be determined.
The Hurricanes got beat by Dayton, 76-60, on Thursday in the ESPN Events Invitational in Orlando, Florida in a game that was never close beyond the first couple of minutes in the second half.
Now they will face the Mean Green … and their own conditioning.
“We shortened practice,” Canes coach Jim Larranaga said when asked what he did to prepare for this weekend’s grind. “Hopefully we’re in good enough shape and have enough depth.”
There’s no question Miami is deeper than it’s been in the past three years, which were all injury-plagued as well as losing seasons.
During that span, the Hurricanes never played 10 or more scholarship players in one game. This year, they have already gone as deep as 11 scholarship players.
The issue now is about quality not quantity.
It can be argued that Miami misses Chris Lykes, its dynamic guard of the past four years, although he was hurt for most of last season. He is now Arkansas’ second leading scorer (15.2), and he’s shooting 41.2 percent on three-pointers.
Similarly, Matt Cross, now Louisville’s second-leading scorer, and Earl Timberlake (now at Memphis) bolted Miami as transfers.
Larranaga replaced Lykes with Charlie Moore, who has been inconsistent. Moore had a season-high 20 points on Sunday against Florida A&M, but he managed just two points versus Dayton.
There have been other issues as well for the Canes, who were outrebounded by 20 in a loss to Central Florida. Against Dayton, Miami shot just 38.3 percent from the floor, including 4-of-20 on three-pointers (20.0 percent).
North Texas had its own shooting issues in Thursday’s 71-59 loss to fourth-ranked Kansas.
The Mean Green shot just 4-of-27 on three-pointers (14.8 percent) against the Jayhawks.
“They were more aggressive than us,” North Texas coach Grant McCasland said of the Jayhawks. “Give them credit.”
Then again, only six Mean Green players return from the team that made the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history last season.
North Texas’ two returning starters are 6-2 guard Mardrez McBride and 6-6 forward Thomas Bell.
In addition, three reserves from last season have been elevated to starters: 6-1 guard JJ Murray, 6-5 guard Rubin Jones and 6-10 center Abou Ousmane.
Bell is North Texas’ leading returning scorer as he put up 10.4 points last season, shooting 52.6 percent overall and 37.6 percent from beyond the 3-point arc. This season, Bell is averaging 13.5 points and a team-high 7.8 rebounds.
The wild card for the Mean Green is 5-11 reserve guard Tylor Perry, who had a game-high 23 points against Kansas. For the season, Perry is averaging a team-best 18.8 points.
Perry averaged 17.6 points last season, leading Coffeyville to the 2021 national championship for junior colleges. In fact, he had 18 points and seven assists in the title game, earning MVP honors.
McCasland, though, is a stickler for defense. Many opponents struggle to score on the Mean Green.
In last week’s 64-36 win over Texas-Arlington, for example, North Texas forced 21 turnovers. Texas-Arlington shot just 28.6 percent from the floor, including 1-of-10 from distance.
Considering Miami’s struggles to score on Thursday, that Mean Green defense could make a major impact on Friday.
–Field Level Media