Shorthanded Miami Hurricanes brace for No. 9 Florida State

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              Miami head coach Jim Larranaga directs his players during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against North Carolina State in Raleigh, N.C., Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
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CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) — Miami Hurricanes guard DJ Vasiljevic had averaged 39 minutes over the previous four games when he asked coach Jim Larranaga this week for a lighter workload.

“He said, ‘Coach, you’re going to need to find some time to get me rest so I can get my legs back,’” Larranaga recalled Friday.

So Larranaga gave Vasiljevic a breather early in the next game — for 19 seconds. The senior wound up playing 39 minutes again.

Starters get plenty of playing time with the shorthanded Hurricanes, who have been trying to navigate the Atlantic Coast Conference with eight scholarship players available. That will be the case again Saturday when Miami (10-6, 2-4 ACC) plays host to No. 9-ranked Florida State (15-2, 5-1).

“I’m becoming very familiar with load management,” Larranaga said. “I had never heard that term, but in the past couple of years we’re finding out the logistical problems with load management.”

For the second consecutive season, the Hurricanes roster doesn’t approach the maximum 15 scholarship players allowed. This year they have 11, and three are hurt.

Larranaga blames the lingering impact of an FBI investigation into college basketball that raised questions about his program. One Miami player was ruled ineligible by the NCAA a year ago because of his dealings with an agent, but no wrongdoing by Larranaga surfaced.

“These last two years our recruiting has been very seriously challenged under circumstances that were totally out of our control,” Larranaga said.

A small roster makes it difficult to practice, and games are a challenge, too. The Hurricanes have used only seven players in each of the past two games, and in last Sunday’s win over Pittsburgh, four players went 36 minutes or more.

“When you’re on the court, you want to give it everything you’ve got, and it gets difficult when you’re playing 35 or 40 minutes,” junior center Rodney Miller said. “The most difficult part is being able to exert yourself for long stretches. You’ve got to dig deep and push through.”

The Hurricanes have done that enough to win four games by five points or less. But in the ACC they’ve lost on the road by 16 and 17, and a 33-point drubbing against Duke was Larranaga’s worst home loss in his nine seasons at Miami.

A short bench will compound the challenge of playing the Seminoles, who have one of the deepest teams in the nation and play pressure defense.

“We’re probably going to have to slow the ball down because we’re not as deep as Florida State is,” guard Chris Lykes said.

Reinforcements are on the way — if not this season. Larranaga said the recruiting outlook appears to be improving.

“We’re very hopeful,” he said. “I feel like we’re heading in the right direction. Some of the obstacles we faced in the last two seasons have been put behind us. Now it’s a matter of really recruiting the right guys to come in.”

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