Miami-NC State Preview
After further humbling one of the ACC's afflicted traditional powers, Miami is gearing up for an opponent that can't dip much lower.
Saturday's visit to North Carolina State has the 15th-ranked Hurricanes in position to run their winning streak to four, while the Wolfpack could match 2014-15's loss total in the league less than halfway into the conference slate.
Miami's latest step forward was Monday's 80-69 home win over No. 24 Duke with Angel Rodriguez scoring 13 points with a career-high 11 assists for his first double-double with the Hurricanes, while Sheldon McClellan had 21 points.
"I like playing the powerhouses, that's what we come to the ACC for," Rodriguez said. "But at the end of the day, our goal is bigger than just beating Duke. Our goal is to win every single game we can and to have a chance to put ourselves in a position to win an ACC title."
The Hurricanes (16-3, 5-2) last won four straight in the league in 2013. Their current run has plenty to do with getting back to their defensive strengths, limiting opponents to 61.7 points on 39.4 percent shooting and 28.8 from 3-point range. In consecutive losses two weeks ago, Virginia and Clemson shot 49.5 percent and 39.1 from outside.
"We played with a lot of energy, and it starts on the defensive end," McClellan said. "We just play as a team. We were talking on the court, we played with a lot of energy like I said, and it led to some fast-break dunks and fast-break buckets. That got us in a rhythm."
It sparked the Hurricanes' top shooting effort in ACC play (50.8 percent), as well as their lowest turnover total (seven). The efficient McClellan was 8 for 12 and has averaged 17.7 points on 50.0 percent shooting in ACC play. That's actually down from 55.0 percent out of the league, but his season mark of 52.9 remains among the best in the nation for guards.
They've also had consistency from Rodriguez, who was 4 of 9 for the third straight game after going his previous nine without consecutive efforts over 37.5 percent. His coach has a reason for it.
"Here's what happened in my mind: When we opened up conference play, we played against teams that are a little more conservative," Jim Larranaga said. "Virginia, Clemson, with those teams, the game is a little slower. It's not as fast. Today and (last) Saturday, when you play Wake Forest or Duke, it gets up and down. Angel and our entire team is much better when we're able to get into the open court and make plays."
Miami won last season's meeting 65-60 at home and has taken four of the last six. McClellan had 16 points and 10 rebounds, while the Wolfpack's Abdul-Malik Abu led all scorers with a season-high 19.
Abu is coming off a career-best 22-point effort, but it wasn't enough in Wednesday's 90-83 home loss to Georgia Tech, even with 36 points from Anthony Barber. The ACC's leading scorer (22.8 points per game) has averaged 28.7 and shot 49.2 percent over his last three, but Barber's double-digit jump in scoring from last season has done little for results.
North Carolina State (11-10, 1-7) went 10-8 in league games last year, and coach Mark Gottfried at least wants to see more fight.
"If I'm in a fight down in the back alley, you might whip me, but ... you're going to be tired at the end of it," Gottfried said. "You ain't going to whip me easy. This team has got to figure that out.
"It's something that they've got to sit down and talk to each other about, each individual. I don't like where we are. They don't like where we are."
The Wolfpack are 0-4 in the ACC at home. Their wins over a 4-5 span against the Top 25 have all come on the road or at neutral sites.