Wahoo Preview: No. 6 Virginia at No. 22 Miami

By Scott Ratcliffe

Isaiah Wong (Photo: University of Miami Athletics)

Virginia looks to bounce back from its only loss of the season, as the sixth-ranked Cavaliers resume conference play on the road Tuesday at No. 22 Miami (8:30 p.m., ACC Network).

UVA (8-1, 1-0 ACC) came up short against Houston, 69-61, over the weekend, and will now face a talented Hurricanes squad on their home floor. Miami will be the fourth ranked opponent that the Wahoos have faced this season (2-1).

The Canes (11-1, 2-0) have won seven games in a row, with their only loss of the season coming to Maryland, 88-70, in the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off championship game on Nov. 20 in Uncasville, Conn.

Jim Larrañaga’s team hasn’t gone up against a ranked opponent yet this season, but has already picked up a pair of ACC victories this month (at Louisville, vs. NC State).

They’re led by All-ACC preseason first-team selection Isaiah Wong, a 6-foot-4 junior guard who is the team leader in scoring (16.7 ppg), assists (4.4 apg), steals (1.9 spg) and made 3-pointers (21).

Jordan Miller, a senior guard who transferred in from George Mason prior to last season, is averaging 15.1 points and 6.1 rebounds, while Arkansas State transfer Norchad Omier, a 6-7 sophomore forward, leads the Hurricanes in rebounding (9.9 a game, good for third in the ACC) and blocked shots (1.2 per game).

Kansas State transfer Nijel Pack (11.3 ppg) and sophomore guard Wooga Poplar (8.3 ppg) round out the Miami starting five.

For Virginia, junior guard Reece Beekman was not playing at 100 percent against Houston on Saturday, as he continues to recover from a strained hamstring injury that he suffered in the win over James Madison on Dec. 6.

Beekman was limited in practice in the days leading up to the game, but started against the Cougars and played more than 33 minutes. UVA coach Tony Bennett was pleased with how well Beekman was able to defend against Houston’s lethal backcourt duo of Jamal Shead and Marcus Sasser.

Bennett, who is just three wins away from passing Terry Holland as Virginia’s all-time winningest coach, said there’s a ton that his Cavaliers can take out of Saturday’s loss.

“You get a lot out of them,” Bennett said of such losses to talented, highly ranked opponents. “‘Alright, where do we got to tighten the screws?’ And we talked a lot about that in prepping for [the Houston game], because of what they did to us last year.”

Bennett added that there were just enough defensive mistakes — “mini-fractures,” as he referred to them — by his team that allowed Houston to add some easy buckets throughout the contest. He said that was one of the main reasons the Cavaliers are no longer unbeaten, but that he’ll use it as a learning experience.

Isaac McKneely continues to see his minutes increase, and he had the ball in his hands coming out of the under-4:00 timeout with a chance to trim Houston’s lead to three with a 3-point attempt, but it rattled in and out and the visitors were able to escape with the win.

“I think we just can’t hang our heads,” McKneely said after the loss to the Cougars. “That was a tough loss, but we’ve got to bounce back tomorrow at practice and be focused and have a really good practice. Miami is a really good team, they’re no slouch for sure, so we’ve got to come in and work hard and we’re going to prepare hard, watch some film, see what we need to work on, hopefully have a good couple days of practice going into the Miami game and hopefully we’ll bounce back.”

Virginia swept the Hurricanes last season and leads the all-time series, 15-12. UVA has won six-straight over Miami, including each of the last three meetings in South Florida. As of Monday evening, the Hoos are a slim 2-point favorite (over-under 135) to knock off the Canes, according to Caesars Sportsbook.