A year after a disappointing 2018-19 campaign, dominated by injuries, inconsistencies and an eligibility crisis, the Miami Hurricanes are back at the Watsco Center to open the 2019-20 season Tuesday.
This year’s season opener comes with a twist, as instead of the usual mid-major opponent scheduled by the program, the Atlantic Coast Conference has placed the preseason AP Nationally Ranked No. 5 Louisville Cardinals in Coral Gables. It’s part of conference’s initiative to fit a new high of 20 league games on each team’s schedule, and is the first time that UM has opened with a ranked or power conference opponent since 1987, when the Canes played No. 9 Michigan.
“Playing a top five team...anytime of the year is difficult,” said Hurricanes assistant coach Chris Caputo. “But certainly to start the season presents some challenges. Probably for any team that plays their first game of the season, particularly this early, there’s challenges for everybody in all different areas.”
“Playing a top-five team anytime of the year is difficult, but especially in the opening game,” says @CanesHoops assistant coach Chris Caputo as UM is set to open with @LouisvilleMBB Tuesday pic.twitter.com/jnvX50x5vx— Austin Pert (@AustinPert98) November 4, 2019
The biggest key to the game for Miami will be slowing down Cardinals forward Jordan Nwora, who is the ACC’s best returning scorer, averaging 17 points per game a season ago. The junior was last season’s most improved player in the conference and earned preseason honors this year, being named the Preseason ACC Player of the Year and an AP Preseason All-American.
The Buffalo, New York native’s 20 points in Louisville’s 90-73 win over Miami on January 6 last year at the KFC Yum! Center was a game-high.
“He’s such a good shooter with range, if he gets enough attempts, he is going to make shots. He is not limited to just shooting, he has shown the ability to put the ball on the ground and make you pay for your closeouts. You have to be really aware of him, wherever he is on the court, starting in transition,” said Caputo.
Louisville returns three starters from last year’s squad, including forward Dwayne Sutton and center Steven Enoch. The former had 10 points and just under seven rebounds per game, while the latter recorded just under nine-and-a-half points per game and over five rebounds in 2018-19.
Freshman Samuell Williamson will also be a factor off the dribble drive and on the perimeter, a season after the 6-7 wing player was named a McDonald’s All-American.
Guards Ryan McMahon and Darius Perry make up the remainder of contributing returners, with Perry having led the team in three-point percentage last season (37.5) and McMahon off a 12-point performance off the bench against UM a season ago.
Post player Malik Williams also returns for the Cardinals but will miss the opener with a broken foot suffered in September.
While this acts as the season opener for both sides, the teams each have an exhibition game under their belt, with Miami having taken down Flagler College on Wednesday, 86-65, while Louisville knocked off Bellarmine University, 75-65.
The Hurricanes’ projected starting lineup features three returning starters.
A win for UM would provide a huge momentum boost for a team pegged to finish ninth in the ACC. Before last season, no Jim Larrañaga coached Miami team had finished below their preseason prediction the final conference standings.
Tuesday’s game tips off at 6:30 and will be the first basketball matchup to be televised on the ACC Network.
The Canes continue their season with non-conference action after Tuesday, before a New Year’s Eve showdown at Clemson restarts ACC play.