“We’ll have fun, but there’s got to be a serious approach as well.”
Defeating a team that played in the Final Four in March would prove to be pretty entertaining. The winner of Friday’s 3:30 p.m. game will play the Kansas State-Providence winner Sunday.
The Hurricanes (3-0) return three starters – juniors Nijel Pack (13.6 ppg), Norchad Omier (13.1 ppg and 10.0 rpg) and Wooga Poplar (8.4 ppg) – and a total of seven letter-winners from last season’s team, which went 29-8 and lost to Connecticut in the national semifinals. Five freshmen and a junior transfer round out the Hurricanes’ roster.
Coach Jim Larrañaga’s 12th Miami team looks like another high-scoring bunch. All five starters are averaging double figures. Poplar is scoring a team-best 20.7 points per game while shooting a white-hot 70% (14-of-20) from 3-point range.
Georgia (2-1) counters with a roster that features 10 newcomers. But it’s senior Jabri Abdur-Rahim who is pacing the Bulldogs’ offense. The 6-foot-8 wing is averaging 16 points per game. First-year players are starting at the other four positions, including guards Noah Thomasson (9.7 ppg) and Silas Demary Jr. (9.3).
The Bulldogs are figuring out still exactly what kind of team they are going to be. They already have an ACC victory under their belt after defeating Wake Forest 80-77 on Friday at Stegeman Coliseum. But they followed that with a rather blasé 64-54 win over N.C. Central on Sunday.
In each of those games, Georgia demonstrated a penchant for losing concentration and its physical edge for periods of time. The Bulldogs led the Demon Deacons by 13 with eight minutes to play only to see their opponent miss a 3-pointer at the buzzer to assure victory.
Meanwhile, Georgia fell behind by 17 and 20 points, respectively, in each half of the season opener against Oregon in Las Vegas. The Bulldogs fought back to get within single digits in both halves, but White is desperate to see more consistency.
“We’ve got a ways to go, but we know we’re capable of beating an ACC team,” White said. “We also know that we have to be firing on all cylinders to be really competitive. We’ve got a pretty wide spectrum right now.”
This much is clear: Georgia will have a good idea of what kind of team it’s going to have by the time SEC play begins in January. Miami is one of 13 opponents the Bulldogs have scheduled against teams projected to make the NCAA Tournament this season. Georgia is the nation’s only “power conference” team that opened its season with back-to-back games against fellow power-conference programs and is the only team to player power-conference foes in four of its first five outings.
“We wanted to beef up the schedule a little bit,” said White, who also will pit the Bulldogs against Florida State (Nov. 29) and Georgia Tech (Dec. 5) over the next three weeks. “You want to have a couple of neutral-court opportunities against a high-level opponent. We’ll continue to find out more about our team.”
Friday’s game will mark only the fourth time Georgia and Miami have played in basketball. The Bulldogs won at Miami 78-60 in December 1990 and in Athens in December 1992 (69-67). The Hurricanes beat Georgia 81-78 in Coral Gables in November 1985.