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North Carolina’s loss not a surprise, but Miami winning is

Jan 9, 2014, 12:16 AM EDT

Marcus Paige, J.P. Tokoto, Rion Brown

Was it really unexpected, though?

Given what we’ve seen North Carolina do this season, was it really surprising that they lost to Miami 63-57 on Wednesday night at home, the fourth straight time the Heels have lost to Miami?

Let me spell it out for you: North Carolina has beaten Louisville, Kentucky and Michigan State this season. They’ve lost to Belmont (at home), UAB, Texas (at home) and Wake Forest prior to Wednesday.

This team has been nothing if not … consistent. Which is why I’m not going to use this space to talk about the Tar Heels, who head to Syracuse on Saturday in a game that North Carolina is clearly going to win.

Let’s talk about Miami.

This team lost six of the seven players that were in their rotation last season. They lost to St. Francis (NY) to start the season. They were taken to overtime by Georgia Southern. Central Florida, Nebraska and Virginia Tech picked them off. But in the last two games, the Hurricanes went up to the Carrier Dome and very nearly pulled off the upset against the Orange before stealing a win out from under North Carolina’s feet.

How are they doing it?

Well, Jim Larrañaga has his team playing zone for the first time in his 25 years as a head coach, and they’re doing it pretty well. They’re daring teams to shoot over them, they’re corralling rebounds and they’re doing just enough on the offense end of the floor to hang around.

It’s probably not sustainable, but given the slower tempo that they are playing, it means that they probably aren’t going to be getting embarrassed too often this season.

At the very least, the job that Larrañaga is doing must be commended. No one thought this team would do anything in the ACC.

A week in, and they’re competing with the big boys on the road.

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