It’s easy to forget about Bensley Joseph … unless you’re the player he’s guarding.
Joseph, a defensive-minded point guard and perhaps the least-hyped member of Miami’s starting five, is set to lead the 13th-ranked Hurricanes (2-0) against visiting Florida International (0-2) on Monday night.
In Miami’s 88-72 win over visiting UCF on Friday, Joseph had an incredible stat line: a career-high 15 points, five rebounds, five assists, five steals and four blocks.
“We want to create a lot of havoc on the defensive end,” Joseph said.
Joseph, who was Miami’s sixth man last season, certainly is doing just that.
He has moved into the starting lineup in place of Isaiah Wong, who is now in the Indiana Pacers’ organization as a second-round pick. Wong, who was named the Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year last season, is the better offensive player.
But Joseph, who is averaging 3.5 steals in two games this season, is the better defender. Joseph provides excellent pressure on ball-handlers, and he is hard to post up because of how strong he is at 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds.
The other new starter is 6-7 wing Matthew Cleveland, a Florida State transfer and an ex-ACC Sixth Man of the Year. Cleveland, who is replacing NBA draft pick Jordan Miller, is averaging 14.0 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists.
Miami’s other starters are Wooga Poplar, who is averaging a team-high 22.0 points and shooting 71.4 percent on 3-pointers, Norchad Omier (19.5 points per game and a team-high 11.0 rebounds) and Nijel Pack (9.5 points, 6.0 assists).
Hurricanes coach Jim Larranaga praised Poplar following Friday’s win.
“He’s an incredible 3-pointer shooter,” Larranaga said of Poplar, who is 10-of-14 from distance. “But he’s also great going to the basket and as a pull-up (mid-range) shooter.”
FIU, meanwhile, opened its season with an 85-62 road loss at UCF on Monday. The Panthers then played their home opener three days later, losing to Tarleton State, 82-65.
Panthers coach Jeremy Ballard said he was “sorry” for his team’s latest performance.
“We’re better than that,” Ballard said. “We have a lot of talent. We have a lot of guys who are hungry.
“But we also have a lot of things to improve, and the schedule is unforgiving. We have to go play a top-15 team (Miami) at their place. There’s no time to hang our heads.”
Just 13 miles separate the FIU and Miami campuses. So far, the “rivalry” is one-sided. Miami leads the series, 5-0, although the teams have not played each other in 15 years.
Jayden Brewer and Dashon Gittens share the team lead by averaging 9.5 points per game. Brewer also leads the squad in rebounds (5.0).
Point guard Arturo Dean, who is averaging 8.0 points, tops the squad in assists (4.0). His 3.0 steals are tied with Gittens for the team lead.
Ballard said Dean, who was named Conference USA’s Freshman of the Year last season, doesn’t have to score in big numbers to impact FIU wins.
“He’s a warrior,” Ballard said of Dean, who finished sixth in the nation in total steals. “The barometer for his success will never be his points.
“We need everybody on our team to become an every-day competitor like Arturo.”
–Field Level Media