Here comes Syracuse's toughest test yet in ACC play. The Hurricanes have the same number of losses (five) as the Orange right now, but the trump card -- a dominating road win over Duke -- is where the difference lies. This Miami team can score, which right off the bat should tell you Syracuse will have their hands full this afternoon.
Below, Jerry Steinberg (who you should follow on Twitter) from SB Nation's State of the U, stops by to chat all about Miami basketball. Join us below, and swing over there too if you'd like to see our answers.
Following a surprisingly hot start, Miami started taking on some water. Has this team righted the ship again in ACC play?
This team has absolutely righted the ship. Miami started out the year 8-0 and was ranked as high as #15 in the country. By Head Coach Jim Larranaga's admission the team "relaxed" at that point and seemed to lose focus. The second half of conference opener Vs UVA seemed to be the moment where the team realized what type of play, particularly in the effort department, was needed to compete not only with the big boys, but anyone. During the slide the shot selection was poor, the ball movement was shoddy, and the 'Canes were not getting back on defense. Ever since ACC play they have corrected those issues and the results have been positive.
Sheldon McClellan and Angel Rodriguez have both made huge impacts for the Hurricanes; what is it about their skill sets that allow them to affect the game as much as they do?
Rodriguez is a feisty competitor on both ends of the floor, first and foremost. He loves taking the big shots. And he is UM's unquestioned leader on the floor. His shooting is inconsistent, but his handles, passing, and overall floor game are outstanding. More than anything else, it is the attitude he exudes and his confidence as a player that make Angel special. McClellan is an incredible athlete with a reported 44 inch vertical. He is a terror in transition, but his jumper is also smooth and reliable. McClellan's defense and rebounding have also been above average. My one and only complaint about the Texas transfer's game, is that he doesn't assert himself enough. Obviously both players are critical to Miami's success and 'Canes fans are happy to have them.
Last year was obviously an experiment in many ways for Miami, laying the groundwork for this season. What has this team gained from last year that they continue to use night in and night out?
Last year was a good foundation for Tonye Jekiri, Davon Reed, and Manu Lecomte, who all played major roles. But those three are the only remaining players left on the team from last season. In 2013-14, the Miami Hurricanes were a slow tempo, match-up zone team. They played that way because they had almost no firepower, and it was the only way for them to consistently compete. This year they are much more of a man to man team, and they at times have seemingly limitless scoring options on the perimeter. While last season was an excellent example of how flexible and creative Jim Larranaga and his staff can be, it wasn't much in the way of groundwork for the current squad.
Describe the HUGE win over Duke at Cameron Indoor. Not a lot of teams can claim a victory there of late -- especially by that margin.
SOTU: UM came out very aggressive. They took the ball to the basket time and time again. On defense they double and triple teamed Jahlil Okafor and forced other players on Duke to beat them, and it was a very successful strategy. But the biggest key to me, was that on this particular night Rodriguez was head and shoulders above anyone else on the floor. 25 points, 5 assists, and 5 steals only tell a small part in how well he played. Sheldon McClellan was not far behind, and defensively and on the glass Tonye Jekiri as special. Overall it was all about the players on Miami really rising to the challenge and outplaying Duke.
Who can match up with Rakeem Christmas on Miami's end? We know he's become a nightmare for teams.
Well that would fall primarily on the broad shoulders of the 7 footer Jekiri. TJ may be the second most improved big man, not only in the ACC, but the country (obviously Christmas is #1). Jekiri was leading the conference in rebounding heading into Thursday's game, and has been exceptional as a defender as well. 6''9 250 pound freshman Omar Sherman may also get some looks, but despite 4 blocks Vs NC State, is not yet known for his individual defense. 6'10 JUCO transfer Ivan Cruz Uceda is also getting minutes in the front court, coming off a 17 game suspension for an obscure rule related to International Players. Right now he is far from ready for a challenge as big as Christmas.
Prediction time: Who's winning this one on Saturday?
I really like the way Miami is playing on the road this season. They defeated UF earlier this season, throttled Duke, and one could argue should have handled Notre Dame as well. I think they come into the Carrier Dome, and get some hot shooting from deep from Sherman, Rodriguez, McClellan, and James Palmer to pull out the win 69-63. That being said, if Christmas dominates down low and Trevor Cooney gets hot, this could easily go the other way.
Thanks again for taking the time out for these, Jerry! Again, be sure to follow him on Twitter, and head over there to see what's going on in South Florida lately.