Do you remember that one time the Syracuse Orange traveled down to Miami and picked up a big win that helped it get an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament? Might you recall Oshae Brissett dropping a hammer on Miami and Marek Dolezaj threading the needle with a behind the back bounce pass through traffic to Brissett for a spin move and finish at the rim in said victory?
If you do, that’s not because you have a great memory. That game was last year and while Syracuse will host Miami on Thursday, last year’s Hurricanes team is almost nothing like this year’s. Jim Larrañaga lost a great deal from a season ago from a squad that went to the tournament. In turn, the Hurricanes have found themselves in the ACC basement at just 1-4 in conference play and barely clinging on to an above .500 record overall.
We brought on Evan Hadrick from our old pals over at The State of the U to see what’s up with Miami this season and what to expect on Thursday night.
Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician: Miami lost a great deal from last year including Bruce Brown and Lonnie Walker. How difficult has that been to replace?
Evan Hadrick: Extremely difficult. As a result of being included in the FBI Investigation that rocked college basketball last season, Miami ended up with zero recruits in their 2018 class. Coach Larranaga and his staff had to do a lot of work on the transfer market to replenish the roster.
TNIAAM: What were preseason expectations for 2018-19?
EH: We were picked to finish 10th in the ACC, so expectations weren’t super high, but there was belief that we had enough talent to possibly outperform the predictions. Once Dewan Hernandez was deemed ineligible, however, that optimism quickly started to fade.
TNIAAM: Chris Lykes does so much for this team. What does he bring to the table?
EH: His ability to create his own shot has done wonders for this offense. At any point when Miami is struggling to score, he can instantly spark the team with a pull up 3 or a quick drive to the basket.
TNIAAM: As an undersized guard, how fun is it to watch him play? Does his size present a disadvantage on the defensive end?
EH: His athleticism is elite, and he’s truly a blur on the court, so I would say he’s a blast to watch. You would think he would get picked on defensively way more often than he does, but he has done a great job of being a very active on-ball defender, and he has drawn tons of charges.
TNIAAM: How have seniors Anthony Lawrence and Ebuka Izundu handled leadership roles this season?
EH: It’s really a shame that Miami has its depth issues this season, because Amp and Ebuka have both stepped up their games to another level. Lawrence has been a confident shooter, affects multiple phases of the game and has embraced playing inside more to help with Miami’s lack of frontcourt options. Izundu has been a double-double machine, and has really been a comparable player to Dewan Hernandez. The Canes just need more bodies inside.
TNIAAM: DJ Vasiljevic is a knock down shooter. Jim Boeheim said last year he was worried about him in the week leading up to the game. How has he played this year?
EH: DJ has played pretty well, and his numbers would support that. He’s averaging 11.6 ppg and 4.4 rpg, and has great shooting clips of 43%/89%/44% (fg/ft/3pt). He hasn’t been as consistent as he was last year, despite playing plenty of minutes due to Miami’s short rotation.
TNIAAM: How has graduate transfer Zach Johnson meshed with the returning Miami players?
EH: He has slotted into the role Ja’Quan Newton played last year, and boasts a much wider arsenal on the offensive end. It took him a couple weeks in the beginning of the season to figure out his place, but now he’s been a reliable backcourt player whether he’s starting or coming off of the bench. He’s second on the team with 13.6 ppg, so Zach has definitely been a welcome addition.
TNIAAM: What kind of game can we expect between Syracuse and Miami and how will the Hurricanes look to attack the 2-3 zone?
EH: I’ve been very impressed with Syracuse this season, especially being able to take down a Duke team that has garnered all the national attention this season. Attacking the 2-3 zone could actually help Miami deal with its fatigue problem late in the game, as their offensive possessions should last longer. The Canes are shooting the three well as a team (36%), so they will have to continue to do that to help spread out the zone.
TNIAAM: Who wins, what’s the final score and why?
EH: I believe Syracuse will win 65-59. Miami will play well in the first half in a slow game, but tired legs will affect their shots in the second half and Syracuse will be able to do just enough to get the win.
Big thanks to Evan for lending a hand here and taking the time to answer some of our questions. Be sure to head over to stateoftheu.com for our Q&A as well.
What do you guys think here? Does Syracuse make it 5-1 in conference play to remain at the top, or does an undermanned Miami squad come into the Dome and surprise?