To preview Sunday's game between the Eagles and Hurricanes, we sat down with SB Nation's Miami blog, State of the U, to learn more about this year's Miami squad. Our questions and their answers follow.
BC Interruption: The last time these two met, Miami was rolling: 11-4 overall, going into a big upset of Duke in Cameron. Since then, however, the Canes have wilted a bit over the last eight games (3-5 over that span with wins over State, Syracuse and Clemson). Anything you can point to that's different from Miami's hot start to the most recent set of games.
State of the U: This team has been the most maddeningly inconsistent team I have ever followed, in any sport. As for their issues...first, they rely too heavily on the three ball. Earlier the shots were falling, but of late not so much. Angel Rodriguez in particular has been up and down. When he's at his best, they can beat nearly anyone in the country (see Duke/UF games). But he has had far too many 3-11 and 2-8 games for this team to be consistently successful. The problem along with Rodriguez's streaky nature is that their most talented scorer, Sheldon McClellan, is not consistently involved. He can go for 30 when he is, but he can just as easily go for 6 on 3 or 4 shots. Really to me the biggest issue is that guys have never really figured out their roles. Is Rodriguez a pass first or shoot first PG? Is McClellan an alpha dog, or a team player who defers first? And so on and so on and so on.
BCI: When I look over Miami's schedule to date, a 20-point home loss to previously winless-in-conference Georgia Tech really stands out like a sore thumb. What went wrong in that game?
SOTU: Hard to explain that one. I'll try. The Jackets came out and took the ball strong to the basket. Miami did not respond. The 'Canes could not hit a jumper to save themselves, and it compounded itself with lots of long rebounds and transition buckets for GT. When UM resorted to half court traps and scrambling to try and get back in the game, Tech broke the pressure and found guys wide open under the basket for dunks. What else can you say? One team got easy looks all night long, and the other couldn't hit the side of a barn forcing long jumpers.
BCI: Larranaga had to replace a lot of players from last year's roster, yet the team got off to a really fast start to the season. Was there any sort of adjustment period with this new set of players? Chemistry issues? Or was the roster turnover more or less seamless?
SOTU: The pleasant early start was surprising considering the team was/is incorporating 9 new players. Believe it or not, things seemed to start to take a turn for the worse when talented suspended/injured players returned to the line-up. Miami was without SG Deandre Burnett (out of the rotation presently) 4 or 5 games, Wing Davon Reed missed 8, and big man Ivan Cruz Uceda missed the entire out-of-conference schedule plus 2 more. Somehow, some way becoming deeper made the 'Canes less effective. To me they still appear to be feeling each other out despite being 24 games in.
BCI: Do you see this team making the NCAA Tournament? If not, what game(s) will you point to at the end of the season as those missed opportunities.
SOTU: Barring a hot finish, it's going to be tough. Some pundits still have them on the last 4 in list. But they absolutely must win at least 4, if not 5, of their last 7 in my opinion to make it in. Either that or make a run in Greensboro. Losses to Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, Eastern Kentucky all qualify as bad losses. The win over Duke is huge, but the UF loss has been tarnished by their poor season. A game against UNC in Coral Gables in a week and a half might be for all the marbles, considering how well the Heels are playing.
BCI: A pair of Big 12 transfers have really paid dividends for Miami this year. What impact players, other than Rodriguez and McClellan should BC fans be aware of heading into this game?
SOTU: Tonye Jekiri, who leads the conference in rebounding, has been a rock all season in the paint. He doesn't score a ton, but he plays with a lot of energy and passion. Other than Jekiri it depends on the night. Manu Lecomte is a sweet shooting 5'11" PG who plays off the ball a lot/backs up Rodriguez. He can light it up when on. Davon Reed is the team's best perimeter defender. Lately he has looked for his shot more often, and has been pretty good at putting the ball in the hoop. Freshmen Omar Sherman, James Palmer, and JaQuan Newton have all had moments, but none have been consistent threats. You just never know with this team.
BCI: Last one. Prediction time. Who ya got? What's the final score?
SOTU: I predict the blizzard wins out and this game gets postponed. But just in case they play, it could go so many directions. I think the Hurricanes are completely against it though, and play with their backs to the wall so to speak. If that happens they should win this one running away. So I will go with Miami in a blow out, 72-53, if this one actually gets played this weekend.