Miami handled George Washington last week, coming out strong in the first half and coasting to a win. They’ll now fly as far as possible from home for the Diamond Head Classic, a holiday basketball tournament in Hawaii. And as luck would have it, the Canes open with the hosts.
First, a note on game times. Hawaii is 5 hours behind Miami, so plan accordingly. The Canes opener (which is technically Saturday at 1AM in Miami) is actually a Friday overnight game. A zoom in on the Canes quadrant is as follows:
The final game will be on Monday (Christmas Day), but there are 4 options for game times (more on that later). Each team plays 3 games.
Game 1: Hawaii
Saturday, December 23, 1:00 AM, ESPNU
The Canes open the Diamond Head Classic by taking on the hosts. The Canes do have experience playing on the road, so the atmosphere shouldn’t bother them. But the time difference and tip time might. It’ll flatly be challenging to play a game that starts at 1 AM. But what about the opponents?
The Rainbow Warriors are off to a good start at 7-2 overall. They were blown out in their only trip away from home at Utah. Their only other loss is a home game to Nevada, which they lost by 13. They most recently beat Utah Valley by a point. Their schedule has frankly been marshmallow soft (with the exception of the trip to Utah) and a home game against a decent Nevada side, which constitutes both of their losses. Still, they will have all the environmental advantages.
None of Hawaii’s metrics really jump out at you as “this is what they do well” and given the competition, it’s hard to really even judge that. They have 2 players averaging in double figures, seniors Michael Thomas and Gibson Johnson. Hawaii does not shoot 3s well and also does not have much size, with only one player over 6-9, and he averages less than 10 MPG. Miami should pretty significantly overmatch this team unless the environmental elements get to them.
Game 2: Davidson or New Mexico State
Saturday, December 23, 10:00 PM, ESPN2 or Sunday, December 24, 12:30 AM, ESPNU
Miami’s second game will be either Saturday late night (with a win over Hawaii) or Sunday early morning (with a loss to Hawaii) against Davidson or New Mexico State. Early in this season, New Mexico State appears to be the superior team, with a 9-2 record compared to a 4-4 record for Davidson. Neither team has any standout wins, but NMSU for some reason played UTEP and New Mexico twice each, so that accounts for 4 of their 9 wins. Davidson has played and lost to 2 ACC teams, UNC and UVA.
New Mexico State has been a solid defensive and rebounding team, ranking Top 50 in both categories. The one team that really seemed to force NMSU out of their game was Saint Mary’s, who put up 92 points. The Aggies best player is by far Zach Lofton, who averages almost 19 PPG and also throws in almost 5 RPG out of the guard position. 2 other Aggies average in double-figures. But NMSU really lacks size, with just one player in the rotation that is remotely tall, 6-10 Johnathon Wilkins, who is French. The other player to definitely watch is Jemerrio Jones, who averages a double-double despite being only 6-5. The Canes will need to get a body on him and prevent him from hitting his 11.5 RPG average. Overall, the Canes would definitely be favorites against NMSU, but there is enough here to at least keep it close.
Davidson is all about the offense. They average over 83 PPG and actually lead the NCAA in assists per game. With that said, 3 of their 4 losses came when they scored in the 60s. The Wildcats are a 3-man team, with 3 players averaging over 15 PPG and no one else reaching 7, all while playing over 30 MPG. The leading scorer is Peyton Aldridge, who averages roughly 22 PPG, 7 rebounds, and 4 assists. Aldridge is definitely the player to watch, but Jon Axel Gudmundsson and Kellan Grady also average in double-figures. All 3 of the aforementioned players also shoot 3s between 35% and 44%, which means the Canes will need to stay home on them. Davidson does not have much size outside of Senior Will McGarrity, who plays just over 10 minutes per game.
Game 3: Akron or USC or Middle Tennessee State or Princeton
Monday, December 25, 12:30 PM, 2:30PM, 6:00PM or 8:30PM, ESPN2/ESPNU
Miami will finish their tournament on Christmas, but who against and when varies widely depending on the results of the first 2 games. Princeton is a team that the Canes have already blown out, so we won’t really be spending time on them.
As far as the other 3 teams, they’ve all gotten off to similar starts. Akron is 6-2, Middle Tennessee State is 7-2, and USC is 6-3. USC will open with Princeton, while MTSU and Akron play the other game. We’ll briefly discuss each team (with the exception of Princeton).
Akron really hasn’t challenged themselves too much. They’re 2 losses were at Marshall and at Dayton, and they don’t have what you would call a signature win. The overall offensive and defensive stats are pretty poor. Akron relies heavily on 3 players, all of whom average over 30 MPG and score in double figures. But the unquestioned star of the team is Daniel Utomi, who averages over 20 PPG, over 7 RPG, and shoots 50% from 3 (and he’s taken 64 threes this year, so it’s not a situation where he doesn’t put them up). He’s 6-6, so this would likely fall to Bruce Brown to cover him.
MTSU has played 3 SEC teams, going 2-1 with wins over Vanderbilt and Ole Miss and a loss to Auburn. Their other loss was at Tennessee State. In terms of style, MTSU is definitely more defensive oriented. The Blue Raiders rotate a lot of players, but similar to Akron, they have 3 players that do a bulk of the scoring, with one standout player, Nick King. King is a 6-7 wing who almost 23 PPG and almost 7 RPG. He also shoots 53% from the field and 39% from 3. It’ll be interesting to see if King and Utomi guard each other when Akron and MTSU play.
USC played 3 tougher games that standout, TAMU, @SMU, and Oklahoma…and lost all 3. They do have a road win against Vanderbilt. While there is no shame in losing those 3 games, 2 of them were blowouts. The one thing USC does extremely well as a team is rebound. where they are Top 15 in the country. For an undersized Canes team, that could present a problem. Where USC is weak is with depth, but they do have a very good starting 5, all of whom average over 28 MPG with 4 scoring in double-figures. USC also has a real good 1-5 traditional lineup, with 2 players 6-10 and above, a couple of wings, and a PG. Chimezie Metu is definitely the man to watch. He’s 6-11, averages almost 18 PPG, grabs over 8 RPG. Close behind is Bennie Boatright, who averages over 15 PPG while also grabbing over 8 boards. That front court will be difficult to deal with. And all of the Trojans starting 5 shoot over 30% from 3, with 4 of them shooting over 40%, so doubling and forcing jumpers won’t really be a good option. USC is definitely the most talented team on this side of the bracket.
I don’t think there is any doubt that the Canes are the best team in this tournament. Of course, they’re ranked 4th in the country, so I’m not exactly going out on a limb there. The first game will be interesting simply from the standpoint of the time difference and playing on the road. But Hawaii just isn’t good and Miami has managed to not necessarily be sharp, but also not be challenged in road games of a similar nature. I think Miami wins easily by 15. Game 2 will either be Davidson or New Mexico State. Neither of these teams are any good, to be honest. And this time Miami won’t have the environmental disadvantages of the first game, so I think it’ll be less tense, but closer. Canes by 11. The final game, everyone assumes will be against USC. Except USC has not played nearly as well as expected coming into the year. For some reason, I don’t think USC is the opponent here, and I think that plays right into Miami’s strength where they will be able to play a team where the can essentially take away one guy. Miami does that and beats either Akron or MTSU by 11.