The Canes got ACC play off to a strong start with a dominating victory over Pitt. The game started nip and tuck, with both teams struggling to score. But with the score 19-18 with roughly 2 and a half minutes left in the first half, Miami exploded down the stretch, finishing on an 11-1 run that saw them take a comfortable lead into the half. In the 2nd half, Pitt never got close, with the lead ballooning to 21 points before Pitt made it a respectable 14 at the end. The Canes had strong performances from most of their key players, and most importantly shot FTs extremely well, missing only one.
The rotation in ACC play also seems to be limited to mainly 8 players, with Rodney Miller getting token minutes. But there is a good distribution of size and shooting, and at least for one game, the Canes defense held up well in ACC play. The Canes have a pair of tests this week, first concluding the long road trip in Atlanta before returning home for an in-state rivalry game.
Wednesday, January 3, 9:00 PM, ESPN3/RSN
Miami travels to Atlanta to take on Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets have struggled this year, are only 6-7 overall, and lost their ACC opener. They started their season with a tough game in China against UCLA, which they lost by 3. They responded with 4 straight wins, including a win over B1G team Northwestern. And that’s when a loss to Grambling, one of the largest upsets in college basketball history as Grambling had lost their last 63 games to power conference opponents, completely derailed the Yellow Jackets’ season. Since the Grambling loss, the Yellow Jackets have lost to Tennessee, Wofford, Georgia, Wright State, and Notre Dame, with their lone wins coming against FAMU and Coppin State.
Obviously, when a team has struggled as much as Georgia Tech, the team metrics are not going to be great, which is why it is surprising that they are 35th in PPG allowed. Unfortunately for them, that mainly has to do with pace of play, as Georgia Tech does not score, rebound, or do anything else well offensively, averaging outside the Top 200 and 300 in most major offensive statistical categories.
The most astonishing thing about the Yellow Jackets is their lack of depth. And against Notre Dame, this went to an absolute extreme. Georgia Tech only played 7 players in that game, one of whom only played 2 minutes. 3 players went the full 40 minutes, with 3 other players essentially rotating through the other 2 spots, each going over 24 minutes. That’s basically the rotation, and the standout player is Ben Lammers, who is a double-double machine. Against ND, he had 11 points and 12 boards while playing all 40 minutes. Their leading scorer for the year is Josh Okogie, also went 40 minutes against ND, as did freshman guard Jose Alvarado. If anyone gets in foul trouble, it’s hard to imagine GT surviving that.
Sunday, January 7, 6:00 PM, ESPNU
Miami finally returns home to face FSU, who is ranked in the Top 25. The Seminoles started off the year on fire, running off 9 straight wins before going 2-2 in their last 4 games, with a neutral site loss Oklahoma State and a competitive loss at Duke. Their best win is probably against Florida, but the Gators have pretty significantly underperformed this year. Before heading down to Coral Gables, the Seminoles host UNC, so this is obviously a huge week for them.
Florida State is basically the exact opposite of Georgia Tech in terms of metrics. Because they have played so well (even in losses), they have an excellent point differential, but their standout metrics are in scoring, hitting the boards, and assists. They are well-oiled on offense and play with tempo, which will be a challenge for the Canes’ defense. They also shoot well from distance, ranking 57th in the country, and from the field, ranking 26th. Miami will look to lock in on defense and turn this into a lower scoring game.
Terance Mann, Phil Cofer, and Braian Angola are the 3 players to watch. Mann is the Seminoles’ leading scorer and rebounder, at 14.6 PPG and 6 RPG. Phil Cofer is probably the most complete scoring threat from distance, hitting 3s at over 50% while also grabbing over 5 RPG. Outside of Mann and Cofer, Angola played at Northern Idaho before transferring to FSU and has really emerged as a key player for the Seminoles. Angola averages in double figures and is also a threat from 3. If the Canes can limit these 3 players, that’ll go a long way towards winning the game.
This sets up to be a huge week for the Canes. Just like last week, even though Georgia Tech has not played well, a road win in the ACC means a lot come March. The Yellow Jackets play pretty good defense, so I think this one will be tough but Miami wins by 6.
Then Miami returns home to play Florida State in what sets up to be a huge home opener for conference play. If you want a top 4 seed come March, you have to win home games, and especially ones like this. Florida State is very good, but I think Miami plays really well returning home and wins by 7.
This is really a tale of 2 completely different games this week. Georgia Tech is shockingly bad and their lack of rotation is borderline abusive on their players. With that said, this road trip has to lead to some fatigue, so the Yellow Jackets might keep it close. But the Canes just have so many more weapons, and the fact that they can get quality play out of so many players really should bode well in conference play, which is an absolute grind. Georgia Tech can’t really grind, so this should at worst go similar to the Pitt game. Miami wins by 15.
FSU is really talented and a style challenge for the Canes. Miami has played similar teams (like Minnesota) that really like to push the pace, and been able to dictate a bit. But the big thing is that Miami has proven they can win playing multiple styles. The Canes have the athletes and guard play to go up and down and run-and-gun if necessary. But they also don’t want to do that, and instead want to rely on their stellar defense. The Canes can win a game in the 60s, 70s, or 80s, FSU cannot. For this reason, and with the team finally returning home, I like the Canes to win a close one. Miami by 4.