The Canes finished off a month-long road trip last week with a 64-54 loss to Georgia Tech. Quite frankly, this was easily the worst performance of the year by Miami, and possibly even one of the worst losses Miami has had under Coach Larranaga. Before I go too hard on Miami, though, I can’t remember the last time a team went a full month in between home games in college basketball, and especially not one in a power conference such as the ACC. And while Georgia Tech came into the game against Miami struggling, the Yellow Jackets have now won 4 of their last 5 games including a home victory over Notre Dame this week. This somewhat reiterates the point being made last week, winning on the road is extremely difficult in the ACC no matter the opponent.
The good news for Miami is that the Canes rebounded (well, not literally but we’ll get to that in a second) against Florida State, beating the Seminoles 80-74 in a game that was actually not nearly as close as the final score indicated. After failing to get the ball to Bruce Brown and Dewan Huell enough against Georgia Tech, there was clearly a conscious effort to remedy that in this game, as Bruce Brown led the way with 23 points and Dewan Huell followed with 20 points and 8 rebounds. Miami also received a very strong performance off the bench by freshman Chris Lykes en route to 18 points on his own. However, in what is becoming a clear sign of concern, Miami severely struggled on the defensive boards, allowing Florida State to corral a whopping 21 offensive rebounds. Florida State is a very good offensive rebounding team, but that is just absolutely ridiculous by a Miami team that prides itself on being one of the best defensive teams in the country.
After a week layoff, Miami returns to action this week in arguably its toughest two-game stretch of the season going on the road to Clemson Saturday afternoon before returning to Miami to face Duke at home on Monday night.
Saturday, January 13, 3:00 PM, ESPNU/Watch ESPN
Miami travels to Clemson for their 3rd ACC road game of the season. Entering the season, Clemson was thought to be a pedestrian ACC team that was capable of having its best ACC team since 2011 if the team’s upperclassmen continued to mature. Suffice it to say, things have gone very well for Clemson as the Tigers have jumped out to a 14-2 start including non-conference wins over Ohio State, Florida, and South Carolina. The Tigers are also 3-1 in the ACC, though they did just lose a road game to North Carolina State on Thursday night by 1 point after senior guard Gabe DeVoe missed the 3rd of three free throws with .2 seconds remaining. The Tigers will be making a quick turnaround to get back to Clemson and face Miami.
As mentioned before, this is a very experienced team as nearly every player that receives major minutes is either a junior or senior. The scoring is led by 6’3″ junior guard Marcquise Reed (16 ppg, 4 rpg, 3 apg, 1.6 spg) and 6’8″ senior forward Donte Grantham (14.7 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 2.3 apg). The other three starters (DeVoe, Shelton Mitchell and Elijah Thomas) all average double-digits in scoring, while nobody else receives significant minutes or contributes offensively. Simply put, this is a tight 7 man rotation that relies heavily on its starters for production.
Statistically, these teams are very, very similar as they both feature averge/above average offenses but are extremely tough on defense. Clemson is not a particularly strong three point shooting team (neither is Miami), but where Clemson does excel is on two point field goals and getting to the free throw line (where they actually make their free throws). Another difference between the two teams it that Miami has struggled with turnovers, which could cause significant problems against an opportunistic Clemson defense. Ultimately, this is going to be a very, very difficult game for Miami to win, and the Canes will need to play much better than they did against Georgia Tech to secure this road victory.
Monday, January 15, 7:00 PM, ESPN
No rest for the weary as the Canes will quickly return home to welcome Duke to Coral Gables on Monday Night before a national primetime audience on ESPN. One of the preseason favorites to win the national title, Duke has started slow in ACC play sporting a 2-2 record thus far (but 14-2 overall) with road losses to Boston College and North Carolina State. However, the Blue Devils do have some significant victories already this year over Michigan State, Texas, Florida, Indiana, and Florida State. Prior to facing Miami on Monday night, the Blue Devils have a Saturday noon game at home against Wake Forest, which will give the Blue Devils perhaps a few hours head start on Miami in terms of travel and rest.
This is a classic strength vs. strength, weakness vs. weakness matchup, as Duke sports the nation’s #1 offense going against Miami’s #5 defense (according to KenPom ratings). This Duke team is extremely young, but extremely talented as four primary starters are all freshman: Marvin Bagley III, Wendell Carter Jr., Gary Trent Jr., and Trevon Duval. All four were ranked in the top 20 of last year’s recruiting rankings, and have wasted no time in establishing themselves at Duke. The 6’11 forward Bagley is the leading scorer and rebounder (22 ppg, 11.8 rpg, 1.5 apg, 1.1 bpg), and likely top 5 overall pick in next year’s NBA Draft. Duval, a 6’3″ point guard (12.5 ppg, 6.3 apg, 1.8 spg) and Carter Jr., a 6’10” forward (13.3 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 1.9 apg, 1.8 bpg) are both likely first-round selections as well. And I’ve purposely gone this far without mentioning everyone’s favorite Duke player, 6’5″ shooting guard and lightning rod Grayson Allen, who does everything for the Blue Devils (16.5 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 4.3 apg, 1.3 spg, 41% from 3). Needless to say, this team does offense very, very well.
Where Duke has relatively struggled is on defense. Boston College beat Duke with a barrage of three pointers that would beat anyone (15-26 from 3), whereas North Carolina State managed to limit Duke’s 3 point shooting, while also pounding the offensive boards and making free throws. Unfortunately, neither of those are particularly strong-suits for Miami though the Canes are certainly capable of getting hot from beyond the arc. If Miami is going to win this game, it will need to limit Duke’s second-chance opportunities while also taking advantage of the open looks they should be able to get.
This is a very tough week to forecast. Clemson has played extremely well this year, and playing at home (even on a short rest) is a big factor in college basketball. Miami played much better against Florida State, but the lack of focus on defensive rebounding and frequent turnovers gives me great concern about winning on the road against a sound Clemson team. I think this one is going to be very, very close, but I have to give the edge to Clemson. Clemson wins by 4.
Turning to Duke, we all know about Coach L’s success against Duke since joining the ACC. There is no doubt that Miami is going to be focused and ready to play, but I am just not sure Miami has the offense to run with Duke in this one. The long lapses in scoring where the Canes turn into one-man shows without any off-ball movement will get you beat in a hurry against Duke. Miami keeps it close, but loses a close one again. Duke by 7.
This will be an incredibly difficult 2-game stretch playing 2 games against ranked teams in 3 days. But it’s actually worse on Clemson, who had to play and lost a heartbreaking game at NC State on Thursday, only to have a quick turnaround against Miami on Saturday. With that said, the Canes’ have essentially played one good half in their last 2 games. They won’t get away with that uneven play on the road against a very good Clemson team. This will be tough, but I think Clemson coming off the short turnaround will junk up the game some, which is actually better for the Canes. It’ll be tight, but Miami wins by 1.
Duke has been completely inconsistent this year. Their talent is undoubted, but they don’t seem to bring it consistently. And since Coach L has had a ton of success against Duke, often with inferior teams, this looks an opportunity for a big win for Miami. Except one of the reasons that Coach L has had success against Duke is because of athleticism, dribble penetration, and pick and roll. While this Canes teams has that, this Duke team is much more equipped to deal with it. I don’t really like this matchup, and Miami comes up just short, splitting both games in a 3-day stretch. Duke wins by 4.