This was not a good week for Miami, as the Canes went 0-2 against Clemson and Duke. First, Miami went on the road to face the Tigers, and while Miami jumped out to a quick start, and then later fought back to tie the game, ultimately Clemson made plays down the stretch while the Canes struggled, losing 72-63. Once again the Canes collapsed at the free throw line (9-18), and could not buy a 3 point shot to drop (6-23) while letting Clemson have its way beyond the arc (12-21). Although there is nothing “wrong” with losing on the road to Clemson, Miami had their chances to win this game. Miami returned home to face Duke, and after a back and forth battle in the first half, Miami dominated the opening portion of the second half racing out to a 13 point lead with 8 minutes to go. However, from that point forward, it was all Duke as the Blue Devils dropped 30 points on the Canes in 8 minutes en route to an 83-75 result. Bruce Brown continues to struggle, as the highly touted sophomore appears unsure of how to balance the need for deferring to talented teammates, while also pursuing domination like his talent warrants. And similarly to losing to Clemson, there is nothing “wrong” with losing to Duke, but Miami has to take advantage of these win opportunities when they present themselves.
While this is obviously a little early to start thinking about qualifying for the tournament, there are no easy wins in the ACC. To qualify for the tournament, you have to expect that you will need at least 9 conference wins to secure a bid. The easiest way to play this scenario out is to win all your home games. Thus far, Miami has won one ACC road game and lost one ACC home game, so it has balanced out. However, looking ahead, Miami has home games against very talented Louisville and Virginia, so if Miami trips up at home any further, it is going to have to find another road game to win. No easy task, which brings us to the rest of this preview, as Miami goes on the road for 2 of its next 3 games.
@North Carolina State
Sunday, January 21st, 12pm, ACC Network Extra
Miami travels to Raleigh looking to avoid a 3 game losing streak. NC State has had a Jekyll & Hyde type season, having gone 12-6 on the season and 2-3 in conference play (at the time of writing this preview, NC State had yet to play Wake Forest). The Wolfpack have already notched some extremely impressive victories having beaten Arizona on a neutral court, as well as beating Duke and Clemson at home. However, the Wolfpack have also sustained some difficult to explain losses, such as losing to Northern Iowa and UNC Greensboro. Similar to what’s been said about Miami, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with losing to Clemson, Notre Dame and Virginia in ACC road games, but the Wolfpack were not even remotely competitive in those losses either. Perhaps that can be explained as a difference between road and home performance, and unfortunately for Miami, the Hurricanes will be on the road in this matchup.
NC State is under new coaching this year after Kevin Keatts has taken over from Mark Gottfried after leaving UNC Wilmington where he enjoyed considerable success. This team features a mix of both upperclassmen and young players, with the Wolfpack giving at least 17 minutes to 9 different players. The scoring is relatively balanced as well, but led by 6’3 senior guard Allerik Freeman and 6’6 junior wing Torin Dorn. As a team, North Carolina struggles defensively, and are particularly prone to giving up offensive rebounds and second chance points. The one area they excel in defensively is forcing steals, and as the Canes have struggled turning the ball over, this could be an issue. Offesnively, the Wolfpack are extremely good at offensive rebounds, and thus second chance points, which doesn’t really make sense considering how they struggle in that area defensively. Nonetheless, the Wolfpack are not a particularly great 3 point shooting team, and rely on getting good looks inside the arc. This, of course, is what Miami excels at preventing. This will be another tough road game for Miami to win, but the Wolfpack are beatable.
Wednesday, January 24th, 8pm, ESPN2
Miami returns home to face national power Louisville, as the Hurricanes get another chance to impress on national television (this time, ESPN2). While many thought Louisville may flounder after the abrupt dismissal of Rick Pitino following yet another round of damaging allegations, the Cardinal have won 10 of 12 going into a weekend matchup with Boston College before coming to Coral Gables to face Miami. Those two losses were a thumping on the road against rival Kentucky, and an overtime road loss to Clemson. During that stretch, however, Louisville notched some impressive victories as well, including beating Indiana and Virginia Tech at home, while beating FSU and Notre Dame on the road, the latter of which was in double overtime.
Louisville is an above average team offensively, doing everything pretty well except for getting to the free throw line. They do have a tendency to turn the ball over, which could lead to success for Miami if they can convert those opportunities into points. Ten Louisville players receive double digits minutes playing time, but the bulk of those minutes go to the starting 5, a group led by upperclassmen. Junior 6’7 combo forward Deng Adel does it all for Louisville, averaging 15.7 ppg, 4.6 rpg, and 2.7 apg. Overall this is a veteran team, and while the coach may be a first-timer, David Padgett has been around the block for a long time and has adjusted well to his new role.
Saturday, January 27, 4:00 PM, ACC Network Extra
Miami caps its week by going back out on the road, this time to Tallahassee to conclude the home-and-home series with its main rival. Miami absolutely dominated the first matchup in Coral Gables, although the final score of 80-74 did not reflect the play on the court. Since then, Florida State dropped a tough game at home to Louisville 73-69, rebounded to beat Syracuse at home in a shootout 101-90, and then went on the road to lose to Boston College 81-75. By the time these two teams face each other, FSU will have played Virginia Tech on the road and Georgia Tech at home so the Seminoles will have a chance to improve on their 13-5 (2-4) record as it currently stands.
Florida State has really, really struggled defensively in conference play, ranking near the bottom in nearly every metric in conference play. Unfortunately, Miami’s offense has similarly struggled, so this will be a weakness on weakness matchup. On the other hand, the Seminoles are playing at a high-level offensively, and excel at gathering offensive rebounds (where they crushed Miami at in the first matchup and nearly led to an improbable comeback). The Seminoles continue to be paced by Terance Mann, Braian Angola and Phil Cofer, although Cofer has struggled of late. Miami did a great job of limiting Terance Mann in the first matchup, and if it wants to secure the season sweep, that is likely the best way to win this one as well.
While it may be too early to officially be concerned about making the tournament, Miami is so predictable on offense that the Canes are seriously in jeopardy if they do not sort it out quickly. Unfortunately, there are no easy games to sort it out, and Miami now has three tough games in a row. NC State is beatable, and even though it is a road game, I think the Wolfpack can be had. Hopefully Miami proves me right as I think the Canes win a very tough game by 4. Returning home to face Louisville is no easy task, but hopefully the Louisville brand carries enough cache to get the same type of crowd turnout as the Duke game. That will be key in this one, as the Cardinal may be experienced, but they are not as talented as Duke. Miami will desperately need to defend its home court, and I think they bounce back at home and get the victory by 7. Finally, Miami goes on the road to close out the season series against FSU. It concerns me that Miami utterly dominated FSU and yet nearly gave it away. On one hand, repeat the performance and Miami should win comfortably. However, FSU played that poorly and nearly won. I’m going to put on the orange and green glasses and say Miami wins this game by 7 to notch what would be an extremely impressive 3-0 stretch. However, the margin of error for this stretch to be 0-3 is very, very narrow.
This is a make-or-break stretch for the Canes, and each game is a toss-up. Generally, toss-ups go to the home team, but I like the NC State matchup because they don’t shoot 3s well and because Miami will have significantly more rest. Miami wins by 3. The Canes then return home to face Louisville, who is a much tougher matchup from a style standpoint. I think this will also be close, and hope home court will swing it the Canes’ way. Unfortunately, I just don’t think they’re consistent enough to string together quality wins like this, so Louisville wins by 4. The Canes finish off this stretch in Tallahassee. FSU wants to play at a fast pace and Miami has been able to control tempo. The first matchup gave me the distinct impression that the Canes were the better team but almost blew it. I think that continues here and the better team wins. Canes by 7, to finish off a 2-1 stretch.