Thursday's a big day. Villanova has a chance to continue a memorable season led by a pair of seniors looking to go out on a high note. Miami has the exact same vibe going for them. We caught up with the excellent Canes blog State of the U to preview the game and learn more about what makes the Hurricanes tick.
When I look at Miami I see a similar team structure to Villanova -- is the guard-heavy approach by design or is Larranaga making the most of what he has?
I would say it is Coach L going with the flow. 7'0 Tonye Jekiri has really progressed as a post player, but is anything but a consistent threat inside. 6'8 Kamari Murphy is more a trash man/defender who can make an occasional move in the paint. 6'10 Ivan Cruz Uceda is a stretch 4 in the truest sense, who loves to shoot threes. And 6'7 freshman Anthony "Amp" Lawrence Jr. is more a wing who occasionally plays the 4 and who started as a PG last season in H.S.
UM has a plethora of perimeter threats, but no consistent back to the basket options. While they may get the occasional post points from any of the options above, Miami gets way more consistent offense from the outside options like Angel Rodriguez, Ja'Quan Newton, Davon Reed, and Sheldon McClellan. Larranaga clearly plays to his team's strengths, and in that regards he has a ton in common with Jay Wright and the Wildcats' attack.
Jim Larranaga seems to have quickly got this program rolling again with several transfers playing a huge part -- talk to us about the impact Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan have had and what Wildcats fans can expect out of them on Thursday night?
Rodriguez and McClellan are the heart and soul of this team. Both are counted on heavily for minutes, production, and leadership. Rodriguez is at his best when he gets others involved, but he is a clutch, clutch player who never shies away from the big moment. McClellan is one of the most efficient scorers in the nation, but his one downside is he can be a little too unselfish at times. He can make the tough shots look easy, shoots a high percentage of 3's, and can really sky above the rim. He's an NBA caliber player, who when he decides to, can take over a game. Rodriguez is a little more aggressive of the two.
But they play off each other very well. The 'Canes are very, very fortunate that these two Big 12 transfers (Rodriguez K State, and McClellan Texas) came to Coral Gables. They are both elite College Basketball stars.
Explain the concept of 'Good Angel Rodriguez' vs. 'Bad Angel Rodriguez' - from afar it only looked like the good version was present this past weekend.
Most of this season Angel has been "Good Angel." Last year however, his inconsistent play likely cost the Hurricanes a spot in March Madness. He's a little inconsistent from the outside. And he had several 1 for 8's and 1 for 10's that cost Miami dearly in 2014-15. This year, while his shooting percentages aren't exactly high, he has been much better and not allowed struggles from deep to affect his floor game and D.
The thing about Rodriguez is, the bigger the game, the better he plays. Most of his struggles through out his career at UM have come against lesser opposition. He seems to play his best when the spotlight shines brightest (see 25 points, 5 steals, 5 assists last year vs Duke in a win at Cameron). Perhaps his occasional flaws are psychological. Either way, Hurricanes fans have to feel good about how he is playing right now.
Miami's road struggles have been well-documented - how do you account for that?
Overrated. Miami won three games in Puerto Rico ss Mississippi St., Utah, and Butler earlier this year. They can clearly win away from the Bank United Center. The ACC is a brutal conference, as evidenced by 6 of 16 "Sweet 16" teams being from the Atlantic Coast Conference. There is no shame in losing at UVA, at UNC, or at NC State even.
The Canes have one of the best offenses in the country - how can Villanova slow them down?
Interesting question. I do not think Jay Wright likes to employ much zone. But UM has a propensity to go cold vs zone teams (see the regular season finale Vs Va Tech). They also had some issues vs Virginia's "Pack Line D." If the Wildcats can somehow clog up the lane and force the Miami players away from drives to the hoop, they may be able to slow them down. If the 'Canes become strictly a jump shooting team, they are not at their best.
It looks like mostly a 6-man rotation playing heavy minutes -- is depth/fatigue a concern at all this late in the season?
Well I don't know if I agree with this analysis. Lawrence plays a lot of minutes off the bench. He can defend, rebound, handle, and occasionally score. Newton is one of the best Sixth Men in America. Uceda is a liability defensively, but can torch you from deep when on. And James Palmer, while seeing less minutes of late, is a well above average combo guard at this level. Lately Coach L has relied on his starters. But I think that has been more about match-ups than lack of trust in his bench players.
Hart-McClellan. Rodriguez-Arcidiacono. Ochefu-Jekiri. One-one-one matchups could be the difference in who moves on - which one would you deem most critical?
It's going to come down to Rodriguez-Arcidiacono, no doubt. This time of year the team/players who blink first goes home. Both of these guys are warriors in the truest sense. Neither necessarily needs to score either to make a difference. But both will take their team's on their shoulders as needed. Angel got the better of Wichita State leader Fred VanVleet in the Round of 32. He takes these kind of challenges personally. I am sure Arcidiacono has the same mindset. It's going to be a terrific battle between the two floor generals. Whomever plays better, likely leads his team to the Elite 8.
Who's the X-Factor for Miami on Thursday?
SOTU: Davon Reed. Reed is the most underrated player in the ACC. He has similar skills to Hart, but like McClellan, is often not aggressive enough for his own good. At 6'6 Reed can handle like a point (he started at PG half his freshman year), is a knockdown shooter, well above average at getting to the rim, and the team's best perimeter defender. When Reed really excels, Miami rarely loses.
Predictions for Thursday evening?
I know I am bias since I cover them and am an alum, but I like the Hurricanes a lot. Teams that really challenge them and get in their face, bring out the best in the 'Canes. Unless Nova shoots the lights out from three (very possible), I think Miami wins by getting to rim early and often. It won't be easy, and it should be close. But I think UM wins 76-72.