The Miami Hurricanes enter Monday's nonconference game at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn coming off a bad home loss by 28 points to Eastern Kentucky. The Hurricanes are 9-2 on the season though and will be looking to get back off the mat and take on the Providence Friars who are 9-3 and coming off a blowout win at home against UMass.
Jerry Steinberg, managing editor of the SB Nation site StateOfTheU.com, was kind enough to answer my questions about Miami basketball in general and specifically about how he sees tonight's game playing out.
BECB: How concerned should Cane fans be at the bad home loss to Eastern Kentucky coming out of their 11 day break?
SOTU: Extremely concerned. Before the break they lost badly to Green Bay, and despite winning 70-39, looked very sluggish against a bad Savannah State team. One would hope it was just "rust" Vs EKU, however they didn't just look sloppy, they looked disinterested. Tonight's game is more than just a measuring stick against a good out of conference foe, it is a fork in the road. Miami needs to decide whether they are a good team or a terrible team. For much of the season they were the former, but against EKU they were not even mediocre. It may be a bit early to push the panic button, but anything like Friday's performance this evening, and they will get run out of the gym by the Friars. If that happens, the season could spiral downward in a hurry, with a very tough ACC schedule closing in fast.
BECB: Angel Rodriguez was obviously great against Florida in that thrilling victory. He also shot the ball very poorly against Green Bay in their first loss. Do you see him being more consistent or are these sort of up and down performances going to be the norm during conference play?
SOTU: The crazy thing is, he was so good for the first 6 games, and suddenly out of left field he's been bad, awful, and worse for the last 5. And it's not just his shooting. His passing, handling, defense, basically everything has fallen apart. In 30 years of watching College Hoops I have never seen a player descend so quickly with no real explanation. To our knowledge Rodriguez is not hurt, or having any off the court issues to explain the struggling. His play of late has been mind boggling. Coach L even benched him Vs Eastern Kentucky in the 1st half when he failed to hustle for a loose ball. Honestly I can not forecast what type of player he will be come conference play. If the Hurricanes hope to contend in the ACC, whatever is ailing him needs to be fixed, and fast.
BECB: Who do you think will be be x-factor for Miami Monday night against Providence?
SOTU: Sheldon McClellan and Rodriguez and Miami's two best players, but when UM really has things cooking, Manu Lecomte is a big part of the offense. He is money from 3 when he is left open, but he's also pretty clever for a 5'11 player at getting inside and making medium range shots, when his game is on. In the 'Canes wins he is good for about 14 a game. In their two losses he has combined for 7. For the 'Canes to come away with a win tonight, Lecomte needs to get to double figures.
BECB: What are things that Miami does well when they win? What are their biggest shortfalls when they lose?
SOTU: If you look at Miami early on when they were dominant and so aesthetically pleasing, the team assist to turnover ratio was about 16:10 per game. Suddenly over the last few games, it is 9:14, 11:16, and 9:12. When UM is sharing the ball and making the extra pass to find open looks, they are deadly on the offensive end. When guys are forcing shots and sloppy with the ball, they are awful. The biggest factor tonight and for the remainder of the season, is passing the ball, and passing it effectively. Additionally, when they are playing well, 7 footer Tonye Jekiri is a nice compliment inside to their plethora of guards. When they struggle it looks like they have no inside game whatsoever.
BECB: What do you think Miami's plan will be to stop Kris Dunn and LaDontae Henton?
SOTU: Well those are two very special players and both will be tough to stop. Henton is a flat out shot maker, who when on is impossible to stop. I think you have to force him off his sweet spots and try to get him to put the ball on the floor when you can (which is not to say he can't do that as well). Dunn is a great athlete with terrific instincts. He is especially deadly when he gets out in transition. However, unlike Henton, you do not want him attacking the cup. His jumper is no where near as effective as his drives. Miami will probably use a number of defenders on both. But Rodriguez is a bull dog defender (when he is right) and likely will draw the assignment of Dunn come crunch time. As for Henton, we would guess McCellan draws that unenviable task for the most part.
BECB: Finally give us your prediction on how this game plays out and who will come out on top.
SOTU: Two weeks ago I would have been all over UM here, but big time doubts have suddenly arisen. But I just can't see a team with this much firepower and with a Coach as good as Larranaga, collapsing. If anything a team like Providence might just bring out the best in them. If the version of UM that had them ranked 15th in the Country shows up, they win by 10. If the version that looked totally lost just three nights ago shows up, they lose by 30. I am going to say the good 'Canes team comes to play and Miami takes it behind McClellan, Jekiri, and Lecomte, 76-66.
Big thanks to Jerry Steinberg from State of the U. You can follow him on Twitter @Category6UM.