We're going to try to continue our Staring Down The Musket series through basketball season, but please pardon us if the number of games and quicker turnaround (and the fact that some opponents...like Marshall...don't even have a blog to respond to our question) cause us to skip a game here or there. Saturday night, the WVU cagers will face a short turnaround from Kansas State to face the Miami Hurricanes in a non-conference match-up back in the Coliseum. As you may remember, Miami beat WVU in Florida last year, so this year's edition is payback for the Mountaineers. The Miami blog Category 6 (that refers to a severe Hurricane, for those of you like me who had to pause to figure it out) was kind enough to answer our questions, so head over there and check out my answers to their inquiries. Now, on with the show:
Country Roads: Miami's last tournament appearance came in 2008 when the Hurricanes lost to Texas in the second round. What needs to happen for the 'Canes to make the tournament again this year? Are you optimistic about your chances?
Category 6: It all boils down to the return of injured center Reggie Johnson. He's expected back by the start of the conference play. The 6'10 300 pounder averaged nearly a double double last year. Right now UM's biggest weaknesses are inside scoring and rebounding. Reggie fills both of those needs, he also helps their outside shooters tremendously. We are very optimistic that if he comes back full strength the 'Canes can be a force in the ACC this year.
C6: Grant and Scott are definitely their top scorers. But the emergence of Shane Larkin and transfer Trey McKinney-Jones give UM a lot of depth and versatility in the back court. Over the last 2 games big man Kenny Kadji has put in his best efforts. So I'd say controlling UM's backcourt first and foremost should concern WVU. That and keeping Kadji at bay.
CR: Miami's games so far have not been high-scoring affairs. Is that by design, or have other teams succeeded in taking the Hurricanes out of their comfort zone? Along those lines, WVU has trended more and more toward pushing the tempo this year with young guards Jabarie Hinds and Gary Browne running the floor along with senior point-turned-shooting guard Truck Bryant. Can the Mountaineers have success running against Miami?
C6: Miami's strength this year has been defense. They do a real good job contesting everything, with the exception of the second half against Memphis. However with no consistent inside threat, their shooters haven't been getting great looks. Scott and Grant are better shooters then they have shown so far. As a result their games have been low scoring affairs. UM's last two opponents UMass and Memphis both liked to push tempo. And UM did a good job against them for 3 of 4 halves. I'd say WVU will have limited success running, but the should study the second half against Memphis
CR: More of a big-picture question: what are Miami fans' expectations for the program? The ACC seems to be a top-heavy league, where after Duke and UNC (and soon to be Pitt and Syracuse), teams like Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, Maryland and Clemson can all compete on a fairly consistent basis. Do the 'Canes view themselves in that second tier, or are they comfortable being mostly a football school whose basketball team makes the NCAA tournament once every so often?
C6: The big picture in Miami tends to focus on two things: buzz and "what have you done for me lately?". The BUC is a great on-campus arena that has attendance problems similar to what you described about basketball in Morgantown. As with WVU, Miami is a football school. For big games people show up, lesser games they don't. I think expectations have been raised with the hiring of Coach Jim Larranaga. Some of the criticism from 'Canes fans has been directed toward the university for not putting enough money into basketball. Larranaga is hopefully a game-changer in altering that perception. In terms of the ACC. I mean, unless you build a program or do shady Calipari-like stuff, you're not going to become Duke or UNC overnight. I think Miami has the ability to become a consistently ranked team that makes the tournament on a regular basis - as they were under current Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton - but as to how long that will take...who knows? There's definitely more optimism with the new coaching staff. Right now, we're definitely second tier. The ACC is Duke and UNC and everyone else fighting for table scraps.
CR: Prediction time. Usually I find the line and the over/under, but I'm not even sure it's come out yet in this case. So I'm going to ask you to make one up. What would you set the line at? What's your over/under? And what's the final score?
C6: Has the gaming commission approved this question? Okay, here goes. Obviously, we're going to pick Miami for the win. The line: WVU favored by 7pts. Over under: 135. Final Score: Miami 70 WVU 68.
The game turns on a late 3 by Malcolm Grant as the shot clock dwindles. Watching NYC guards Durand Scott and Truck Bryant go head-to-head should be fun.