Jerry Steinberg from State of the U answers a few questions before tonight's showdown between the Cavs and the Canes. Be sure to swing over there to check out our answers to their questions!
STL: Having had such a senior-laden squad during last year's dominant run, it's no surprise this year's Canes have seen a pretty sharp drop-off. What is the most tangible difference between the 2013 and 2014 Hurricanes—i.e., something other than experience?
SOTU: This one is pretty easy. Explosiveness! With Shane Larkin at the helm, Miami could get up and down the court pretty quick, and thus were always one explosive run away from coming from behind or putting a close game away. Additionally Kenny Kadji could finish above the rim or drill a couple of threes, Durand Scott was a great driver/finisher, Trey McKinney Jones was an outstanding spot up shooter, and Julian Gamble/Reggie Johnson were steady inside forces. Last season's team was just as comfortable winning shoot outs in the 80s or 90s (as evident in the ACC Tournament Championship Game) as it was grinding out games in the 50s and 60s. This years lacks the scoring prowess of last year's and thus relies on the latter.
STL: When we "talked" before the season, you singled out 7-footer Tonye Jekiri as one player who really needed to step up this year. Nearing the end of the year, Jekiri is seeing action in about half of Miami's minutes and has provided quality interior play as a rebounder on both ends and as a shot-blocker. Has his season gone how you had hoped? What more do you wish you had gotten from him this year?
SOTU: Jekiri has had an up and down sophomore campaign. He has gotten more consistent as a rebounder/defender and has flashed some skill on the offensive end as well, but he still has a long way to go. Right now he is more Assane Sene than say Gorgui Dieng. But you can see it is coming. He has shown he can occasionally make a 15 footer. More skill in the post is what will either separate him as a great player or relegate him to a defensive presence/trash man under the bucket.
STL: Rion Brown's play on the wings seems to have been driving the Canes offense: he scored 20 or more in both of the Canes two most recent wins, shooting 50 percent from deep. What makes him such a scoring threat, and what's the best way to slow him down?
SOTU: Brown is easily Miami's most consistent and accomplished scorer. He has always been a streak shooter from deep, so when he is on, good luck. This year he has added a nice medium game to the equation and will even surprise you and take the ball to the basket on occasion. With Brown, his biggest asset beside jump shooting is his incredible athleticism. You better watch out for back screens or he will put you in an ACC "must see moment" with a thunderous alley hoop dunk. Duke pretty much prevented him from getting touches period, and he had his low output of the season against them with just 2 points. That is probably going to be your best bet because Miami is going to try to get him looks anyway they can.
STL: It's hard to see a way Miami ends up playing post-season ball in the Big Dance. The season finale doesn't look to be doing the Canes any favors, with road games against three teams in the top half of the conference. What are you looking for from this squad in the final few weeks of the season?
SOTU: Funny you should ask, as I tackled this subject less than a week ago. I expect Miami to go 2-2 in its remaining four games and then win one ACC tournament game to lock down a spot in the NIT. Next season when transfers Sheldon McClellan (Texas), Angel Rodriguez (K State), and injured scoring machine Deandre Burnett are in the mix, expectations are going to skyrocket. Considering the lack of experience of this group, the NIT is actually a nice little accomplishment.
STL: Wednesday night has all the makings of a trap game for the Cavaliers: sitting atop the ACC standings, within sniffing distance of the AP top ten, and a potentially conference-deciding game against Syracuse on Saturday. Miami has managed to snag upset wins on the road twice this year (@ UNC-Chapel Hill and @ Florida State). Do you see it happening again at the JPJ? Bottom line: Who ya got?
SOTU: I love the way Miami is playing right now. The offense is finally starting to catch up with the defense some, and young guys like Manu Lecomte and Davon Reed seemed to have turned the corner. Additionally Erik Swoope, a seldom used undersized PF for most of his career, is playing like a man on a mission. Add that to Brown and you have a decent squad. Nonetheless beating a Hoos squad that really has their act together is going to be a tall task. UVA wins the battle on the glass with Mike Tobey and at the charity stripe with Joe Harris and Malcolm Brogdon and continues their hot streak with a 61-58 win.