Clemson will take on the Miami Hurricanes Tuesday night at 8pm at Littlejohn Coliseum. In an attempt to get to know the teams better, State of the U has joined us for a Q&A to answer any questions you may have before tip-off.
STS: Shakin the Southland
SOTU: State of the U
STS: Last season Miami finished 27-6 and won their first ACC Championship as well as 2 NCAA tournament games. What is the biggest difference between the 2013 Canes and the 2014 Canes?
SOTU: The players! No Shane Larkin, No Durand Scott, No Kenny Kadji, and so on and so on. Last year's group was special, but they have all pretty much moved on. UM lost all 5 starters and among their top 8 only Tonye Jekiri and Rion Brown returned. I challenge any program in the country to withstand that kind of loss and come back anywhere near the same level. With a new team in place it has taken a good part of the year to define roles and find an identity. But Coach Larranaga and staff have done an excellent job getting the most of this group, and Miami is a dangerous team coming down the stretch.
STS: Tomorrow nights match-up features the slowest paced team in the NCAA (Miami) against the 3rd slowest (Clemson) but both teams have shown the ability to score. Are you expecting a first to 50 points wins match-up or will we see something different?
SOTU: The coaching staff has taken the reigns off of the Canes offensively some the last handful of games. UM even put up 85 over the weekend against NC State. Nonetheless, I have seen Clemson play a few times this year and I know they can flat out guard. Miami has had a handful of games this season where they just couldn't shoot. So there is a chance this one plays out that way. But I suspect both teams play well and more like first team to 60 wins.
STS: Miami has shown the ability to absolutely stifle teams with their zone defense this year. What makes the Hurricane zone defense so frustrating?
SOTU: Well up front and on the wings you have long rangy players like 6'6 Rion Brown, 6'6 Garrius Adams, and 6'6 Davon Reed. Tonye Jekiri is a 7-footer who protects the rim well. Donnavan Kirk is an excellent shot blocker as well. Erik Swoope is a 6'5 PF who roams the floor like a middle linebacker, locking down whomever he defends. Additionally Coach L has them playing like a team and helping each other out when/if one man gets beat. Be warned though, of late they are doing a lot of switching between zone and man as well as mixing in some full court press. They will do whatever is working on a given night.
STS: Miami scored 48 2nd half points against NC State on Saturday to put away the Wolfpack. What unexpected players have to step up in the scoring column for Miami to put up those types of numbers?
SOTU: Erik Swoope was not even playing regularly earlier in the season, but over his last 3 games is averaging 14 ppg. He's a 6'5 bulldog of a PF who can finish above the rim, and will drive to the hoop every chance he gets. Additionally freshman Manu Lecomte is playing with as much confidence as at any point of the season. He can take the ball to the basket with his quickness and has nice range on his jumper. Everyone knows Brown and Adams are going to shoot, when guys like Swoope and Lecomte chip in Miami usually does a much better job of scoring.
STS: Hindsight is 20-20. With 10 years having passed since Miami transitioned to the ACC, from strictly a basketball standpoint, how has Miami handled the move throughout the past decade?
SOTU: Excellent question. It has been a lot of up and down but mostly down prior to last year. Let's be honest, it will always be a football school first. But they really hit a home run hiring Larranaga. And next season they have an exceptional recruiting class coming in and will also have transfers Angel Rodriguez (K-State) and Sheldon McClellan (Texas) eligible. The program is on the upswing. All of a sudden guys like LBJ and DWade come to games. Could that have happened with out the move to the ACC? Maybe, but marquee opponents like Duke, UNC, and now Syracuse never hurt the profile.
STS: Senior Guard Rion Brown has shown us that he can be a special player, scoring 20 points or more in 6 of his last 10 games. Tell us some more about Rion Brown for those who haven't seen him play yet?
SOTU: Brown is easily Miami's most consistent and accomplished scorer. He has always been a streaky 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-oop 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.
STS: What do you think the outcome will be Tuesday night at Littlejohn?
SOTU: Miami has played their best ball of the season on the road. So I have a sneaky suspicion they can pull this one out. The Tigers really need this one to strengthen their NCAA resume and K.J. McDaniels is the best player on the court. Nonetheless I like the 'Canes to pull a minor upset 62-61 behind strong games from Swoope, Brown, and Lecomte.
STS: We thank Jerry for joining us in this Q&A session and look forward to tonights game. Again, it's at 8pm on the ACC Network. Click here to check out our answer's to their questions over on StateoftheU.com.