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The Hot Stove: Virginia Q&A, hoops openers, Frazier

I'm out here at the BankUnited Center early Friday afternoon to watch the women's season opener in hoops before the men take the floor against Florida Southern tonight at 7:35 p.m. I know many of you might still be a bit confused because the tickets say Saturday, but the school switched the games to Friday to accomodate fans who want to attend the Orange Bowl finale against Virginia. So for those of you have emailed me -- yes the game is tonight!

By the way, for those of you who care, the Lady Canes currently lead FAU 51-37 late in the second half. I don't have a lot of fresh stuff to share with you other than my Q&A with Virginia Cavaliers blogger Rob Mahini, which I included below, and some fresh audio I gathered from basketball practice and football practice Thursday (CHECK OUT THE AUDIO). But here are a few tidbits I've gathered since the end of football practice yesterday.

** The football commitment the Canes got from Miami Northwestern receiver Kendall Thompkins earlier this week appears to be more of a result that the Canes think landing Thompkins' teammate, Tommy Streeter, is becoming more and more less likely. Streeter (6-5, 200) has been courted by South Carolina and many other schools. But their is history with his family. His father, once a standout on his own, shunned UM to go to Colorado coming out of high school.

** I spoke to redshirt sophomore forward Adrian Thomas yesterday about his abdominal strain injury, which cost him all of last season. Apparently, he pulled it because he showed up to a combine-style workout late. He never got an opportunity to stretch before running out on the court. Just another example of how unlucky the Canes were last season.

** Despite the belief Plantation American Heritage guard Kenny Boynton (one of the top 10 players in the Class of 2009) has little to no interest in UM, I've been told Boynton will be at UM's season opener tonight against Florida Southern. UM is still holding out hope it can land Boynton, who led Pompano Beach Ely to a state title last season before transferring to Heritage. Boynton is being courted by plenty of big time programs including Duke, Florida, Ohio State and Texas.

** Last night I got a chance to watch Carol City coach Walt Frazier coach what is likely his last high school game. I wrote a column on him in our high school section. But for a guy like Frazier I wish we could do so much more. He's really done a great job at Carol City for so many years -- and it has nothing do with what his teams did on the football field. Yes, he won. And he won a lot. But this guy is the reason guys like Kenny Phillips, Eric Moncur and Glenn Sharpe are the good guys they are today. And why there are a lot of other guys you've never heard of doing the right things. Carol City is a tough place to grow up in. Frazier commanded respect. I remember being at Carol City once and walking the halls with the school principal. He kept trying to calm kids down and get them to class. There was little to no reaction. We came down another hall and when Frazier walked out everyone scattered like roaches, bolting for class. If this is indeed the end for coach Frazier, there are going to be a lot of people who miss him. Me included.
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One of the things I'll always try to do with this blog is get different perspectives. Earlier this week, I was approaced by the Rob Mahini, a writer for The Sabre who has a very good blog that covers the Virginia Cavaliers. We exchanged five questions we felt were important heading into Saturday's game. I answered his questions. He answered my questions. Here's what I asked Rob and what he had to say about the Cavaliers, who come into Saturday's game with an 8-2 record and a real shot at making the ACC Championship game. To see how I responded to his questions, follow the link above.

1. In a lot of ways this game is pitting two teams on opposite ends of the "close game" spectrum. Virginia has found ways all season to win close games, while UM has lost three games by six points or less. Can you explain why it is the Cavs always seem to find a way to pull it out late?
A:
I discussed how this team has a "survivor instinct" on the blog recently, and my theory is that there are a mixture of things contributing to this record-breaking phenomena of winning so many close game. First off, it starts with the emotional leaders on this team. Chris Long and company are stepping up on defense right when the team needs a stop, and Jameel Sewell's cool-as-cucumber demeanor and sureness in his ability to drive for a winning score infects the offense with the confidence to make the needed plays. In addition, this coaching staff is in the zone when it comes to drawing up two-minute offensive drives (including for the end of the first half).

I'll also add that the experience of this team in that crushing loss at Wyoming, including the prospect of a true freshman quarterback having to take over after Sewell's performance in that game, had a profound effect on Jameel and the rest of this team. Almost how an Army private is broken down and then built back up in basic training (at least, that's what they do in the movies), this team took the hazing from week one, decided they wanted to prove that performance wrong, and has built itself up ever since.

2. What makes Chris Long such a tough guy to block?
Chris_longA: Let me count the ways! First off, he's a man that never quits. Totally possessed when it comes to getting to the ball. Second, he's very intelligent and instinctive -- knows exactly what move is needed at what time to beat a blocker or at least when to time a jump to bat a pass down. Third, he's very athletic. His amazing interception against Carolina -- where he jumped up and snared a pass in midair from the line of scrimmage -- highlighted his agility, while he has the speed to run down backs as they try and turn the corner. This type of agility and speed, mixed in with that power and smarts, makes for a tough guy to stop. You know, unless the ACC officials forget about that whole offensive holding rule thing.

3. What is the take in Virginia this week about this game? Are the players or coaches worried UM is going to be even more up for this game because its the Orange Bowl finale? Or do many of them think this UM team really isn't that good?
A:
I think the players and coaches are very concerned about whether they will win this game -- and understand the hostile atmosphere they'll be in. Sure, after this week, they've got a bye followed by the game that will decide the Coastal Division, but this isn't a squad that looks ahead or ignores the challenges at hand. A win at Miami would be huge for the program, and this team knows it. And with so many close victories, this team doesn't take anything for granted (not that playing Miami on the road is something to take for granted, but you get the picture). They have the confidence that they can win any game, but the understanding that their margin of error is tiny. And given that Miami is a damn good team, playing in the the charged atmosphere you described on The Good Ol' Blog, there is no way they're underestimating a Hurricane team that deserves serious respect.

4. If there is a weakness on Virginia's offense what is it?
Jameel_sewellA: The weakness on offense is definitely in the passing game. Either Sewell is missing wide open receivers or the receivers aren't always getting the seperation needed to get open in the first place. Fortunately, the coaching staff has figured out a way to draw up a more manageable throwing offense (screens to the running backs, rollouts to the tight end, etc.) to make up for this weakness. And the focus is usually on running, so if Virginia can establish the run in a game, the passing weaknesses are certainly minimized.

5. If there is a weakness on Virginia's defense what is it?
The flip side of the coin: the defense's weakness is in the secondary. The corners are young and the safeties are better suited for run support. This weakness was glaringly evident in the NC State game -- the Wolfies lit up the UVa secondary for what seemed like 500 yards and a dozen touchdowns. Virginia tries to make up for this by shutting down the run and then putting pressure on the quarterback -- but if a quarterback gets hot, this approach is like putting a wildfire out by spitting on it. For some reason, Wake didn't take advantage and test the UVa corners. I'd be surprised again if Miami neglects to take some shots downfield as well.

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