With his team 7-0 and set to take on a struggling FIU team Saturday night at Pharmed Arena, coach Frank Haith and guard Lance Hurdle filled us in on the latest surrounding the Hurricanes men's basketball team.
Here's some impressive stats you should know about the Canes before we get to what they said.
-- The Hurricanes are ranked No. 1 in the RPI, 290 spots ahead of FIU. According to the RPI, UM has the fourth toughest strength of schedule in the country. But before you get all excited, here's a disclaimer -- St. Mary's is No. 2.
-- UM's defense, which is much improved this season, ranks No. 1 in field goal percentage, No. 1 three-point percentage and No. 2 overall in scoring (59.3 ppg) in the ACC.
Q: You said after the 19-point win at home Sunday against St. John’s you guys still have a long way to go, a lot more to improve on. Have you identified where?
A: I think obviously we would like to be more efficient offensively and consistent with our offensive play. I think its getting better. There are certain guys we want to see more production out of. I’m ecstatic about what we’re doing defensively and I think that’s how your going to win ballgames. If you look at our numbers, we lead the league in points allowed. I think we’re second in the league in field goal percentage defense. Three-point percentage defense, I think we’re one or two in there. Our defensive numbers is what we’ve done to be as good as we are and play as well as we’ve played.
Offensively, I think we’re OK. But I’d like to see us be better. And we’re capable of being better. Granted, we’ve lost some consistency there when you lose a guy like McClinton for some time. Even, though he was back last game, he still wasn’t Jack McClinton. He’s a big part of your offense. Even if he’s not scoring a lot, he draws attention, which will open up other things for other players. So, I know we’re not going to be great until we get him back into the flow completely.
Q: When is that going to be?
A: I don’t know. We’ll see. The biggest thing for Jack is learning how to play with that thing on his hand. It’s something he’s going to have to do for awhile. I think he’s fine. The thumb is fine. It’s just getting used to having that soft, whatever it is that is holding his thumb in place. I think its going to be a couple weeks. He’s got to get used to it.
Q: Is it a soft cast?
A: No. It’s kind of like a protective wrap. A splint. That’s the word.
Q: So, is Jack going to handle the ball less and just set up and be a shooter more?
A: It’s just of matter practicing and seeing his ability and where it's at. I don’t know if I can sit here and say he’s not going to handle the ball. A lot will depend on how comfortable he’s gotten. Now, we’re a week later. That was only two days he was playing with that thing on his hand. So, now, he’s gotten more time with it, more comfortable with it. Maybe he’s more ready to handle the ball more. So, I don’t know, we’ll see.
Q: What would you like having Jack back and get in the flow. What is that you want to do offensively that you are not doing?
A: We want to continue to get our post guys involved and be consistent with that. Our post guys being consistent with how they’re attacking the basket and continue to play inside-out. I like to see us run better, transition-wise. In our early offense I’d like to see us be more effective. I think we’re very capable of being a team from a transition standpoint being better than we are. Those are areas I’d like to see us be better at.
Q: I think you are two spots out of the Top 25. Can you just talk about that? I know that’s something that hasn’t happened here a lot.
A: I don’t know. We’re not worrying about that. I think our guys are continuing to focus on doing what we need to do to get better. If it happens, it’s great. If it doesn’t... All we can do is worry about what we can control and that’s going out, competing and putting ourselves in position to win ballgames. The Top 25 if your able to get in there, it’s a great thing. And at the end of the year, weeks in the Top 25 is something obviously in terms of improving your resume in terms of the NCAA tournament is a good thing. There’s no question it’s a good thing and it’s something you want to shoot for. But I think our focus is our team getting better and understanding this thing is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. We’re only at the beginning stages.
Q: Last week, Brian Asbury kind of disappeared. In Puerto Rico, he had one half where he didn’t score, then he came out and scored 16, is that part of that consistency you’re looking for on offense.
A: Absolutely. But I will give Brian credit he didn’t score and wasn’t scoring and he didn’t come out and start jacking up shots. I went back and looked at the St. John’s game, I think we probably had a 4-minute stretch, maybe 5-minutes where we didn’t play good basketball and that was in the first half. I think we had 20 minutes in the second half and 15 in the first half. But that five minute stretch, we had a group of quick jump shots and it became contagious. One guy did it, another guy did it. But Brian never lost his focus and went to that losing the focus and I applaud him because he didn’t get into that. But we do need Brian’s productivity because we need that. We need Brian scoring different ways. We need him offensive rebounding, stick backs, which he did in the second half. We need him driving the ball to the basket, getting fouls, putting fouls on people because he is a very good free throw shooter. So, it’s more than him just standing out there and hitting jump shots, we need him getting points a lot of different ways.
Q: In the end of the St. John’s game we saw a lot of Dwayne Collins and Anthony King out on the floor together. Is that something we’re going to see more of?
A: We’ve done it all year. Those guys have played together all year, I don’t think it is anything we haven’t done. I think Dwayne and King have been out there a lot. I think sometimes we put Ray in the game late because he’s a good free throw shooter, better ball handler. Dwayne and King have played a lot together. Dwayne is our first post sub. So, there is no question. A lot of times Jimmy’s got two fouls and Dwayne will come in and that’s how its been all year.
Q: Speaking of Jimmy, how is his [right] foot doing. I know he injured it in the second half against St. John’s. Is he going to play Saturday against FIU?
A: Yeah, I think he’ll play. He had a little bit of a stress reaction. We think he’s going to be fine. We think he’s going to play.
Q: Has Jimmy been able to practice?
A: Some. We’re in exams and that’s the one thing in playing this game and the timing of it. We’re right in the middle of exams, so we haven’t practiced a whole lot. We haven’t had a lot of time on the court and we want our guys doing their things academically.
Q: How much does not being able to practice as much hurt your rhythm?
A: It’s hard. This is very similar to the way Mississippi State was. We’ll still be taking exams next week. So, we have two games in the middle of exams. When we go to Mississippi State we’ll be done with exams at that point in time. We try not to do as much as we can. Good thing about playing Saturday is they got one day to prepare for exams. But preparation is where it takes its toll. We’re not able to practice at our facility and we have to come over here.
Q: So, how many fewer hours are you guys practicing?
A: We went an hour the other day. Today, we’ll go maybe an hour, hour and half. So, we’ll probably go three days. Compared to normal, we’d go every day with the exception of one day off.
Q: Lance [Hurdle] had a good game against St. John’s. Did you see anything different there?
A: Just confidence. Getting court time. I think the more Lance plays, the better he’s going to be. It’s a matter of him just getting comfortable with that offense and getting comfortable with what we’re trying to do. It’s just a matter of confidence and that comes with him getting court time. He was outstanding the other day against St. John’s. Defensively and offensively and I think that’s the key. And that’s what we want Lance to do. Because I think Lance can be a tremendous defender. And that’s what he does bring. But also, Lance can make a shot and he did a great job with that and getting us in our offense. He’s hard to press. He’s got the speed and quickness and athleticism to outrun people.
Q: Can you talk a little about FIU and the challenge they present?
A: The biggest challenge is its their biggest game of the year. They’ll be excited to play us and geeked up and it will be a great crowd. I’m sure we’ll get their best effort that they’ve had all year. This is their Super Bowl. We’ll have to go over there with that mindset against a team that is going to be ready to play us as hard as they can play and give us everything they’ve got.
Q: Can you talk about the two recruits you guys signed – 6-6 forward DeQuan Jones and 6-9 center Robert Johnson – a few weeks ago?
A: I’m extremely excited about both of them. I think DeQuan is an impact player. I get reports of how well he’s playing. Coach Morton went and saw him and said he’s just growing each day. He’s 6-6, I think he’s the best athlete in the whole class. I think his impact is going to be immediate with our program. I think he’s that good.
I think Reggie Johnson is a kid that has only been playing basketball for four or five years, but I think his upside is incredible because he’s so big. I was in for a workout and I saw him break a backboard. And he has shattered three backboards. He so powerful. You hear his numbers you think he’s this fat kid. He’s really not. I mean obviously, he has to have some fat because he’s 300 pounds. But I thin once he gets his weight down and gets more conditioned, he has a chance to be really, really good. He has great hands and he’s pretty agile. Great agility for a kid his size. Very much like Jimmy, whose 258 and light on his feet. Reggie is a lot like that. It’s just a matter of him learning the game. But I think his upside is really good. We’re excited about both those kids.
Q: Julian Gamble is a guy who you said wasn’t probably going to play much this year. How is he progressing?
A: Jules is coming along well. Lance will tell you he’s made great strides in his game. His thing was confidence. He and Cyrus are big guys that aren’t playing and that’s a nice luxury to have, to have two guys in your program that will be playing next year.
Q: What did you get out of the 13-point effort on Sunday?
A: Like coach said it was a big confidence booster. And it was just fun playing out there. Atmosphere was great. Everybody was ready to play. It was just fun going out there with my teammates and winning the game.
Q: Were you feeling like you were pressing, trying to impress that sort of thing before it?
A: No. I just think I had to relax some. I was getting to excited sometimes. I’m starting to relax and calm down a little bit.
Q: How are you adjusting after coming over from California?
A: It’s pretty much the same weather. I’m having fun out here. I chill with my teammates all the time. I thought I’d be homesick, but I’m not. I’m just having fun out here, plus we’re winning so, it’s a good life right now.
Q: What’s been the biggest adjustment for you?
A: Probably the speed of the game, it’s quicker at this level. People are stronger. You just got to stay poised and composed at this level.
Q: I know one thing your teammates were saying was how good of a dunker you were and how much of a vertical you have, I know we haven’t had a chance to see you break one off. Is that in the plans?
A: I don’t think about it. If it happens, it happens.
Haith: “His teammates are sick and tired of the two-handed dunk. They want him to do something different.”
Q: What is your best dunk?
A: Probably the 360.
Haith: “Actually, we told Lance when he got here we were going to run alley-oop plays for him and that’s the only reason we got him. But we haven’t run one yet.”