After watching the Hurricanes bury themselves in a huge hole Tuesday night and lose to Boston College for a 13th consecutive time, I know South Florida Joe (that's my nickname for the average fan) is likely to come to a simple conclusion about Frank Haith's basketball team today. What is that? This UM team is just like the good ones who have come before this one -- nothing special and maybe good enough to make the NCAA Tournament and win a game or two.
And while that may be so by season's end, there certainly is no reason to jump off the bandwagon yet. This team is 14-2, 1-1 in the conference. And truth be told, if Frank Haith's team doesn't come out like Three Blind Mice for the first 15 minutes of Tuesday's game, UM likely has a shot to win it at the end.
I know, nobody cares about what-ifs. All everyone wants to see is this Miami team follow right in the footsteps of Billy Donovan's Florida Gators and carry South Florida (aka, Loserville) on its back on the way to an NCAA title. Here's a newsflash folks: That's not going to happen. Haith and company aren't saying it is either. Not yet anyway. Not anytime soon. Maybe a couple years from now. OK, maybe never. But the point is Haith and his team shouldn't be compared to those basketball Gators or even their UM football counterparts, who have five national titles and a reputation they need to start maintaining again. Meanwhile, what has UM basketball ever accomplished? One trip to the Sweet 16 and a co-Big East title. Oh, and Rick Barry played there too.
I'm not yelling at you, South Florida Joe. I know you don't like to get scolded. But before you drop this team for dropping one ACC road game, remember it takes take time to build a winner. It takes baby steps. And when you consider how far this team has come in a matter of nine months -- from 12-20 to 14-2 and nationally ranked -- well, it's like one giant leap for Hurricane-basketball kind.
Anyway, I'm done preaching. Here's some stuff that might make you feel better or at least make you think...
- During the game, I got a chance to sit next to ESPN's College Basketball Writer Andy Katz. First off, Katz is probably as good as their is in the business. Covering one team can create headaches. This guy covers the entire nation. Anyway, Tuesday night was the first time Katz told me he had seen UM in person. But he said he also saw UM play two times on TV, the championship of the San Juan shootout against Providence and UM's road trip to Mississippi State (How he finds the time is beyond me). In a nutshell, Katz says he thinks UM can finish anywhere from fourth to seventh in the conference, behind obviously No. 1 North Carolina, Duke and Clemson. His biggest concern: Miami's post presence. He says the Canes are still relying a lot on their guards and not getting enough inside.
WHERE'S KING?: Haith agreed with Katz assesment after Tuesday's game and told reporters he thought his team did a poor job getting the ball inside against the Eagles. Haith also said his big men didn't do enough to draw contact and were almost fearful of it. I agree to an extent. But from what I saw Tuesday, it doesn't look to me like Jimmy Graham or Dwayne Collins are fearful. It's senior Anthony King, who when facing an imposing shotblocker has now faded into obscurity twice. King played just 18 minutes Tuesday, putting up only two shot attempts and grabbing six rebounds. Part of it was 6-11 Tyrelle Blair, who was redirecting shots left and right and grabbing most of the boards for BC. The bigger problem from my point of view? King isn't be aggressive enough. He's settling for jumpshots. It's almost as if he's intimidated at times to go inside. He did the same thing against Mississippi State when the Bulldogs big-shot blocker was redirecting his shots. Miami needs King, who obviously isn't as athletic as Collins or Graham, to get his confidence back. Like Shaq's dad once said in a commercial: TAKE IT TO THE HOLE. Ultimately, UM needs King's leadership and they need his presence, especially defensively, on the floor.
PROBLEMS PASSING: The other part of what Haith was talking about in the postgame -- getting the ball inside -- is obviously part of the biggest problem this team has in my eyes: point guard. While Jack McClinton has done a decent job running the point for Miami, he had three assists and only one turnover on Tuesday, this was the second consecutive game he struggled with his shot. At times, it even looked like he was forcing them again. Meanwhile, it also was the second consecutive game shot poorly to start the game. I know I talked about this in the Courtside Blog, but I'll touch on it again. The Hurricanes have simply been out of rhythm -- at least in the early part of both of their ACC games. What's causing it? Good coaching on the other side and the fact this team doesn't have a true point guard. Even though Haith was hoping freshman Eddie Rios, who played one minute Tuesday, might develop and be able to handle more minutes come January, it hasn't happen. Rios has shown he's not ready yet to see significant minutes at the point. Tuesday, for about the first 10 minutes of the game, Miami's offense looked like a chicken with its head cut off. Instead of going toward the basket, McClinton and Dews would keep coming back to retrieve the ball from each other or from their post men. With a guy like Tyrese Rice running the point for UM, the Hurricanes wouldn't have that problem. Rice is the type of guy that can thread passes inside. McClinton and Dews can do it, but not at a high enough rate to keep UM's offense in a flow. And as long as the Canes keep struggling with that, you can get bet your house opponents are going to keep applying that pressure and trying to exploit.
A NEW SOLUTION?: Junior Lance Hurdle could potentially be the solution for Haith. The JUCO transfer played for 28 minutes Tuesday, third most behind McClinton (36) and Dews (31). Hurdle scored 13 points and had two assists, one turnover and a steal. But what was most impressive was his speed and ability to get to the basket quickly for lay-ups. The problem I see is that Hurdle needs to work on seeing his teammates a little better. There were times he pulled up for three-pointers and jumpshots when teammates were open. But all in all, if he can handle the rock and play with that much speed all the time -- he's also not a bad defender -- then he's a key asset that needs to see more minutes.