ATLANTA -- The Miami Hurricanes didn't have a healthy Jack McClinton for their final three games of the regular season and it showed. McClinton, the ACC's third leading scorer this season at 19.7 points per game, shot an astonishing 9 of 37 from the field including a sub-par 6 of 18 from three point range.
The old Jack McClinton may finally be ready to lace them up Thursday at noon when the Canes (18-11) take on the Hokies (17-13) in a game vitally important to UM's NCAA Tournament chances. I didn't get a chance to talk to the team when they went through their walk through early Thursday morning at the Georgia Dome (my flight got in just after they were finishing up), but word from other reporters is McClinton looked awfully sharp.
UM coach Frank Haith said Tuesday McClinton has been practicing at full speed since Monday. "[Monday] was the first day where he was full-go," Haith said. "We’re trying to get his knee right and I think he hasn’t been playing as well because of it. Yesterday he really let it go and hopefully he can build on that in practice today and have a great game Thursday."
The Canes have won their last three ACC Tournament openers and will face a Hokies team that has lost six of its last seven. But just because it looks like McClinton is finally healthy and Virginia Tech is sliding should we take it to mean UM is a shoe-in to be playing No. 1 North Carolina on Friday. The Hokies' last three losses came to three of the top four teams in the conference. UM, which has won 3 of its last 4, picked up two of its wins against teams behind them in the standings. Oh by the way, the Hokies have won two in a row against UM, too, including an 88-83 win in OT in January.
"We did a really good job last time in terms of execution offensively," Haith said. "But we did not defend as well and we have to defend a lot better. With that said, I thought [A.D.] Vasallo and [Malcolm] Delaney were outstanding in that ballgame. They both shot the ball extremely well and we have to do a good job on both of those guys and the big three – [Jeff] Allen, Delaney and Vasallo. They all had great performances against us."
> HAITH: 2009 NOT A DISAPPOINTMENT Despite being picked to finish fourth in the preseason and starting the season ranked 16th in the polls, Haith reiterated Tuesday that even if UM does not get an invite to the NCAA Tournament on Selection Sunday, he still would not consider this season a disappointment.
"I think this team has done well," Haith said ."I still go back to five years ago when I took the job and now you look at where it’s at now – we’re in the talk every year. Obviously I want us to win and get to the NCAA Tournament. I think that’s our goal every year, but in terms of a disappointment, I think some of our fans may feel something like that. I don’t feel like that. We have great seniors that will graduate and have won some big games. We’ve put ourselves in position to have a shot at the NCAA Tournament. Some years we may get there and some years we may not. Four games have come down to the last possession. This team could be totally different if the ball bounces our way. It’s not like we have lost games by 20 or 30 points every night. We’ve been in every game and I think that shows there is progress in this program."
Just one sports writer's opinion, but the two games I'll point to should Miami miss the tournament are the road losses at Maryland, and the let down at Georgia Tech last week. Both of those games, UM didn't show the type of desire and fight it needed to. Despite being more talented, they were inexcusably flat emotionally. It's hard to point the finger at Haith for that. With a team full of seniors and veterans, it's on the players to show up and play better than that.
> NO LAWSON?: Not that I'm looking ahead, but if UM gets past the Hokies Thursday, the Canes could see a North Carolina team without ACC Player of the Year Ty Lawson. The Tar Heels point guard injured his toe in the win against Duke is a bit questionable for this week's tournament. Lawson was huge in UNC's win over UM on Feb. 15. Of course, Lawson does have an extra day to rest that toe before Friday. UNC did not practice on the Georgia Dome floor Wednesday.
> CANES TO SCRIMMAGE THURSDAY: I won't be there because I'll be up here covering the ACC Tournament, but Randy Shannon's football team will be scrimmaging for the second time this spring on Thursday night at Traz Powell Stadium in Miami. It's supposed to get started at 6:30 p.m. Our Susan Miller Degnan will be there along with Barry Jackson. They'll send me some notes for the blog when it ends. The football team will be off after Thursday until March 23rd.
If you go, be sure to enjoy watching running back Mike James (No. 22), Miami's talented receivers (you'll be really impressed by Kendall Thomkins) and safety Vaughn Telemaque (No. 7). If your looking for improvement, keep your eyes on the backup quarterback battle between Tyler Cook and Cannon Smith, how some of the new offensive lineman (Matt Pipho, Ben Jones, Harland Gunn) are handling a talented deep defensive line core, and if UM's young linebackers are winning any of the one-on-one battles with a talented stable of running backs.
> RIVALS TOP 100 RELEASED: I finally got around this afternoon to taking a gander at Rivals first Top 100 player rankings for football in the 2010 class. Rivals will end up juggling this list 1,000 times before National Signing Day. But I was a bit surprised at some of the names I saw on the list and didn't. Northwestern defensive tackle Todd Chandler, Miami-Dade's No. 1 recruit, wasn't on there. Miami Palmetto defensive end Delvin Jones (in the 20s in The Miami Herald preseason rankings) is in there. Not trying to rip Rivals, who does a good job following the right kids for the most part. But I'll take our Larry Blustein over any of those guys. There's only so much you can gain from watching a combine. Larry and I knew Sean Spence would be a star at UM. Rivals never had Spence in its Top 100.
> ON A PERSONAL NOTE: I normally don't share too much about myself here, I wanted to pass along the happy news that Tuesday night my wife and I closed on our first house. I'm definitely thrilled to finally have a real place to call my own. As happy as I am about that, I can't be more upset or heartbroken about the news we learned today about several colleagues who lost their jobs. The Miami Herald cut more than 200 jobs Wednesday in an effort to keep surviving in the struggling newspaper business. Thankfully, I still have a job. But I'm praying for the families of the people here no longer don't. It's a sad day at The Miami Herald.