I know football/recruiting is what spins the wheel at The U, but I'd like to make The Hoops Report a weekly feature on my blog now that ACC play is set to begin. The 13-1 Hurricanes deserve that at least.
So, I'll start with the big picture. The Hurricanes open ACC play Saturday at 2 p.m. at home against Georgia Tech (6-6, 0-0 in ACC play) in a game that is already sold out. UM then hits the road for Boston College (10-2, 1-0) and North Carolina State (9-3, 0-0) the following Tuesday and Saturday respectively.
For those of you hiding under a rock or still buried under football season, here's a quick recap: The men's basketball team actually started the season 12-0 -- two wins shy of tying the school record -- before a six-point loss to a solid mid-major team in Winthrop (The Eagles have averaged 26 wins the last three seasons) at the Orange Bowl Classic. The Canes even climbed into the Top 25 poll, reaching as high as 19th before the Winthrop loss knocked them out. At that point, UM was one of nine remaining unbeatens in all of college basketball. The highlights of the winning streak: UM won a preseason tournament in Puerto Rico, beating VCU (9-4) and Providence (9-5) in the tournament, then the Canes picked up a really nice road win at Mississippi State (9-5).
So what has helped UM get off to such a great start? Some would say an easy schedule (the Canes strength of schedule is rated 242nd by RealTimeRPI). The schedule has helped, but the success on the court can be attributed to health, defense and some great three-point shooting.
- Redshirt sophomore forward Adrian Thomas (torn ACL, out for the season) is the only player who has missed significant time this season due to injury. Last year, Miami was riddled with injuries and had several player suspensions.
- The Hurricanes defense, which finished dead last against the three and in field goal percentage defense, has climbed to No. 2 in the ACC in field goal defense (.375), scoring defense (60.3 ppg) and No. 3 in 3-pt. percentage defense (.306).
- Jack McClinton, who led the ACC in three-point percentage and free throws, is no longer the lone gunmen on this team. He and teammate James Dews have combined to hit on 68 of 140 (.486) from behind the 3-point line and 51 of 60 (.850) from the free throw line. The Hurricanes lead the ACC in three-point shooting and both rank No. 1 and No. 2 in the category.
- The Hurricanes don't have many guys ranked very high in the ACC in individual categories. McClinton ranks 8th in scoring (15.5 ppg), 5th in free throw percentage and 1st in three-pointers made per game as well as 3-pt shooting percentage (.508). And Anthony King (7.9 rpg) and (1.71) ranks 6th in both rebounding and blocked shots.
- But where UM is excelling is team categories. The Hurricanes have the fifth-best scoring offense (77.4 ppg), fourth-best rebounding margin (+5.8) and the second-best assist to turnover ratio (+1.17).
All that being said, the real schedule begins now and the Hurricanes know finishing under .500 in the ACC usually doesn't mean an NCAA Tournament berth. The ACC is rated the toughest conference in the country by the RPI with a 118-33 record in non-conference play, including a 29-16 record against the Big East, Big 10, Big 12, Pac-10 and SEC combined.
OK, those were all the facts and numbers here's some analysis and insight. The Hurricanes have to win Saturday against Georgia Tech. No, it's not a REAL must win. But for confidence and to keep fans behind this team, UM needs to beat the Yellow Jackets Saturday afternoon. Georgia Tech owns the worst record among ACC teams at 6-6. Yes, Tech's six losses have only come by six points or less and yes, the Yellow Jackets appear to be improving according to coach Paul Hewitt. But this is a game UM has to win if it wants to finish in the top half of the conference and make the dance.
WILL KING PLAY?: Miami's starting senior center pulled his groin in last week's win over Penn and missed the second half of the game. Monday, coach Frank Haith provided an update during the ACC teleconference: "He hasn’t practiced since the game. He’s day to day. He’s moving better. We’re hopeful he’ll be ready for Saturday. We’re hopeful by Wednesday or Thursday maybe him doing a little bit of something [in practice] to see how it goes. He did have groin pull and we’re just going to take it day by day. That’s why we’re being cautious with it. There’s no need to rush it. In all honesty, it’s a blessing we’re not playing until Saturday. We’re trying to give it sometime. With a groin pull there’s not a lot you can do except rest it a little bit. The good news is he’s being more active on the sidelines in the stuff our trainers are having them do." Translation: He's iffy. If King is back in practice by Wednesday or Thursday, look for him to start. If not, Haith has the rest of the season to worry about and can likely survive with Dwayne Collins, Ray Hicks and Jimmy Graham.
NEW STARTING LINEUP: If King is healthy and ready to go, don't expect Collins to come off the bench anymore. Graham, usually Miami's starting power forward, found himself on the bench to start the game against Penn the last time out. And it may be where he does the majority of his production. Haith said he feels Graham gets himself into foul trouble too quickly, a result in his opinion because officiating is so tight early in games. "It wasn't anything bad that Jimmy did," Haith said. "What we looked at was Jimmy starts the game and I don't want to [criticize officals], but I think officiating in the beginning of the game is when it's the tightest. And I think Jimmy always gets two fouls and he sits for 17, 18 minutes and he comes back in the second half and he gets his third foul. So, he ends up playing 18 minutes for the game. We want to get him more minutes, we want to get him on the court more. He got his first foul - I'm not going to move my theory like an Einstein - but he got his first foul in the second half. His aggressive nature hurts him start games sometimes. Obviously that was the whole thing behind that. He played a lot more minutes and played without fouling."
- Graham played 23 minutes, had seven points, five rebounds and just one foul against Penn. His replacement, Dwayne Collins, had 18 points, 12 rebounds, two blocks and three steals in the same game. After missing three games with a sore ankle, Graham played only 11 minutes in back-to-back games. So, it looks like Haith's strategy is working out.
GETTING RIOS GOING: There is no question freshman point guard Eddie Rios hasn't had the type of start he hoped for even though he leads the team with 14 steals on the season. In 14 games, Rios has shot 27.7 percent from the field, with 39 assists, 30 turnovers. The former Miami High standout and highly-touted recruit finally got going a bit against Penn, connecting on three of four from three-point range and finishing with 9 points, 4 assists and only 2 turnovers. Haith said he played Rios the majority of the second half in the hopes it might help him with his confidence. Miami certainly needs him to come around now that ACC play has started. McClinton, who is definitely more of a scorer, has had trouble with turnovers at times handling the point. While Lance Hurdle has filled in nicely, it would be nice to see UM's future at point guard show some more growth. Haith said Rios needs to handle his defensive assignments better, namely the way he handles ball screens.
"We need Eddie to play for us. I think Eddie needs to come along," Haith said following the Penn game. "I think in the first half, he went under the screen instead of over it. You go back to the Winthrop game, we gave up two threes because we didn't go over on ball screens. Tonight, we go under and they nail you. When we go over scouting reports and game planning, we got to be solid with what we do. He went underneath on the screen, the kid nailed the three. We got to get better from an execution standpoint in paying attention to the little things. "We need him to get out there and get comfortable. He's played a lot of minutes. He's played about 18, 19 minutes and but at some point in time he's got to take care of the basketball and make good decisions. He can playmake. He made some nice plays out there tonight."