The University of Miami will host crosstown rival Florida International in a men's basketball game Friday night in a game that probably won't be very exciting. FIU, without four of its five regular starters, have never been much of a match for UM on the basketball court anyway -- with the Canes owning an all-time record of 11-1 against the Golden Panthers.
But the reason most of us ought to care about this game Friday is because as of now, it's the last time the Canes and Golden Panthers will meet in any of the major sports (football, basketball or baseball). We all remember what happened in football three years ago and why these teams probably won't meet on the gridiron any time soon. And we all know how the baseball relationship has soured between UM coach Jim Morris and FIU coach Turtle Thomas, his former assistant of 11 years. But basketball -- at the very least -- was a place the Canes and Golden Panthers have never really had any beef.
UM coach Frank Haith said Thursday while the two schools are looking to keep the rivalry on the court going, nothing looks close to being done. "This is the last game of the series, but we're considering playing down the road – nothing definite yet," Haith said. "It's a game that for the city they get excited about. I know FIU's had some injuries, but I anticipate them playing extremely hard. They'll always play hard and defensively be very aggressive. I anticipate a very hard-fought game."
From what FIU beat writer Pete Pelegrin tells me, UM is looking for a four-game deal in hoops, with three games at UM and one at FIU. That's doesn't sound like a stretch, considering UM has hosted 10 of the team's 12 meetings. But FIU athletic director Pete Garcia is looking for a basic home-and-home series with the Canes. As far as baseball in concerned, Garcia told The Miami Herald in April he hoped the series would continue. But according to the FIU 2009 schedule, it doesn't look like that's going to happen. The Hurricanes have yet to release their baseball schedule.
> As for the Canes basketball team, which slipped out of the AP poll and are No. 25 in the ESPN/Coach's poll, this will be the first of two games in three days. UM hosts Robert Morris Sunday at 1 p.m. before taking a week off and opening ACC play against Clemson on Dec. 21. It's going to be a nice little break during finals week for the team.
> I spoke with freshman DeQuan Jones for more than half an hour after Haith's press conference and met his father, a steel worker and former junior college basketball star from Birmingham, Alabama. DJ is certainly loving his time at UM and talked a lot about learning how to be a leader from Jack McClinton. It's something Jones will definitely have to be next season when the Canes lose four seniors to graduation and welcome an entirely new starting backcourt.
One of those weapons will be Villanova transfer Malcolm Grant, who is sitting out the season per NCAA transfer rules. I asked DeQuan about Malcolm, who is his roommate, and how he's doing in practices with the team. "Malcolm's a bad boy," Jones said. "He's the most vocal guy on the team. You can tell when he's not out at practice because it's not as loud. Malcolm is loud all the time. He's going to be a great leader next season."
> Haith said he wants Jones to focus more on defense and rebounding. So far, in seven games, Jones is averaging 3.3 points, 1.9 rebounds and has 10 turnovers. He's averaging 12.7 minutes a game. "I think he's getting closer and closer to having one of those breakout games," Haith said. "With him it's a matter of him beining comfortable, understanding what we do and defensively – I'd like DeQuan to focus on rebounding and defense and let the offense take care of itself."
> Haith talked a little about Miami's other freshman who is seeing minutes, forward Julian Gamble, and said he was really good in the Kentucky game even though he didn't score. "We look at the little things, clogging the middle up – he blocked three shots in that game," Haith said. "He's very active. I think Julian is coming along fine. The more the season progresses I think you'll see him get more and more minutes and be more productive, particularly on the offensive end because I think Julian has great skills."