The Miami Hurricanes of 2013-2014 are not a good basketball team. The 'Canes won the ACC regular season title last year in Coach Jim Larranaga's first season as Miami's coach on the strength of a veteran-laden roster and NBA-bound point guard in Shane Larkin. The early returns on this Hurricanes basketball season point to a losing record, and business going back to usual in Coral Gables, with empty arenas and a daily countdown to football spring practice. This is the core justification for my being disappointed in the Virginia Tech Hokies need to come back from 13 points down with 15 minutes remaining to force overtime, where they would eventually win, 61-60; moving to 1-0 in the ACC, and extending their win streak to four games.
I won't go as far as to say the game featured home-cooking from the referees even though, the Hokies shot just 1-of-3 from the free throw line ALL AFTERNOON. The Hokies were content to attempt way too many three-point shots, with 34 of their 69 tries from beyond the arc. Once you lull the refs to sleep with that sort of offensive flow, it's tough to snap them out of it in order to get them to call the game tighter in the paint when it counts. What resulted was a wrestling match underneath the basket when game-play ventured inside. To the referees credit, the Hurricanes were awarded just 14 foul shots themselves. With the many fine Cuban eating establishments in Miami, you had to wonder if the refs had a pressing early dinner engagement prior to that evenings' flights. No matter, best laid plans and all, their reservations were probably scrapped because of the overtime period.
The Hokies were once again short-handed despite the return of freshman Ben Emelogu (post-concussion) and redshirt-sophomore Adam Smith (strained left calf) from multiple-game absences, because valuable junior forward C.J. Barksdale banged his knee in practice and had to sit out. The difference on the glass was noticeable as the Hokies were out-rebounded 50-43. Barksdale is more mobile to those loose long rebounds, and because he missed the game, instead of playing Cadarian Raines more minutes (or even Trevor Thompson), the Hokies opted to run Emelogu out there for 34 minutes in his first game back. I am critical of that decision, and would have preferred to have seen the minutes distributed differently. Again, I am not privy to individual players' practice habits, but Johnson's tacit refusal to make Raines a bigger part of the game plan particularly when the personnel needs dictate it is confounding me.
Once again though, the Hokies closed out a game better than their opponent, and this can largely be attributed to strong defense, while this year it has been a mixture of new faces and trying to establish an offensive identity that has led to periodic lapses at that end of the floor. The team did a good job of holding the Hurricanes to just six points over the final 10 minutes of regulation, and just four points in overtime. That's 10 points in 15 minutes, which is a strong formula for winning against just about anyone. Thankfully, it was Miami the Hokies were playing and their ineptitude factored in with our commanding defense in equal parts. This is a game that the Hokie basketball fans should have been mad to lose. Most times, league road losses are par for the course and to be expected. You might expect to steal two or three road games if you are anyone besides Duke or Carolina. This was one of the couple road wins we need to have to make it to .500 on the year and into the NIT (the National Invitational Tournament).
The Hokies were once again led by Jarell Eddie, who finished with 24 points in 43 minutes. Coach James Johnson could not afford him any rest in winning this game. Not only does it highlight exactly how big a part of our offensive attack Eddie has become, it highlights the underwhelming personnel management skills that Johnson has exhibited to date. Raines played just 11 minutes, Thompson just two, and Emelogu played 34 minutes with many of them out of position as an undersized power forward in place of Barksdale. I guess I can't complain as long as Christian Beyer and Will Johnston aren't out there getting torched or turning the ball over, but we need to have more Raines in our diet. Raines getting nine more minutes (for an even 20) means Emelogu would have played more small forward, and Eddie would have gotten some well-deserved rest. In the event this is becoming a battle of wills between Johnson and Raines, I need only remind Johnson that it's not Raines job on the line when the new athletic director takes the position. The new AD will not be reviewing game by game substitution patterns or practice tape, simply the results, and overall alumni/fan reaction to the program. Raines will give the team better results, and this is indisputable. With two avoidable losses already on the Hokies record (USC-Upstate and Seton Hall), enduring more losses on the basis of teaching life-lessons to a fifth-year senior seems foolhardy.
Alongside the improved defense, and handling the 'Canes zone defense fairly well (the Hokies shots just didn't drop), the Hokies finally conquered the turnover battle, committing just 10 to Miami's 12. Again, Miami's increased use of the zone as opposed to a man on the ball at all times probably assisted Devin Wilson a great deal. However, aside from swinging the ball, Wilson had zero to little offensive impact. He took just two shots, rarely penetrated, and got five more of those cheap assists (swinging the ball to a three point shooter). Personally, I believe that Wilson needs to find his game. He's playing a style right now to keep his job, and keep the coach happy. He's essentially a caretaker, and not giving the dynamic performance an athlete of his caliber is capable of. I want to see more drives to the hoop, I want to see more contact drawn, I want to see him create the spacing for shooters on his own. Especially since we know that the "Panic, Shoot Quick" offense days are coming to a close with the advent of ACC play, where transition defense and getting set is heavily emphasized. No turnovers is great, but if taking no chances leads to offensive stagnation, then I am all for a little risk/reward propositioning.
A few stats before we get to the game grades:
- First ever ACC-opening win on the road in 10 years. Not that opening at home is much easier, we have one win in the Cassell to open ACC play. We are 2-8 overall in openers.
- Even after shooting just 12-of-34 from behind the arc, the Hokies still rank 9th in the nation in three-point FG % at 43.9%
- The Hokies have dipped to 17th in the nation with 6.5 blocks per game. More Raines and more Thompson please.
- In spite of our lack of creativity and spacing on offense the Hokies rank 71st overall in the country (top 1/5) in total assists with 133. Wilson with 55 of those for an even 5.5 per game.
- VT is 11th in total rebounds. Probably due to our great 3-point FG defense. Also because we've probably played a couple more games than some other teams. We'll see if this one holds up.
- Turnover margin improved slightly from 339th to 329th with our average performance in Miami.
- The Hokies rank 3rd in 3-point FG makes, only 10 behind Creighton who has a three-time All American in Craig McDermott knocking down several a game. The Hokies rank 35th in attempts, lagging well behind leader VMI. I guess VMI wasn't discouraged by their combined 18-of-73 over their past two meetings with VT.
- We are also 329th in steals. We opt to stay at home on defense, and it's working out fairly well. I feel that in the ACC, we're going to need to apply more pressure. But due to Rankin's absence and the lack of depth in the backcourt we may have to live with playing sound defense and clearing the defensive glass. Again, Raines can help with this.
- Jarrell Eddie ranks 14th in the country in three pointers per game with 3.5. He ranks 5th in total makes with 35.
- Devin Wilson and his 5.5 assists per game are good for 40th.
And now the game grades, minutes descending:
Jarell Eddie (43 minutes): Once again, as Eddie goes so do the Hokies. He scored the last 11 points of regulation, and hit the eventual game winner in OT. He once again contributed heavily on the boards with eight rebounds, closing in on his fourth double-double. I am a stickler for efficient shot selection, and Eddie doesn't always meet my stringent criteria. When he gets his feet set, elbow locked and a forward lean, the shot is good. Sometimes in his haste, he doesn't check off all three boxes there. I also don't know what to do about the disparity in percentages between his shots from distance and his shots inside the arc. He's 33-of-80 from two points, and 35-of-73 from three. This simply should not be the case. Also for someone who handles the ball so much and is the focal point of the offense, his meager 2.6 FT attempts per game will not be satisfactory for a number one scoring option in the ACC. If Sunday was any indication for us being typecast as a finesse team with little inclination for physical play, we will be in for a very frustrating season with the zebras. Wilson shoots the most FT of anyone with 4.1 per game, but probably 3 to 3.5 of those come from icing games as teams foul down the stretch. Our #2 option? Joey Van Zegeren, who has 28 attempts, and is the last shooter we want on the line. In order for Eddie to fully optimize and become a threat to play at the next level, he needs to add some slash to his game, and find a way to get some easy points at the stripe. I know it's easy to nitpick from afar, but even in our best there is room for improvement. Grade: A- (almost a second straight A+ but he disappeared from the 9 minute mark of the 1st half to the 12 minute mark of the 2nd half, which is when the 'Canes built their cushion)
Devin Wilson (40 minutes): Devin had one point, from the FT line. He didn't turn the ball over but once. Not a lot else to say unfortunately. As I said previously, he is dangerously close to be written off (for this season) as merely a caretaker who can swing the ball to Eddie, Wood, or Smith for open three point looks. There are worse labels I suppose, and you can't discount the inexperience and level of responsibility he has undertaken, but when push comes to shove he's going to need to prove himself against far better competition in days ahead. A full 40 minutes on top of his 33 minutes per game average is no small feat. Then again, his level of production over such a large diet of minutes is almost as monumental a feat. Patience is not one of my virtues, but pragmatism reigns here. A freshman thrown to the wolves that hasn't been eaten by the end of the first trimester lends to optimism. I still advocate more of Adam Smith at the point, particularly when Wilson stares doe-eyed at the zone like that. Then again, do I want Smith jacking up shots repeatedly as the "first option" or "emergency outlet"? Let's hope to not see too much zone outside of Syracuse (who we open up with at home in the ACC on January 7th at 9 p.m.). Grade: C, because we won. Otherwise, it would have been a D or D-
Joey Van Zegeren (35 minutes): He had the play of the game Sunday, getting back in transition to rob Miami of an easy layup by "star" Rion Brown in overtime. 35 minutes though Coach Johnson? To just 11 for Raines? He's three times the player Raines is? I just can't leave this alone. JVZ is a fantastic energy player, and he's fortunate Miami didn't attack him more or he'd have fouled out. He almost had a double-double with 8 points and 10 rebounds. He even limited his turnovers to just two. It was as solid a game as he's had yet, but I just can't help but believe he could have done the same damage in 10 less minutes with Raines filling in and giving us some semblance of post offense. Nobody respects JVZ, and they shouldn't; not yet. I love what he's giving us, I just want there to be more balance on the blocks. Grade: A- , heavy workload, road win in the ACC. He was a huge part of it.
Ben Emelogu (34 minutes): The return of "The Microwave", and the wattage was slightly weak. Too many minutes in his return, a few too many minutes out of position. His usual three-point stroke was rusty. Coming in, Ben was above 53%, but he shot just 1-of-7, often jacking them against that mediocre zone Miami has been forced to use in lieu of their lack of talent. There's something to be said about the calm that Emelogu lends when he's out there. Coach Johnson definitely put his psychology degree from Ferrum to work in picking his team captain this year. Very glad to have Ben back even if his performance was spotty by his own standards. Let's hope that the two weeks off helps him recover further from the Seton Hall collision and avoid any more missed time this season. Grade: B- , he played a lot of minutes, out of position, I am grading up from a C on that curve.
Marshall Wood (30 minutes): Mr. Versatility hit three big three point shots, a couple to help erase that 13-point deficit. His defense on Rion Brown was at times stifling, holding the 'Canes best scoring option to just 9 points on 4-of-15 shooting. Wood also had six boards in what is turning into a regular line for him, though he was turning in the same numbers in less minutes per game. This is understandable though, as the ACC quality of play is going to be stronger. Wood came on stronger as last season wound down, and after a sluggish start this year, he appears to be ready to be a factor. I am more comfortable with Marshall at 22 to 25 minutes per game, but with OT an extenuating circumstance, the 30 is understandable. Grade: A-
Adam Smith (21 minutes): In a column a few games back, I explained that we should expect 11 to 13 points and 3 to 4 assists from Smith. These were his historical numbers at UNC-Wilmington, and he seemed to be displaying a natural tendency towards those numbers early on with VT. Then he had the Michigan State outburst and the Radford game, and we saw the domineering scorer he can be. I am not backing off my original assessment though. Against Miami, and admittedly still not 100%, Smith managed 8 points and 3 assists. Had one more of his three pointers dropped, he'd be right in line with what seems to be his stat-line "make-up". He didn't have the quick first step, and using it against Miami's zone would have proved fruitless. This wasn't the type of game where you'd expect Smith to shine. Nonetheless, you tip your cap to him for returning from injury to give us the minutes he could. Hopefully, as in the case of Emelogu, the time off helps him heal and be prepared for the ACC run. Grade: C
Cadarian Raines (11 minutes): The poor guy is barely breaking into my grades these days (I set the cut-off at 10 minutes in most cases). He did nothing, wasn't a factor in the offense. Johnson didn't have a nice hub in his zone offense wheel, and I'm not sure why. Raines could easily have flashed into the open area and then "spoked" the ball out to the open shooters, or set pin-down screens to open up skip passes. The lack of this threat caused our offense to bog down and it's a miracle we scored enough to keep things close. Raines is clearly not out of trouble with Johnson yet. We can all see that Trevor Thompson is persona non grata after some early shine against Western Carolina and WVU. And we can all see JVZ for what he is, an energy guy with a lot of upside who needs to be brought along a lot slower than Johnson is insisting upon. I had assumed with ACC play beginning that Johnson would understand how his bread was buttered, and make sense of his rotation, and get Raines the 20 to 25 minutes a player of his stature should command. Personally, from watching Raines tape training with the Navy Seals over the summer, he looked like a workout warrior and a team leader. I am not sure when the train left the tracks. Perhaps Raines is disgruntled with his role in the VT offense and its orientation towards the perimeter shot, and perhaps he really is a negative influence with his work ethic. I just have a hard time believing that we'd be seeing both sides of the coin in such a short period of time. If Raines only averages 10-12 minutes a night, and we lose like we're expected to lose (picked last in the ACC), then Johnson deserves every bit of blame he'll receive. It won't just be for lack of talent, or more transition time from Greenberg, it'll be because he wasn't a good enough communicator to reach his most veteran of players. My patience with this situation has worn thin. At this point, you almost ought to kick a guy like that off the team if he's so bad to have around. Keeping him around and feeding him peanuts for minutes is an insult to the player, and to the fan base who know that he could help us so much more. I will never support player OR coach in a stubborn battle of wills. They need to work it out and soon. Both parties know that the situation is not being optimized. Grade: D- , just a non-factor, and that's not Raines cross to bear alone, it's mostly Johnson and his poor utilization.
Coach Johnson (225 minutes): Didn't like his rotations, sub patterns were too wholesale (4 and 5 guys at once). But I did feel like Johnson was out there with us on every defensive possession, and his advantage in working against his former boss in Larranaga was indispensable. We hadn't had a road win in an ACC opener, and now we have one, in what looks to be a challenging transition year in the ACC with Syracuse, Pitt, and Notre Dame all joining the league. No win should be taken for granted. Good job winning ugly. Now work it out with C Raines! Grade: B, we should have won bigger, we have a way better team than Miami
Sorry for the delay in getting this up. I like to have more numbers at my disposal and sometimes watch the game again so that I can give you more of a comprehensive look at the game itself and how it fits into the overall big picture. Nothing against those guys who get you a recap within a half hour, they do awesome work given their constraints! I just like to give you guys a little something different. I hope it works. Please feel free to add comments. I see you guys reading it! I'd love to hear some other viewpoints, even though we can all agree that I am 100% right, 5% of the time.
The Hokies have a break until Saturday, December 21. They will be taking on VCU in Richmond, a game I had earmarked for a loss, but given VCU's play of late, I have upgraded our chances. I intend to have a pre-game up for that. But in the meantime, Gobbler Country has plans to sit down for a few round-tables on ACC basketball and the Hokies place in it. I will also be doing a few ACC team capsules to get you acquainted with our ACC counterparts, and a special piece on where the wins and losses will come from this season.
I sincerely hope that all of our readers and their families are having a wonderful holiday season, and that the snow didn't affect anyone too adversely. And once again, we thank you for visiting Gobbler Country, your home for Hokie basketball analysis.
As always, mi Cassell es su Cassell.