Could I despise Miami more right now, considering the weather we're having up here? Probably not.
But I can put that aside for a minute to discuss this Saturday's contest between two ACC basketball behemoths with Gobbler Country's good friend, Jerry Steinberg, over at SB Nation's sister site: State of the U. Per the usual format, I have provided Jerry with some searing questions regarding the burden of following such a high-profile powerful program like the Hurricanes. I empathize, as I know all too well the pressures that come with covering such an excellent team on a regular basis.
Fortunately, unlike myself, Jerry isn't prone to hyperbole, and calls it like he sees it, which in my opinion is fairly accurately. You'll see here below:
GC: Coming off the HUGE, season-defining win against FSU, Miami is now 12-12. With seven games remaining, including three against VT, BC, and Notre Dame, can Miami win 4 games the rest of the way to get NIT-eligible?
SOTU: Absolutely. Miami has been SOOOO close in so many of their losses. They actually could have beaten top ranked Syracuse twice, and should have beaten #25 Pitt. Miami leads all ACC schools having played 12 games decided by five points-or-less or in overtime. Miami has played five overtime games and seven others that were decided in the final minutes. UM is 1-4 in overtime this season. The first time these two teams met the Canes were in control until Jarrell Eddie went insane over the last 5 minutes. Long story short, Miami is due to win a few close games. So the possibility of winning 4 of 7 is completely plausible, especially considering they hit the softer portion of their conference schedule coming down the stretch.
GC: Nevin Shapiro-lackey Frank Haith built the program up and left Jim Larranagga with a nice solid core of guys that could earn a #2 seed in the NCAA tourney by winning both the ACC regular season crown AND the ACC tournament. Was the hire made with that group in mind, getting a veteran voice who could adapt and win with that group immediately?
Or was the hire made with the future in mind (which is difficult to imagine given Coach L's advancing age)? Is Miami recruiting well for next year? What's the end game with Coach L?
SOTU: Don't take this the wrong way, but we don't mention that name around here, EVER. Not sure I'd describe Haith in that manner either. But yes he did leave the cupboards full for Larranaga. But do not forget Coach L recruited Miami's best player last season, Shane Larkin, himself. Also Larranaga did more with the talent then any UM coach before him, including Haith. That being said, I think the hire was made strictly based on the best available candidate. Coach L has a great class coming in feature top 50 player PG JaQuan Newton of Philly and top 100 player PF Omar Sherman of Texas. He also has transfers Angel Rodriguez (K State) and Sheldon McClellan (Texas) waiting in the wings. So Coach not only can get the most of talent, he can bring it in as well.
3) Miami has a losing home record at 5-8. VT has similar home woes this year, though to our dubious credit the team is in such disarray that it's expected. Is the Miami crowd fair-weather? (Keep in mind that I'm acknowledging our basketball crowd definitely is!)
SOTU: Let's just say that historically the basketball program has been under-supported. But things are trending in the right direction. Last season the team had more sellouts then ever. This season they sold more season tickets then ever. It never hurts when guys like Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, and Dwayne Wade show up to home games.
GC: Rion Brown. Is he going to be all-league as an upper-classman? Has he made strides this season, or has the situation stunted his growth? It seems his shot selection is sketchy. Is that a product of trying to do too much or is he just that inconsistent?
SOTU: Brown certainly deserves consideration for 2nd team at worst (personally I have to put Jabari Parker, Rodney Hood, Tyler Ennis,CJ Fair, and TJ Warren on my first team). He has made huge strides as a distributor, rebounder, and on his all around offensive game as a senior. He three point shot has always been streaky and his defense has always been outstanding. More then anything else he has been a leader (by example) and the team's go-to guy all season long. Miami's record would be far worse with out Brown.
GC: This is an evenly played series, with Miami holding a 13-11 edge since the teams began play in 2000. VT is 5-5 at home in the series, and at present has lost 10 games in row. VT's only ACC win came at the expense of Miami in the ACC opener. In your opinion has Miami come far enough since early December to deal with the juggernaut Hokie program on their home court?
SOTU: One thing this team has done consistently all season long is play hard. They actually seem to shoot the ball better on the road, so I like their chances in this one. It's going to be a close game, so it will come down to whomever executes coming down the stretch. Can Miami keep Eddie from catching fire again? That single factor will likely decide who wins in what should be a very tight contest.
GC: At least we both still have football, right? I mean....right?
SOTU: With Duke being the defending ACC Coastal Champions, do we really want to go there? I kid I kid. Certainly the way Al Golden is recruiting and the way Frank Beamer and Bud Foster can coach, neither program will be down for long.
GC: What do you think happens this Saturday, Jerry?
SOTU: I like the Canes to pull it out 65-62. Looks for big games from Brown, as well as freshmen Manu LeComte and Davon Reed, both of whom are playing with a lot of confidence lately.
Many thanks to Jerry in what will be our last Q&A until we can get a baseball one in later this Spring. We also hope to have Jerry back sometime this summer as we get together will all our ACC counterparts on previewing the football season.
Also, please check out the Q&A that I did with SOTU on their site later today! I'll pump the link out on Twitter @gobblercountry.