I love weekend games. I love them because I can watch them from the without any distractions. I also hate them because I usually end up writing previews on Saturday (and this weekend Sunday) morning when I’m mind numbingly hungover. Anyways, this is too important a game to let a simple hangover get in the way. So like Michael Jordan with the flu, Kirk Gibson with a broken leg, or Michael Scott with a George Foreman grill, I’m going to press on and deliver a hot, fresh preview of Miami right to your door.
Who: Maryland Terrapins at Miami Hurricanes
What: The first real road test of the season against a legit ACC contender
Where: The BankUnited Center and ESPNU
When: 8:00 PM Sunday night
Remember the glory days of the U? Crazy talented football teams with Reggie Wayne, Santana Moss, Clinton Portis, Jeremy Shockey, and a freshman Andre Johnson? And what about their exciting off the field adventures that were canonized by a few aspiring musicians? Yes, those were the days it was good to be in Coral Gables. But now, in the least surprising sports story of all time, their football program is in a ton of hot water, and hasn’t been good in years. Unfortunately for Maryland, all of this information has nothing to do with their basketball program, which has been on a steady incline the past few years, and I believe is a legitimate threat to the ACC throne this season.
What I like so much about Miami is the experience: they have four seniors in the starting lineup. Although they’re missing half man/half Kodiak bear Reggie Johnson, this is a team that’s completely comfortable with everyone on the floor. Especially now that point guard Shane Larkin has a year of experience under his belt.
In fact, Jim Larranaga is so comfortable with his starters that he’s essentially dispensed with the whole notion of a bench. Instead of having to tinker and figure out his ideal rotation like Mark Turgeon, Larranaga knows exactly who his guys are. Larkin, Durand Scott, Kenny Kadji, and Trey McKinney-Jones all play over 30 minutes. Backcourt mates Larkin (36.1 mpg) and Scott (35.9 mpg) are actually 1 and 2 in the ACC and usually sleep on the court just because.
The duo complements each other nicely. Scott is the leading scorer (14.4 ppg), and sort of a poor man’s Erick Green. He’s a slasher who’s great at finishing around the basket, but he lacks a big quality of what makes Green so deadly: free throw shooting. Scott’s free throw shooting has taken a nosedive from last year, and he’s actually under 70% on the year at 69.6%.
Larkin (12.7 ppg) is pretty damn quick himself (I’m actually very concerned about Howard/Allen’s ability to stay in front of him), and is also the resident marksman in Coral Gables (42.9 3pt %). He’s not going to drop off too many dimes, as he only averages 3.6 per game, which – considering his minutes – is an astonishingly small number for a point guard. Despite their legitimate talent on offense, the biggest value for both players is probably on the opposite end, where Scott’s 1.9 steals per game is 4th in the ACC, and Larkin’s 2.3 are 1st. No big deal though, Maryland hasn’t had one turnover since their 542 against Florida State.
The biggest offensive threat that I see for the ‘Canes is big man Kenny Kadji. Since Reggie Johnson’s gone down, Kadji has become the man of the house. In his last 5 games, he’s averaging 15/9/2. Fortunately, he’s not an Okaro White or CJ Leslie-type athlete who are border line unguardable for the Terps, but there is an interesting wrinkle he could bring. Last year, Kadji was a very effective three-point shooter (41.8%), this year he’s chucking bricks (30.0%). If his shot is falling, it could give Miami the long rumored second shooter and give Turgeon headaches about how to guard a 6’11” guy with that sort of range.
The last 2 guys in the rotation are just solid role players. Julian Gamble has filled in admirably in Johnson’s absence, and he’s been done a respectable job, especially on the boards (9.5 ppg, 6.6 rpg since Johnson’s injury). Trey McKinney-Jones started the year hot, but has been struggling in recent weeks outside of one good game versus Lasalle. Neither of them are going to be offensive gamebreakers but they do help contribute to Miami’s stifling defense.
Turnovers!!!: One of these days I won’t post this as a thing to watch for. Today – the game after Maryland’s second half debacle against FSU – will not be that day. With the two opposing guards being very adept at taking the ball away, this has a chance to be ugly for the Terps point guards. A bounce back performance from Pe’Shon Howard would do wonders (he’s 0-8 from the field combined in the last two games). If Seth Allen starts (which, for the record, is a terrible decision in my opinion), it bears watching to see how the half court offense runs in his hands.
The Shaqtus: That’s right everyone, Shaquille Cleare is the starting center in this game (Turgeon described Len as a VERY tall stretch 4). As much as I love Mitchell, he hasn’t been the same since being inserted as a starter (last 3 games: 6.3 ppg, 5.6 rpg), so a return to the bench will hopefully be a return to his former productivity. Shaq hasn’t done a ton to earn the starting nod, in fact he only got 8 minutes against Florida State. But he’s probably shown the most in season improvement of any player on the roster. Padgett didn’t work, Mitchell didn’t work, maybe Cleare will be the answer to who starts alongside Len in the frontcourt.
**UPDATE**: Cleare won’t get the start after missing Saturday’s practice with back spasms, but he will play. Either way, if Cleare is healthy, the message remains the same: Turgeon intends on playing him a good deal more.
Who does number 2 work for: One of the few bright spots of last game was Nick Faust. After missing Jake Layman’s bust out game against VA Tech, Faust debuted his first double digit scoring game since the Monmouth win a month ago. He’s broken through the 30% ceiling from downtown, and would be the best matchup to contain Durand Scott. Also, if there’s a prolonged scoring drought like last game, it’d be nice to see some instant offense (Logan Aronhalt) come off the bench a little sooner.
Prediction: I actually wrote a prediction when I got home from the bars at 2:15 in the morning:
Sorry folks, don’t see how Maryland pulls this one off. Mystery team “it’s the Scooby Doo gang, toally normal” Cool beans, I’m going to bed.
Enjoy trying to decipher that. I haven’t seen Scooby Doo in years, so god knows where in the recesses of my brain that came from. But the sentiment remains the same this morning. This is Maryland going into a tough environment against an experienced, battle tested (#3 SOS this season) good defensive team. Miami does a very good job of uglying games up with a very good defense and their generally slow pace. The combination of the Canes’ ability to force turnovers and Maryland’s ability to commit them is going to be damning in this game.
Miami – 72, Maryland – 64