Q&A with "State of the U"

Two leaders (Udofia and Larkin) will battle again this Saturday. - Kevin C. Cox

Isaac Koppel from Miami's "State of the U" here on SBNation contacted me, wanting to have a Q&A session between the two teams. As many Tech fans know, ACC play begins for the Jackets on Saturday against Miami. Below are the questions I had for the Hurricanes' program.

1. What are the biggest strengths and weaknesses of the Hurricanes so far this season?

Biggest strength is a tough one for me, because I think there’s a lot to like about this Canes team. I think the biggest strength of this team, honestly, is Shane Larkin and Durand Scott. There are some other really good players on this team. Kadj is a versatile big man that can score from inside and outside. Trey McKinney-Jones and Rion Brown are both capable three-point shooters. Scott and Larkin stand alone (or together. I think you get the point, really,) because they’re both playmakers. Larkin is lightning quick and can drive past anybody, or can step out and shoot it from deep. Really deep. He’s been hitting threes from the edge of Miami’s huge half court logo. Scott, meanwhile, is a creative finisher around the rim and is able to get himself there at will. This is especially important when Miami falls in to a hole (like they did vs. La Salle on Wednesday). Scott and Larkin pulled Miami out of that hole, and then the whole team got rolling. Having not just one but two guys that can have that sort of impact is critical, and it sets up everybody else’s game.

The biggest weakness is that Miami is prone to really cold stretches. Against Indiana State, Miami shot 33.8% from the field, and went 0-15 on three point attempts. Against Florida Gulf Coast, Miami shot 29.1% from the field, and 30.8% on threes. When one player gets cold, the whole team gets cold, and that’s how you end up losing games to inferior opponents, like Miami has done twice already this season. Being streaky can be a good thing (i.e. Miami’s second half vs. Michigan State or La Salle), but it can also get you in trouble, as shown in those two other games.

2. The Hurricanes have had a few injuries already this season, most importantly Reggie Johnson. Can you talk about these a bit and what are the Hurricanes doing differently to make sure they are still successful without a full team?

The Reggie Johnson injury is huge for Miami, but it isn’t crippling. Senior Julian Gamble has been Johnson’s backup all season, and while he isn’t the same player that Johnson is, he brings some quality attributes to the table. Gamble is more mobile and athletic, but his offensive game just isn’t as refined as Johnson’s, and that’s the key difference. On defense, Miami shouldn’t suffer with Gamble subbed in for Johnson. Without Johnson, the Canes really, really can’t afford any nights where they shoot 29% as a team. With Big Reg in there, the Canes have a safety valve. Dump the ball inside, let Reggie go to work. That’s the plan. With him out, Miami doesn’t have that option. Basically, without Johnson in there, the Canes need to play smarter. They can’t be hoisting contested threes or taking deep jumpers. They need to move the ball, as well as drive and dish more often to get their three point shooters open looks. In the second half against La Salle we saw Miami attacking the basket more, and I expect that that will be the formula for the Canes going forward to compensate for the loss of their big man.

3. Give me a player for Miami that will give the Jackets the most trouble. Also, who do you think will be the biggest worry for the Hurricanes?

Shane Larkin, in my opinion, is one of the most underrated players in the ACC. He does virtually everything Miami could need from him. He can score from inside and outside. He can break you off the dribble or spotting up. He’s good at distributing to others and getting his teammates open looks. He’s very active in the passing lanes, and leads the ACC in steals per game at 2.3. If you want to stop Miami, I think you need to focus on stopping Larkin first, as he’s the guy that makes the Canes go. No disrespect to Kenny Kadji and Durand Scott, who both do a lot for this team in their own right, but I think that Larkin is where teams really need to focus.

I admittedly don’t know all that much about Georgia Tech basketball, but by the numbers, it seems like I need to be worried about Robert Carter. Carter shoots 47% from the field while averaging 10 points and 7 rebounds per game. The number that really worries me, as a Canes fan, is the rebounds. While Carter is only a freshman, he has great size at 6’8, 245. In Georgia Tech’s last five games, Carter is averaging 8.6 rebounds. Since Miami is playing without Reggie Johnson, the Canes are going to need an extremely good effort on the glass if they want to come away with the W.

4. Miami has had quite a tough season already. What aspects do you think the team has improved the most on so far and how will this help the team as they transition to ACC play?

Miami’s decision making has definitely improved as the season has gone on. In their last four games, Miami is averaging only 8 turnovers a night. That would be good for best in the country for the entire season. That’s a small sample size, I know. Over the full season, Miami is only turning the ball over 11 times a game, good for 15th in the country. They’re also taking the ball away 13 times a game. Anytime that you see a team forcing more turnovers than they’re committing it’s a good sign. In ACC play, you can’t afford to beat yourself, especially when you’re a team like Miami with a few bad losses already on the resume.

5. Official prediction?

We probably disagree on this one, but I’ve got Miami winning this. I felt really good about it, and I’m beginning to waver a bit, but I think that ultimately, Georgia Tech’s offense won’t be able to keep up with Miami. While the Yellow Jackets are a great defensive team, Miami ain’t bad either: They allow 60.1 points per game, good for 59th best in the nation. If Miami can hold their own on the glass, I think they should handle this one. Final score: Miami 70, Georgia Tech 55.

My answers to Isaac's questions are on Miami's "State of the U" site here.

Tip-Off is set for 2:30pm EST at Tech's McCamish Pavilion. Before I comment on this, what do y'all think??

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