Salmons' Prediction True?

Long before the Hurricanes men's basketball team ran off 14 consecutive victories to start the season, which included Indiana in the OB Classic, and finished second in the East Division of the Big East Conference, John Salmons looked up at a throng of television cameras and reporters to offer a prediction.

It was basketball media day back in October, but Salmons wasn't looking to find his name in bold headlines anywhere. The 6-7 senior just wanted to express his opinion of the Hurricanes.

"There isn't any reason why we shouldn't be in the Final Four," said Salmons. Just take a quick look around this room and check out all the talent around us. I don't see why we shouldn't be playing in Atlanta at the end of the season."

The Hurricanes are still a long way from making Salmon's words a reality, but are one of 65 teams vying for the NCAA Division I national championship. Miami, in their fifth NCAA Tournament in school history and fourth in five years, is six victories away from coming back home with the plaque pending the outcome of Thursday's opening-round game against the University of Missouri (21-11) in the West Region at The Pitt in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Salmons, considered one of the most versatile players in the country who can play four different positions on the floor, will need to provide plenty for Miami, coming off a semifinal loss in the Big East Conference Championship to Pittsburgh.

Salmons enters the tournament second on the team in points (14.0) and tied for second in rebounds (6.0). His stifling defense has led to a team-high 57 steals and 20 blocks on the season.

"John really causes match-up problems for a lot of reasons," said Missouri head coach Quin Snyder. "With his size he can post-up and he also has the ability of taking the ball to the basket with his quickness and ball-handling skills. He is very versatile."

Salmons, who was the Hurricanes leading scorer seven times during the regular season, was slowed towards the end of the season with a twisted right ankle that effected his ability to slash to the basket. Salmons was held to six points in the opening round victory over Georgetown in the Big East Conference Championship with six points. Salmons played six minutes in the first half. "John is coming around," said UM head coach Perry Clark. "John doesn't need to score to be effective because there are a lot of our things he can do. All our guys can score."

A healthy Salmons could provide fuel to make a serious run in the tournament for one of the balanced teams in the nation. Adding Salmons to double-figure scorers in starters Darius Rice (14.9 ppg), James Jones (12.9 ppg), Marcus Barnes (12.3 ppg) and Elton Tyler (11.8 ppg) could cause difficulties for the opposition.

Rice missed all five field goals in the loss to Pittsburgh and was a non-factor. Despite the proficiency of the starters, the Hurricanes lack depth with Rafael Berumen and Mike Simmons the only players logging significant minutes of the bench.

"We have the talent to get it done," said Barnes. "All we have to do is go out and get it done. There are no more excuses."

The fifth-seeded Hurricanes faces a No. 12 seed Missouri team that has failed to meet high expectations this season. The Tigers, who lost to Texas in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Conference Championship before getting an at-large bid into tournament, entered the season as one of the nation's premier teams.

The Tigers, ranked No. 2 in December, won nine consecutive games to start the year before finishing 12-11. Missouri pulled off big wins in November against Alabama and Iowa, but suffered defeats to Iowa State, DePaul and Baylor, all with losing records, in the last two months of the regular season.

The Tigers average 79.5 points offensively, with four starters in double figures. Missouri guard Kareem Rush, a Preseason Player of the Year selection, leads the team at 20.1 points and has made over 40 percent of his shots from three-point territory. Clarence Gilbert is the second scoring option at 17.1 points a game.

For the Hurricanes, a win over Missouri would extend its school-record for victories in a season to 25 and mark their third consecutive victory in the opening round of the tournament. Miami is 4-10 all-time in the NCAA Tournament.

Canes Time Top Stories