Haith Prepared for the Road Ahead

You don't need to remind Miami head coach Frank Haith how tough this season has been. He already knows. You don't need to remind him of the flurry of injuries the ‘Canes have suffered amongst significant low post-presence players, or that his team is 9-12 and 2-5 in conference play.

You certainly don't need to remind him of the monumental task that lies ahead. If Miami has any hopes of a postseason berth, they must get through a gauntlet of tough ACC opponents: North Carolina tomorrow night, Virginia twice, Boston College, Virginia Tech, Clemson, and Florida State all remain on Miami's schedule before the ACC Championship Tournament begins in early March.

To prepare for the long road ahead, the team took a couple days off to rest and recuperate. Haith used the time constructively:

"I think we've been making some headway on a lot of things. We had a week off so it gave us a chance to do some recruiting. I feel good about where we are at and the direction we're moving in with regards to recruiting. Recruiting is a big part of building the program," he said about what he spent time on during the break."

After the break, it was back to practice for the ‘Canes. This week, Haith decided to emphasize fundamentals on his young team.

"We've worked hard," Haith said. "We've done a lot of drill work and working on fundamentals, just to shore up our technique. The way college basketball is set up is that you play games so early so you really get into trying to put your system in and playing that some of the fundamental things get neglected and so we really went back to spending a lot of time on footwork and closeouts and defensive stuff. I think it was a good week in terms of that."

Hopefully Haith and the Hurricanes managed to shore up some of their problems before Wednesday night, when they are slated to take on the #4 ranked North Carolina Tar Heels at the Dean Dome in Chapel Hill. Haith spoke about what he saw on film from them.

"They are the best team in the country, I think. I really believe what they did to Arizona without some key players was remarkable. It shows how deep they are. I can't imagine there being a more talented team in the country than them."

"They play with a certain style that they can overwhelm you if you let them. It'll certainly be a challenge for our guys to play against the best team in the country. If you're a player, you have to get excited about that. And playing an arena that has tradition is something too. You walk in there to the Dean Dome and you see the jerseys hanging from the rafters and you ought to get excited."

North Carolina is a fast paced team that feasts on transition baskets, which does not bode well for Miami. One of their main weaknesses this year has been transition defense. In their last game versus Virginia Tech, the Hokies further exposed that problem. Additionally, they managed to take advantage of a slow Miami start, something that has plagued the ‘Canes all season.

"Carolina thrives by trying to give you the knockout punch early in the game. That's going to be key for us," Haith said of the keys to beating UNC. "We've had one really good start, in the Wake Forest game, but I can also tell you we've had several tough starts, like against Virginia Tech the other night. We were so passive on the offensive end, and showed lots of ingressiveness."

"Carolina is the kind of team that forces you to play. They aren't going to just let you hold the ball. We have to make good decisions, shoot the ball well, and get back on transition defense. How you stress that to start the game? All you can do is talk about it and emphasize it, and that's all you can do."

Haith definitely emphasized both of those weaknesses in preparation for North Carolina:

"If I had to pick a key for us to be able to defend against North Carolina, it'd be transition defense. That's always been the case with North Carolina teams. They are as lethal as any team in the country. We have to do a tremendous job of getting back and setting our defense. Our transition defense hasn't been great or consistent. For us to even have a shot, it has to be at the A+ level. 80% of their offense is in transition. The other 20% is out of their secondary break. You just can't afford to not get back. You can't turn the ball over. They are as lethal as anybody."

No amount of preparation will change the fact that UNC will be heavily favored to win the game. Miami has lost eight out of their last 10 games, and is in danger of not making the postseason. Many teams would give up under such circumstances, especially with the amount of injuries Miami has sustained. Despite this, Coach Haith maintains that the team's youth played a role in some of the losses, but also believes that it is making his team stronger for the future:

"There are a lot of emotions that go into losing games. It takes its toll on the team. It emotionally drains you. The injuries shook our guys a little bit. You have those things happen, and then on top of that, the losses are tough. I feel our guys have handled it well though. We're very young and we don't have an older and more experienced club that can help us rally and go through playing in the ACC. These guys are going through it for the first time. Confidence is a tough thing to get the first time around. We just have to keep it together and help our guys understand that we are a good team and they are good players. We just have to keep working and get our self confidence."

Haith also insists that the team hasn't mailed it in this season. They have not lost confidence and still feel that they have a lot to play for.

"You never want to feel like you never have a chance to win. I don't want our guys to ever have to take that attitude to the court. Obviously we're short handed; we have only eight scholarship players. We're not very big, and obviously when you go against one of the best teams in the country, the odds are against you. But I would hope that our team uses it as an opportunity to develop and grow as a basketball team. If we do that, the wins and losses will take care of themselves."

"Obviously we haven't won lately and that can take a toll on you if you let it. We try to be positive with our guys. We've been hard on them, but we have to be positive. We're still playing for something. Pride, ability to be better, and we have a lot of games to play. Let's give ourselves a chance by working hard and seeing what happens."

Miami takes on North Carolina Wednesday night at 7 pm.


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