SCOUTING THE HURRICANES
Miami made an excellent choice in hiring veteran Jim Larranaga as its new head coach for this year. The 2006 Coach of the Year honoree lead George Mason to five NCAA appearances in 14 seasons, including a Final Four run five years ago, and is an excellent program builder. He's had to deal with injuries and ineligibility issues, but has used a varied lineup that includes players from eight states as well as Cameroon and Nigeria to get off to a solid, if unspectacular, start this season. The Canes began with four consecutive wins at home, including a 15-point decision over Rutgers, but have dropped road contests at Mississippi and Purdue. UM also fell to Memphis in its most recent game.
The most stable spot is the backcourt, where Marlcom Grant and Durand Scott have started all eight games for the Canes and lead the team in scoring. Grant, a 6-1 senior, is the sniper, hitting 38.5% of his threes while averaging 15.6 ppg. He has more threes (25) than twos (14) and shoots a better percentage from beyond the arc, so he's one player WVU must account for as soon as the ball moves into scoring range. Scott (12.6 ppg) manufacutures many of his points off drives and in transition. He tallies 12.6 ppg, but struggles with shooting, having made only 30% of his tries. He's a good distributor of the ball, however, and has a 2.6 to 1 assist to turnover ratio.
Despite low overall numbers, the Canes are well-stocked in the backcourt. Trey McKinney-Jones (6-5), Garrius Adams (6-6) and Rion Brown (6-6), provide plenty of size and depth for a team that sometimes plays four guards at a stretch, and all get appreciable playing time and have starting experience. McKinney-Jones scores 8.8 ppg and is the team's top rebounder at 5.4 per outing. He's a three-point threat that also has to be watched, and handles the ball well. Adams chips in 5.6 ppg and 4.0 rpg, while Brown adds 3.8 points as a minutes-eater off the bench. The nicest addition for Larranaga, however, has been freshman Shane Larkin. The son of former Cincinnati Reds all-star Barry Larkin has worked his way into the starting lineup of late and has averaged 8.3 ppg while making a quick adjustment to the college game. He's the team's steal leader, and has not missed a free throw in 11 tries this year.
Up front, the numbers are shorter. With two centers out due to injury and a forward sidelined by NCAA investigation, the Hurricanes are left with a pair of bigs and one forward to handle the work inside. Kenny Kadji (6-11) has five starts and averages 6.4 ppg and 4.9 rpg while providing backstop ability on defense with 14 blocks. Erik Swoope (6-6) has started six games and has similar numbers with 5.9 points and 3.8 boards per contest. He is a force on the offensive glass, with 17 of his 30 retrievals coming on that end of the floor, and he's also solid defensively, with eight blocks and the same number of steals this year. Neither, however, is shooting well from the free throw line. Combined, they have made just 12 of their 30 attempts this year, so putting them on the line might not be a bad move if they get the ball in deep.
The primary sub is Raphael Akepjiori (6-10) who contributes 3.1 points and 2.6 rebounds in 11 minutes per game. He is also tough on the offensive glass, with more than two-thirds of his rebounds coming there, and he is also a shot blocker, with nine rejections to date.
Miami, like WVU's last foe, Kansas State, struggles to make shots, but it battles that weakness in a different manner than the Wildcats.
WVU 5-2, 0-0
Miami 5-3, 0-0
WVU - 59
Miami - 84
WVU will likely look to take advantage of Miami's size deficiency by pounding the ball inside, especially when the Canes go with four guards, or don't have both bigs on the floor. Deniz Kilicli will certainly get some touches early in the post, and Kevin Jones should also be able to maneuver inside if he's guarded by one of Miami's 6-5 guards. K-State tried to defend Jones with players of that height for several stretches, and the Mountaineer senior torched them to the tune of a career-high 30 points.
West Virginia must also be ready to adapt to a number of shifting lineups. Eight members of Miami's nine-man rotation have started at least two games, and six average at least 19 minutes per game. In addition to the three-point shooters listed in the scouting section, the Mountaineers will need to keep track of lineups ranging from four-guard attacks to a double post approach. With next to no preparation time for this game, basketball savvy and experience will count for a lot, and those qualities are still in short supply for a number of the youngsters on WVU's squad.
Also of interest in this game is the ability for West Virginia's freshmen to bounce back from poor outings. Outside of Aaron Brown, who played well against KState, the newcomer group has had a tough couple of recent outings. Point guards Jabarie Hinds and Gary Browne were out of control and frustrated against the Wildcats, and neither had strong showings in the loss to Mississippi State. Keaton Miles is continuing to fight his shot and find scoring range, and Tommie McCune hasn't gotten off the bench in the past two contests. Huggins recently noted that he is "out of patience" with his young team, and is only going to play those players who do things right, but at some point the freshmen, who by and large had encouraging starts, have to become at least somewhat more consistent. How they bounce back against a solid foe will be the first step in that process.
It's tough to get a read on just how good Miami is at this point. The Canes were expected to have ten returnees from its 12-man roster of a year ago, but only six of those are available for duty at the present time. Their three losses have been to quality teams, but wins over schools such as Florida Gulf Coast and Tennessee Tech (a future WVU opponent) don't have much zip either. This is a game that West Virginia needs to win, both for short term momentum and for NCAA purposes. A victory could help set WVU up for a four-game winning streak entering the Vegas portion of the Las Vegas Classic, and would give the Mountaineers a good running start for Big East play, which begins in less than three weeks.
Miami's Durand Scott and WVU's Truck Bryant were AAU teammates on the famed New Your Guachos squad. That team, which also included former Mountaineer Dan Jennings, won several national-level tournaments while featuring a number of college stars, including UConn's Kemba Walker.
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Just about every school publishes their current three-point field goal shooting streak, in which they list the number of consecutive games in which they have made at least one trey. For Miami, that string stands at 319 games. For WVU, it's 397. The current record is held by UNLV, which had made at least one such shot in 815 consecutive games. However, Princeton and Vanderbilt are also riding streaks of their own -- all three schools have made at least one three in every game since the NCAA adopted the line in the 1986-87 season.
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Miami's game notes includes a weather item, listing the predicted high and low temperatures for the Canes' home town as well as for Morgantown. Geez, we didn't realize that South Florida was generally warmer than much of the country. Or, that the weather might have an impact on the game.
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Seven different Miami players have led the team in rebouding in a game this year. WVU's Kevin Jones has lead the Mountaineers in rebounding in every game this year.