Place: Cassell Coliseum
TV: RSN, and online on ESPN3
The best team in the ACC is coming to Cassell Coliseum tonight, and no it’s not Duke or North Carolina. The Miami Hurricanes are unbeaten in ACC play and ranked #14 in the country. Jim Larranaga’s team is on a roll.
Miami began the season by losing to Saint Leo in an exhibition game. In the second game of the regular season, they lost to Florida Gulf Coast 63-51, and they also have losses to Arizona (69-50) and Indiana State (57-55). However, ever since beating LaSalle on January 2, the Canes have run off seven straight wins. (Trivia: former VT guard Ty Garland, who now plays for LaSalle, scored 20 points against Miami).
Miami beat UNC 68-59 in the Dean Dome, and their last two wins were even more impressive. The Canes blew out Duke 90-63 at home, and followed that up with a 71-47 victory over Florida State, also at home. This is a very confident basketball team.
Jim Larranaga is famous for taking George Mason to the Final Four, and he’s got 498 wins in his career. He took the Patriots to five NCAA Tournaments before taking the Miami job. Virginia Tech head coach James Johnson was on Larranaga’s staff when George Mason made the Final Four in 2006.
Miami is a very talented and experienced basketball team. Larranaga typically uses eight or nine players regularly. This is the most experienced team Virginia Tech will face this season, and it’s a big reason why the Canes currently sit atop the ACC standings.
G Shane Larkin (5-11, 176, So.): The son of baseball star Barry Larkin averages 12.3 points per game, and overall he is probably Miami’s best player. He leads the Canes in assists (73) and steals (39). He is shooting 39.7% from three-point range. Despite his lack of size, he is one of the best point guards in the ACC.
G Durand Scott (6-5, 203, Sr.): Scott leads Miami in scoring, averaging 14.3 points per game. He is a big guard, a competent three-point shooter, and one of the most experienced players in the ACC. It seems like he’s been playing for the Canes forever.
G Trey McKinney Jones (6-5, 220, Sr.): Another senior, McKinney Jones is a transfer from Missouri-Kansas City. He averages 10.1 points per game, and shoots 40.8% from the outside. He is one of five Miami players who average double figures.
F Kenny Kadji (6-11, 242, Sr.): Kadji transferred to Miami from Florida. Despite his size, he can score from the outside. He averages 13 points per game, and is second on the team with 28 blocked shots. Because of his size and the versatility of his offensive game, Kadji will be Virginia Tech’s toughest matchup tonight.
C Julian Gamble (6-10, 250, Sr.): Gamble averages 6.5 points and five rebounds per game, and he also leads the team with 31 blocked shots.
C Reggie Johnson (6-10, 292, Sr.): Johnson recently returned from injury, and the big man is averaging 10.6 points and 9.1 rebounds per game. With Johnson, Kadji and Gamble, the Canes have a huge front line.
G Rion Brown (6-6, 200, Jr.): Brown is Miami’s top guard off the bench, averaging 6.2 points per game.
F Erik Swoope (6-6, 233, Jr.): Swoope doesn’t play much, but he should see between five and 10 minutes of action tonight against the Hokies.
C Tonye Jekiri (7-0, 227, Fr.): Jekiri averages just over six minutes per game. He’s a very raw player who is just getting his feet wet. He’ll likely be needed in the starting lineup for Miami next season.
As you can see, that’s a very experienced lineup. Any team that features five seniors and two juniors in their playing rotation is going to be experienced. And speaking of experienced…
The Experience Factor
Let’s play a game. Let’s take Virginia Tech’s eight scholarship players and compare their age to Miami’s top eight players.
Erick Green (Sr.) vs. Shane Larkin (So.)
Robert Brown (So.) vs. Durand Scott (Sr.)
Jarell Eddie (Jr.) vs. Trey McKinney Jones (r-Sr.)
C.J. Barksdale (So.) vs. Kenny Kadji (r-Sr.)
Cadarian Raines (r-Jr.) vs. Reggie Johnson (r-Sr.)
Marquis Rankin (So.) vs. Rion Brown (Jr.)
Joey van Zegeren (r-Fr.) vs. Julian Gamble (r-Sr.)
Marshall Wood (Fr.) vs. Tonye Jekiri (Fr.)
Not only does Miami have five seniors, but three of them are r-seniors. One of those r-seniors, Julian Gamble, is actually a sixth year senior. The Canes clearly have talent, but the main thing that is getting them over the hump is their experience and maturity. If you give Jim Larranaga a big, experienced, talented and mature basketball team, he is going to win a lot of games.
As I see it, Miami has the advantage in overall talent, experience, and size. Virginia Tech does have the advantage of playing at home, though that hasn’t helped them much recently. In their last three home games, the Hokies were soundly beaten by UVA and Boston College, and barely got by a Wake Forest team laden with freshmen.
Miami is due for a loss at some point, however it’s more likely that the loss will occur this weekend in Raleigh than tonight in Blacksburg.