Fantasy College Basketball Game of the Week: Miami at Duke
The elite team that I had not given much thought to this season has been the Miami Hurricanes. Maybe Duke and North Carolina have won the ACC title so many times that I just figured I wouldn't have to think about the conference this year. Plus, it was supposed to be the North Carolina State Wolfpack that would win the ACC while the Blue Devils and Tar Heels scuffled. Yet, a quick look at the standings prior to Saturday showed the Hurricanes safely in the driver's seat in the ACC with a three-game lead with three games to play. How did this happen? Why wasn't I paying attention? And why did the Hurricanes and Wolfpack switch places?
I think there are a number of things at work here, but they generally boil down to coaching. Former George Mason coach Jim Larranga is very good. He is a big upgrade on Frank Haith, who somehow left the program in the midst of a nasty investigation and landed on his feet in Missouri. We're seeing the effect of Haith in Year Two of his Tiger run. Haith and North Carolina State coach Mark Gottfried are both excellent recruiters who sometimes have problems getting the most out of their talent. Year Two of Larranga in Miami has provided dividends. It appeared as if the team was able to play to their strengths, which are many considering their talented roster.
You may be wondering if I knew that Miami lost yesterday at Cameron. I did. In fact, I watched the game. However, like Ohio State earlier in the season, I was impressed by a road team taking all the Cameron Crazies could dish out. I don't really believe in moral victories (which is part of the reason I think using Pythagorean stats in basketball is flawed), but winning on the road in college basketball is tough. Miami already has quality wins at North Carolina and North Carolina State. The fact that they couldn't beat all of the teams in the Research Triangle is not a reason for worry. Since I had not watched the Hurricanes this season, I came away impressed.
I did know that they have plenty of established talent. The backcourt of Shane Larkin and Durand Scott is one of the best in the ACC. I was particularly impressed by Larkin's ability to penetrate and either put up tough floaters or dish to the open man. Larkin finished with 25 points and was a presence in the lane. The Hurricanes had a presence in the defensive lane as well with 290 pound Reggie Johnson. Although the 6-10 senior did not score, he rendered Mason Plumlee ineffective when Johnson was in the game. As soon as Johnson left with foul troubles, Duke began feeding Plumlee the ball. This does not speak well of Plumlee's pro prospects, but Johnson could have a place in the league. If Brian Skinner lasted 14 years with a similar skill set (low post defense alone), then Johnson could find a place in the league if he can lose some weight. He did not seem limited in playing time because of his conditioning, but because of his foul issues (which Plumlee should get some credit for). The other Twin Tower for the Hurricanes is Kenny Kadji who had 17 points and 10 rebounds. Kadji is a 21st century big man who takes and makes a lot of 3-pointers. He showed off some athleticism on the boards in this game as well.
For Duke, it was all about the return of Ryan Kelly. The 6-11 senior missed 13 games following knee surgery, but needed no time to ramp back up. In the game of his four-year career, he hit seven 3-pointers on his way to 36 points. It was also fairly easy to see how Miami could beat Duke by 27 points as they did on Jan. 23 at home. With Johnson and the other Hurricane bigs neutralizing Plumlee, the Hurricane defenders could stay home on the Blue Devil shooters. Quinn Cook and Seth Curry went 1-of-22 in the loss, but bounced back with 7-of-17 with four 3-pointers in the win. Kelly, the stretch-four, may be the key to Duke's postseason success. I think they don't rebound well enough to make a long run, but they should come close to living up to their seeding (especially with C.J. McCollum on the shelf).