The Rutgers men’s basketball team takes on Miami Wednesday night at 7:00 p.m. on ESPNU, as part of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. This will be the 15th meeting between the former Big East foes, with the Hurricanes holding a 9-5 series lead. As Miami looks to rebound from back to back losses against ranked opponents, Rutgers enters the game at 6-0 and looking to close out the month of November undefeated. The players are also looking to prove their strong start to the season is no fluke.
In what is the biggest game of the young season for Rutgers, I wanted to get an insider’s take on the current state of the ‘Canes basketball team. I was fortunate to speak with Jerry Steinberg, co-managing editor of SB Nation’s Miami site State of the U. He gave great insight on how the team is currently playing and what to expect on the court in this matchup. Let’s tip it off.
Although Miami is coming off a Sweet 16 appearance last season, this year's team has a lot of newcomers. What were the expectations for this team coming into the season? Has their performance through six games changed those expectations at all?
SOTU: I think coming into the season with a cast of veterans that includes Kamari Murphy, Ja'Quan Newton, and Davon Reed, and a Top 20 recruiting class featuring Dewan Huell and Bruce Brown another nice run in the ACC (top 8 or so) and a NCAA Tourney berth were the expectations, But after 6 games, it is obvious that the team has not yet developed an offensive identity, and they don't have a true PG. Newton is a fantastic player, but is much more comfortable creating for himself, than his teammates. And they also have no true post presence. With these flaws now exposed, this may in fact be more of a transition year than a reload year. Miami has a Top 10 class on the way, and this roster has definite talent, so it's not like the future isn't bright. But they are really missing Angel Rodriguez, Sheldon McClellan, and Toney Jekiri right now.
Ja'Quan Newton and Davon Reed lead this team and are a very good veteran backcourt. What have they done well performance wise on the court so far and how much more important is their leadership this season?
SOTU: Both Reed and Newton are proven veterans, who have excelled in a lot of big time games. But both were more complimentary players the past 2 years, who are now in the forefront as leaders/scorers. Reed and Newton are not playing poorly by any stretch of the imagination, but both are in different roles they are still growing into. Newton has not yet mastered the art of making his teammates better. As a PG they need more than just points from him. Reed is a guy who could be an NBA player. But he has not been as efficient as a scorer as in previous seasons. Being the focus of the opponents scouting report seems to be something he is still getting used to.
Miami coach Jim Larranaga likes to play up tempo and run in transition. How much do they look to shoot from long range on the break and how have the performed in transition early on this season? Has the struggles from behind the arc been more due to shots not falling or taking bad shots?
SOTU: Well in transition they look great. This is a very athletic and long team, and they have been very good in creating offense off defense (check the Stanford game). But in the half court they are struggling to get good looks. It's been a little too much Reed/Newton isolation thus far. As a result they are not getting great looks.
How well has Miami defended so far and what were the biggest issues on the defensive end in the losses to Iowa State and Florida? Are they playing mostly man to man or do they mix in any zone? How has Miami been with rebounding so far?
SOTU: UM has been exclusively man. See above about their D. That end of the floor has not been too bad. They could use a little more interior toughness, but as a whole the team does a good job defending, and creates a lot of steals and transition opportunities.
Even though Rutgers is 6-0, it's not necessarily an opponent that probably excites Miami. However, after back to back losses, do you expect this team to come out focused and looking for blood? How do you expect for them to attack Rutgers at the start?
SOTU: Miami has an ACC Schedule on tap. So with no disrespect to Rutgers, they could very well overlook this one and be in for a tougher game than expected. UM also may be feeling the hangover of two straight losses. It will be interesting to see.
What is your prediction for the game?
SOTU: The 'Canes start out slow, but Brown and Huell assert themselves, and Newton, Reed, and Anthony Lawrence make key plays down the stretch. Miami wins 66-54.