The Rutgers men’s basketball team is back in action on Wednesday night taking on the Miami Hurricanes as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. These two teams met for the same reason two seasons ago, with Miami winning 72-60. This year’s matchup is the start of a very difficult three game, six day stretch and it’s the first road contest of the season for Steve Pikiell’s young team.
Miami is off to a 5-1 start, but lost by 2 points in its last game on Sunday night to familiar foe and Rutgers rival, Seton Hall. In an effort to find out more about the Hurricanes ahead of tonight’s game, I spoke with Evan Hadrick of SB Nation’s Miami site, State Of The U. Thanks to Evan for his time and let’s tip things off.
AB: How has the start to the season matched up against preseason expectations?
EH: Considering the roster turnover and the late development of Dewan Hernandez sitting out, I think the 5-1 start to the season is at or above expectations. Coach Larranaga has developed a quality program, so powering through non-conference games should be the norm, but with all of the outside factors it’s refreshing to see things still running smoothly on the court.
AB: What were the main reasons or factors involved in Miami’s loss on Sunday to Seton Hall?
Sunday was one of our poorer defensive performances, and a lack of depth on the interior showed with Ebuka Izundu and Amp Lawrence getting into foul trouble. Still, we had chances to win the game down the stretch and couldn’t hit our open looks late.
AB: Advanced statistics show Miami is ranked Top 100 in over a dozen categories between offense and defense. What have been the strengths to start the season and what have been the biggest issues or problems so far?
EH: We have had solid offensive performances so far, which was not the case for most of last season. Lots of our returning players have shown improvement on that end. The defense has been the calling card of the successful teams in Coach Larranaga’s time here, so while there’s room for improvement there, I’m confident the coaching staff will get that turned around.
AB: How effective has the backcourt of Chris Lykes, Zach Johnson and Dejan Vasiljevic been this season and how much do they dictate the offense?
EH: Chris Lykes has taken over the go-to scorer role and has performed well so far. Zach Johnson has come into his own in the recent games as someone who can get to the rim whenever he wants. Vasiljevic has done noticeable work on his body and looks as lethal as ever behind the arc. They have provided a diverse set of options for the offense and allowed the Canes to open up easy buckets for the big men.
AB: Defensively, what type of style does Miami play and how have they been defending the paint with Ebuka Izundu, Sam Waardenburg and Anthony Lawrence?
EH: Miami tries to put significant pressure on the ball through their man-to-man defense, but Coach Larranaga gives the perimeter players enough freedom to attack passing lanes frequently. Izundu has been the main rim defender for the Canes, but with the limited depth in that area, Amp Lawrence has had to shift down into the paint to provide help in that area. Sam Waardenburg is developing his game on that end, and has shown promise, especially against quicker big men, but can still struggle against players with a strong back to the basket game. Deng Gak is also a newcomer that has a strength in that area.
AB: What’s your prediction for the game?
EH: I think the Canes will be better defensively on Wednesday, but it could be another tough game. 81-75 Miami.
Thanks again to Evan for giving great insight on Miami basketball ahead of tonight’s matchup against Rutgers. For more on Miami sports, make sure to visit State Of The U. For my preview for tonight’s game, click here.