Cardiac Hill talks with State of the U's manager, Jerry Steinberg, to preview the Pitt-Miami showdown tonight.
Pitt dropped this week in the rankings after two tough defeats to Duke and Virginia. The Panthers remain in the top 25, but now some are ready to hit the panic button. However you are feeling, the games will go on this week. First up, the Miami Hurricanes. Pitt will travel down to South Beach for a big chance to rebound and get back on the winning track.
We got a chance to ask the manager of the State of the U, Jerry Steinberg, about the team, their season, and the outcome tonight. State of the U is an awesome Miami blog in the SB Nation family. So check out their site
, and maybe give our ACC brethren a follow on Twitter
. So take a break from the signing day hoopla, and get ready for some hoops tonight.
Q: Miami had such a big season last year with a Sweet 16 appearance and 29 wins, why the big dropoff this season?
Simply put, it's not the same team. They lost their top 6 players, including arguably the best player in the league last season in Shane Larkin, and the ACC Defensive Player of the Year in Durand Scott. Young players like Davon Reed and Manu LeComte are playing more minutes then Coach Larranaga would have hoped. Veterans like Rion Brown and Garrius Adams are being asked to fill roles they were never previously in.
Coach L even switched mid-season to a match-up zone after coaching man almost exclusively for 30 + years.
Just days before the season opener, Deandre Burnett, a very talented freshman who averaged 36+ ppg as a senior is HS broke his wrist. Most pundits, including those who write at SOTU, agree that had Burnett been healthy this team is 3-4 wins better at this point of the season.
To answer your question, it is a lot of factors. But with Burnett coming back next year, and 2nd team All Big 12 transfer Angel Rodriguez (Kansas State), and Texas transfer Sheldon McClellan also eligible starting next season, Miami should once again be a major threat in the ACC very soon.
Q: Miami is paced by three seniors, Rion Brown, Garrius Adams, and Donnovan Kirk. What kind of players are these guys, and what should the Pitt faithful expect to see from them?
Brown, a 6'6 wing, has really stepped up his all around game this season, especially on the glass. He was always a good defender, and can really finish at the rim off lobs and tip dunks. His bread and butter is still the 3 ball, although he is a streak shooter. He's also added a nice medium game this season and will take the ball to the basket occasionally, if you overplay him.
Adams, is a 6'6 combo guard, and is a excellent passer and arguably Miami's best one on one player. But his shot selection has at times been very poor this season. And lately he is missing far too many FTs when he gets fouled. He missed all of last season due to injury and at he looks like he is still trying to find his game. His shooting touch has largely not been there this season.
The 6'9 Kirk has been the 'Canes best rim protector all season and also their best post presence. And although some games he has been lights out, other times he has been just average. Miami is a much better team when he is on his game.
Q: Miami is in the third year of the Jim Larranaga era, what is the consensus of the Miami faithful on the coach's job so far?
Well considering the team had the best season in program history last year, and he won AP National Coach of the Year, Miami fans have to be very satisfied. 4 straight wins over UNC? Unheard of before the Larranaga era! In my opinion, he may be doing his best job yet this season. I know the team is just 11-10, but they are a few plays away from being 15-6, with a win over Syracuse. If you look at the lack of firepower on this roster and how much transition they are going through, that is remarkable. As is it they have wins over Arizona State and UNC, and at one point had a top 10 scoring defense in the country. But more importantly, you can see the young guys improving, especially LeComte. And this team, win or lose, plays hard every time out. Coach L deserves a lot of credit for getting the most out of this year's squad. Next season, when the team is once again loaded, expect to see him work his magic yet again.
Q: Miami has a new(er) arena, the Bank United Center. How is the atmosphere in the arena for home games? Will Pitt be walking into a hostile environment?
The BUC is hit or miss. Last year when the team was on fire, it was steadily packed. This season's Duke game had the likes of Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, and Dwayne Wade in attendance. You never know. When the students show up it can be raucous, but with the team struggling a bit, they may not show up in swarms.
On a side note, The first 1,000 fans at the men’s basketball game vs. Pitt will receive a limited-edition trading card set featuring the 2014 football recruiting class. The trading card set will include early enrollees Trevor Darling, KC McDermott, Trent Harris, Juwon Young, Braxton Berrios and Joseph Yearby in addition to the recruits who sign Wednesday.
So perhaps with that promotion in mind, Pitt will see a packed house.
Q: Finally, how do you see this one playing out on Wednesday?
I'd love to say I see Miami stifling Pitt with that match-up zone and finding enough points to win. But, that zone has been a touch less effective lately, and the 'Canes have even switched back to man for stints over the last 2 games.
Lamar Patterson is one of the most underrated guards in the country, and Talib Zanna and Michael Young are the kind of guys who give Miami fits with offensive rebounds and stick backs. LeComte has looked really good lately and will make enough plays to keep Miami close. But unless Brown can go off for 20 plus and/or Miami gets big time performances inside from 7 footer Tonye Jekiri and Kirk, I don't see them beating this tough, balanced Pitt squad. The last second loss to Virginia will also probably have Jamie Dixon's squad playing angry. I think UM battles hard as they have all season long, but loses in the end 64-59.
-- Thanks again to Jerry for taking the time to answer some questions about the 'Canes. I will have my own batch of answers talking about Pitt on their site, so definitely check those when they are published.