A hot shooting Boston College combined with a poorly focused Florida State ended FSU's longest ever ACC win streak at 7 games. Though FSU (16-7, 7-2) is still tied atop the conference standings. But now the competition gets stiffer. In come the Miami Hurricanes (15-7, 6-3) who are on a winning streak of their own. They've won 5-straight ACC games, a first, and appear on their way to their first ever winning ACC season.
The Canes are led by first year head coach Jim Larranaga. In my evaluation of his hiring, I finished with this statement:
Should Larranaga improve Miami to a top-50 defense they’ll be playing in the NCAA Tournament 11 months from now.
Miami didn't play defense under Frank Haith. Last season they were 99th. This year they're 65th. Which means, according to my prediction, they should be a bubble team. The reality? They're a bubble team.
The important thing to note is that Reggie Johnson - who rivals Tyler Zeller as the best center in the ACC - missed the first nine games due to offseason knee surgery. And DeQuan Jones missed the first ten due to an investigation into whether or not his family got paid during his recruitment. Both of those players are back, and both are key to Miami's continuing improvement on the defensive end. They have a decent chance to finish the season among the nation's top-50 defenses. If you limit their season to just conference games (after the players returned) then Miami is 4th, behind Virginia, Florida State and North Carolina. During Miami's 5-game winning streak the only team to score more than a point per possession against them is Duke (1.01), and the Blue Devils have the best offense in the conference.
In short, this defense presents a big challenge for Florida State.
Offensively, Miami probably presents a bigger challenge, as I covered in yesterday's film review. Since Reggie Johnson's return, fellow big man Kenny Kadji is suddenly playing like the consensus #35 recruit that Billy Donovan envisioned. Of course, all Donovan can do is watch like the rest of us, as Kadji left Gainesville and committed to play for Frank Haith at Miami (you're welcome, Larranaga). Kadji is a matchup problem for any defense. He's 6'11 and is shooting over 47% on his 3s. He's mobile and he has a nice mid-range game. Since Reggie Johnson came back and allowed him to move to the 4, Kadji is averaging over 16 points a game.
The reason Reggie Johnson makes everyone better is that he has to be double-teamed and he's an elite passer for a big man. Johnson is able to catch the ball in the high post (where the defense can't front him) and then back the defense down due to his strength. The only option is to double, which creates rotation problems for the defense, and as FSU fans saw during the Boston College game, rotation problems aren't a lot of fun to watch. At least when it's happening to your team. FSU's defense will key on not allowing Johnson to get the ball in the first place. This will mean sagging guards which will lead to a few open threes. Deal with it.
The last problems are guards Shane Larkin and Durand Scott. Larkin, son of Hall of Famer Barry Larkin, is a 5'11 jet who's nearly impossible to keep from penetrating the defense. In FSU's last four losses each of those teams featured a sub 6' point guard whose mission is to drive and dish. Scott, at 6'4, gets inside the defense as well, but he's usually looking to score. He leads Miami at 12.6 ppg.
The game tips at 1pm from the Donald L Tucker center. It is broadcast on Raycom and ESPN3. Vegas and Ken Pomeroy both have FSU -7.