Tomorrow is a huge game for FSU. Road games are always tough, and the anticipation is heightened by playing in-state rival Miami. And if the Noles win they'll be tied for 3rd (2nd if Pitt loses tonight). In anticipation of the game, me and Jerry from the Canes blog State of the U talked some basketball. You can read my answers to his questions there.
TN: Miami lost as much from last year's squad as any team in the nation (plus a freshman to injury). How would you rate this year's team so far compared to preseason expectations?
SOTU: Before freshman Deandre Burnett (who was expected to be this team's top scorer) injured his wrist and was redshirted, there were some around the program that had a quiet confidence this team could finish in the top 7-10 in the ACC, myself included. Once Burnett went down, those expectations were tempered severely. Considering they are only a few plays away from being 3-0 in the conference, and have a win over Arizona State out of conference, I'd say they have been a pleasant surprise. The results may not always be there, but they play very hard every time out. This is a team that is not very deep, and scoring challenged, not to mention almost every member of the team is filling a new role, yet they manage to keep every game they play close and competitive.
TN. Which player(s) have most exceeded expectations, and who has disappointed?
SOTU: Rion Brown has really stepped up and embraced his role as the team's go to guy, but his floor game and especially rebounding (which were not strengths in his previous 3 years) are exceeding expectation. Davon Reed is a freshman wing player, forced to play point, who has performed very well for the most part. Manu LeComte has had his ups and downs as another freshman point. Tonye Jekiri is a 7 foot sophomore expected to make huge strides this year, and early on was very disappointing, but has come on of late.
TN. With three seniors getting a ton of minutes, what is the Canes outlook for next year?
SOTU: Miami will miss Brown, Donnovan Kirk, and Garrius Adams for sure. Nonetheless the outlook for next year is tremendous. They will get Burnett back (this is a kid who averaged 37 ppg as a senior at Carol City H.S. and is also the brother of FSU football recruit Dalvin Cook) and that is a good start. Also eligible will be Kansas State transfer Angel Rodriguez, a point guard who was second team all Big 12 last year. Ditto Sheldon McClellan, a Texas transfer, who is a wing that led the Horns in scoring last year. Miami will also have a top 20-30 recruiting class coming in featuring top 50 player PG JaQuan Newton from Philly, and Texas PF Omar Sherman, a top 100 player. LeComte will be more experienced, Jekiri will be stronger, James Kelly (this year's starting power forward) will be back, and with some good fortune they may also have football players Corn Elder and Derrick Griffin in the mix. There are some in Coral Gables that feel if the chemistry is right, next year's team could be better then last season's that won the ACC regular season and conference championships.
TN. Rank 1-5 your predicted finish in the ACC regular season? And which team not in that top 5 has been the biggest disappointment?
SOTU: I picked Duke, Syracuse, Notre Dame, Pitt, and UNC 1-5 in the preseason. Pitt and Syracuse have made me look good. How Duke can struggle with all that talent is anyone's guess? ND looked the part before losing Jerian Grant. UNC, ugh, I did think they would get PJ Hairston back eventually though. I had BC right at 8. I can not believe a team with Ryan Anderson, Joe Rahon, and Olivier Hanlan would come this unglued. BC is easily the biggest disappointment in the ACC and amongst my picks.
TN. Give me the score for FSU at Miami, and tell me what you feel will be the keys to game for both teams.
SOTU: I like Miami to win 54-51. UM has really found something with the match-up zone, and they are starting to get some transition buckets off of it. They key for UM will be to slow the tempo and get back on every possession and limit FSU's transition chances. Devon Bookert and Aaron Thomas are really good at pushing the ball. Miami must keep those guys in front of them and set up their defense so that the long arms of Adams, Brown, and Reed can make things tough for the Noles on the perimeter. Assuming the Canes can do this, the key for FSU is to make a few deep ones and loosen up the zone. If Florida State gets the game in the high 60s or 70s, Miami has very little chance.