After watching Miami fall to Wake Forest, where do the Hurricanes go from here?
Now they have to face adversity. The measure of a great team is: how do you react to adversity? The good thing for Miami is that they have a veteran team. Those veterans know what they have to do, but they haven’t played well in the past few games. They know that. They have to regain what they were doing in games that they played against North Carolina and Duke.
I think the key to the team is forward Kenny Kadji. I really think that while everybody talks about point guard Shane Larkin—and yes, he’s great—Kadji has to be the leader right now and he has to take over. He has to demand the basketball. Larkin is a really good point guard, but, at this point in time, you look to your seniors.
Now, there are going to be up against Virginia Tech, the last place team in the league, on Wednesday. When these two teams met in Blacksburg, the game was close for a long time. Virginia Tech is an undermanned team—they only have eight scholarship guys. The Hokies simply have no bench help. With the Hurricanes playing at home, this is a game where Miami needs to regain itself before it go and play Duke this weekend. Wednesday night’s game is about more than winning and losing; it’s about making a statement. It’s about having people “Miami” and “wow” in the same sentence. If they don’t make a statement and if this Virginia Tech game is close, then the Hurricanes go to Duke with some questions in their mind.
How good are we, really?
We’re getting to the time of year where you see why Mike Mrzyzewski is so good at Duke. I want my team playing its best basketball right now. If you are Miami, you don’t want to have played your best basketball in January.
Staying with Jim Larranaga’s team, have there been any glaring differences in Miami’s recent play as opposed to its earlier run?
Miami doesn’t look as confident offensively during this recent stretch. They don’t look as smooth, and sometimes that affects its defense.
Now, the Hurricanes held Clemson on defense very well on Feb. 17, but their offense was not there. This is a good offensive Miami team, though, with plenty of weapons: Larkin, Kadji, Reggie Johnson, Trey McKinnie-Jones. You can just go on down the list. Those guys have to assert themselves on the offensive end. The Hurricanes are a great defensive team, but they have to get it back on offense.
Somebody has to breakout, whether it’s Kadji, McKinney-Jones, Johnson off the bench, Larkin shooting 3s or senior guard Durand Scott. Think about that roster; those are some weapons. The fact is that they’ve lost their bullets the past few games.
Yes, you can win games with great defense. But this is a team with options at every position on offense, and you just don’t see that in college basketball. Those options are all capable of posting 15- or 20-point nights, but they’ve all gone silent at the same time. Some of them need to get going again.
Duke has gotten a big lift from wing scorer Rasheed Sulaimon. What has impressed you about his development this season?
I think everybody has to remember he’s a freshman. Sometimes kids get such accolades as high school seniors, and this is a cliché but there’s a big difference between high school and college, particularly for great athletes. Great athletes can just go to a high school game and dominate a great player. Well, when all of a sudden you play against guys who are just as fast as you are and can play defense, it’s frustrating. And I think Sulaimon got frustrated.
However, give him credit because he’s overcome that and realized that, “Yes, I can play.” He’s got his shot going now. Looking back, it affected his shooting in a big way—his shooting numbers for about an eight-game stretch there were awful. But now he understands he’s good enough to be a significant part of this Duke team. Part of that confidence has to be attributed to Krzyzewski and his staff; they are great motivators. They are great at taking individual players and saying, “What do I need to do to get you going?” It’s not the same formula for everybody.
This is a Duke team that a lot more chemistry than last year and I think because of that his teammates didn’t allow Sulaimon to get down on himself. They were continuously lifting him up. And I think that that makes a huge difference.