About a year ago, when Josh and I were still just scratching the surface of covering UM Basketball over at Category 6, we got to know one of the coolest and most informed bloggers in the game, Travis Miller of Hammer and Rails (one of the best names for a blog going). TMill worked with us in preparation for the 'Canes game against Purdue in last year's ACC/Big Ten Challenge and revealed a soft spot for the program. Besides the fact that Mrs. TMill was a UM grad and he was obligated to give the U some respect, he liked some of the players and the direction of the program (though not nearly as much as his beloved Boilermakers). Since then we have kept in touch, and T still pops in on an occasional Miami game thread. Hell if it weren't for that Marve character I might even admit the friendship has me rooting for Purdue on occasion. So with the Big Ten/ACC Challenge upon us again, I reached out to Mr. Miller for his expertise yet again.
Here is our full Q&A with TMill:
SOTU: First Question, how do you feel about new conference members Rutgers and Maryland? Do you feel the Big "Ten" is getting too big?
TMill: I am definitely not a fan. At least with the addition of Nebraska they aligned with the other 11 schools in terms of tradition, background, etc. It felt like a natural fit. Yeah, it was pretty much just to get a Big Ten championship game, but at least it made sense.
Maryland and Rutgers are simply a money grab in hopes of getting the east coast markets for the Big Ten network. They don’t fit in with the conference at all and I can’t think of any fans that like it nearly as much as Nebraska. We’re a conference that prides itself on tradition. Now it just feels bloated and many of those rivalries we all love could be greatly affected here.
SOTU: How in the heck did Purdue let Glenn Robinson Jr. get away from Purdue and end up at Michigan?
TMill: I don’t think we went after him much and he didn’t blow up until this past year when our 2012 class was already full. Assuming that Kelsey Barlow and Patrick Bade had stayed with the program we were going to be full in this class long before he took off like a shot up the rankings.
SOTU:What are your impressions of UM's hoops team overall?
TMill: I am very grateful we didn’t have to play Reggie Johnson last year, as he would have torn us apart in the ACC/Big Ten challenge. I know Miami basketball is always going to be third behind football and baseball down there, but I love that Larranaga is attempting to grow the program and make you a regular tournament team in the ACC. Miami feels like one of those teams like Northwestern the last few seasons in that they can’t quite get over the hump and into the NCAAs.
OK... Now on to the fun stuff, the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
SOTU: As a Big Ten guy and an honorary Miami fan (when they aren't playing the Boilermakers, and on behalf of Mrs. TMill), how do you see the Miami - Michigan State game playing out?
TMill: Miami caught a break with Gary Harris going out with a shoulder injury. He was a difference-maker as a freshman that very nearly ended up choosing Purdue. The Spartans are going to play tough, hard-nosed basketball, rebound well, and attack the rim. I think it is a difficult matchup for Miami because they are always well coached and Izzo always has a lot of talent on the roster.
SOTU: Any concerns about Purdue's match-up with Clemson?
TMill:We’re an extremely young team. We have five freshmen playing major minutes and it has shown in our three losses to date. We’re struggling to shoot the ball from the perimeter and except for Wednesday’s win over UNC-Wilmington we have been awful from the free throw line. The free throw line is what cost us against Bucknell and Oregon State, while Villanova saw us on the wrong end of a very controversial call with 45 seconds left up by four.
Still, we’ve had a lot of fight and have either been tied or leading late in every game. This is a team with talent that we must be patient with as they figure out how to play together and win.
SOTU: Which other games in the series do you find compelling?
TMill: NC State Michigan will be interesting because both were highly ranked and I am not quite sure why. I know they have talent, but I question if they are really Final Four level teams, especially after NC State got embarrassed the other day. I also want to see North Carolina beat Indiana because living here I am tired of hearing about how Cody Zeller is the greatest player in the history of the world.
SOTU: Is it altogether possible the media gives Cody Zeller too much attention?
TMill: Maybe, but he is definitely a great player. The hard time I have with him is that he plays for Indiana. Put him in ANY other uniform and he would be damn fun to watch. The same is true with most of that Indiana team. Unfortunately, they play for Indiana. Since I have to deal with their fans on a daily basis I have grown to despise them.
SOTU: Prediction Time, briefly tell us who wins and why for each game:
Tue, Nov 27
North Carolina at Indiana – Never bet against a highly rated Indiana in “The Hall of Calls”
NC State at Michigan – I am going with Michigan here. The Wolverines lost once at home last season, on Senior Day, to Purdue.
Minnesota at Florida State – This is a good test for Minnesota and a win would be great for their NCAA hopes. I am picking Florida State, but the Golden Gophers could surprise.
Maryland at Northwestern – Maryland looked pretty good in nearly beating Kentucky, so I’ll go with them.
Iowa at Virginia Tech – Iowa is probably the most up and coming team in the Big Ten this year. A road win means a potential NCAA season for them.
Nebraska at Wake Forest – Egad. Nebraska is pretty bad, so I am picking Wake Forest mostly on home court.
Wed, Nov 28
Ohio State at Duke – I am going with Duke, as I have no idea how Ohio State can be considered better after losing two of its best players from last year’s team.
Virginia at Wisconsin – Never pick against the Badgers in Madison. That’s a damn tough place to play at.
Michigan State at Miami – Sorry guys, I think Sparty is better and Izzo will have them competing for the Big Ten title.
Purdue at Clemson – I think this is pretty much a must-win now if Purdue wants to reach the NCAA Tournament. We’ve missed on three chances against three good teams, so we need a true road win over a major conference foe, especially with Xavier, Notre Dame, and West Virginia still to come.
Georgia Tech at Illinois – Illinois is coming off of winning out in Maui, so I think they win unless jet lag is an issue.
Boston College at Penn State – Penn State just lost their one great player in Tim Frazier for the season. They’ll be lucky to win a Big Ten game.
Thanks again to Travis Miller for working with us. We wish his Boilers luck against Clemson and know he will be 100% wrong in picking the Spartans over our beloved Hurricanes.