Now is when it starts to get fun. The ‘Canes have feasted on a few cupcakes and find themselves in the top 10 for the first time this season. The annual ACC/Big 10 Challenge is under way and the ‘Canes are looking to win their fourth straight contest in the event. But in order to do so they will have to take down a worthy adversary in the 12th ranked Minnesota Golden Gophers, who enter the game 7-0 and hungry for a top 10 home victory.
In their last game, Miami took care of business against the North Florida Ospreys, 86-65. While the Ospreys may have fallen to 1-8, their record is deceiving. They have faced a brutal schedule and are a team that has talented shooters all over the floor. The Ospreys were shooting over 44% from behind the arc and averaging 78.6 PPG before facing the ‘Canes, but Miami’s defense proved to be more than just a paper tiger. The ‘Canes held the Ospreys to just 30.8% from 3 and 65 points total, while also forcing 20 turnovers. The offense, which looked terrible against La Salle, came alive, as 5 different players scored in double figures. Bruce Brown Jr. went 7-14 from the floor, good for 14, and Dewan Huell continued his solid play down low, recording 13 points and 6 boards. Freshmen Lonnie Walker IV, Chris Lykes, and Sam Waardenburg put in more useful minutes, and each game they continue to grow and look more comfortable on the college court.
But for all the improvements Miami had in the victory over the Ospreys, the biggest was from the free throw line. They shot 73.9% including 11-12 in the second half. Anthony Lawrence II knocked down 6-7 from the stripe, after coming into the game a woeful 3-9. This ‘Canes team is improving in the areas that it needs to, and free throw shooting is going to be a huge part of a game that is destined to be a nailbiter. The Gophers are shooting just 67.2% from the line this season, so they don’t have as much of advantage as it would seem coming in.
The game against the Ospreys may have been just what the ‘Canes needed in order to right the wrongs that reared their ugly heads against FAMU and La Salle, but they can’t get complacent now. If they want to beat Minnesota they are going to need that same kind of team effort to slow down a Gopher squad that averages 90.7 PPG, while giving up 69.7 PPG. The Golden Gophers shoot it at 37.7% from beyond the arc and have a plethora of deep threats including, Amir Coffey, Nate Mason, Dupree McBrayer, and Jamir Harris who is shooting an astounding 52.6% from long range so far. The ‘Canes have done a great job at defending the arc this season, but have yet to face a team of the caliber of Minnesota.
Led by Junior Forward, Jordan Murphy (22 PPG, 12.3 RPG), who is coming off his 3rd straight Big 10 player of the week honor, the Gophers are looking to move to 8-0, after winning the Barclays Center Classic on Saturday. In the championship game of that tournament, Minnesota earned a win over then 25th ranked Alabama Crimson Tide 89-84 in what is surely one of the strangest basketball games ever played. To try to use the final score and stats to explain this game would be a disservice to what went down. With just over 13 minutes left in the game, Alabama’s entire bench (yes literally every single player) was ejected after a skirmish on the court. This left Bama with just 5 eligible players left to finish out the game. After two foul outs, Bama found themselves playing 3 on 5. Minnesota didn’t exploit this the way they could have, so although it was a win over a ranked opponent, it’s hard to use this as a measuring stick when justifying just how good Minnesota is.
But plain and simple, Minnesota is good. They can score. They can play defense, and they are big game tested. Minnesota returns numerous players from last year’s NCAA tournament team that earned a 5 seed. While last year the Gophers were everyone’s darling, and quite possibly the surprise of the season, this year they are just a power 5 powerhouse that is on everyone’s radar.
These are the exciting non-conference games Power conference contenders look forward to. One team is going to walk out of Minnesota with a resume boosting win in their back pocket. Neither squad has a currently ranked opponent on their remaining non-conference schedule, so to put it lightly, this game is HUGE for both teams. Miami finds themselves ranked #10, and their is no way Coach L and the guys expect it to be short lived. You’re not going to win a championship in November, but a win on the road against a quality opponent like Minnesota could send Miami on a path towards gigantic things.
Something has to give in a game where Minnesota score over 90 PPG and Miami gives up just 54. Minnesota will look to run and play a faster temp, something that the ‘Canes are built for, but isn’t their gameplan. Minnesota has the depth and talent to match the ‘Canes and the homecourt advantage is going to be a huge factor, but these are the types of games that Larranaga gets his team up for. The first trip outside of Coral Gables wasn’t pretty, but it resulted in a W. Look for the ‘Canes to right their wrongs from two games ago and compete in what should be a great basketball game. Coach L will look to keep the pace of the game under control, and if the final score is in the mid 60s or low 70s, than the ‘Canes have the edge and will be heading home with a huge November W.