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Notre Dame vs. Miami Hoops Q&A With The State of The U

The kind folks at SBNation's The State of The U blog for the University of Miami were kind enough to engage in a basketball Q&A in advance of Saturday afternoon's clash in the Joyce Center. You can find my answers to their questions on their site.

Angel Rodrigues leads a hot Miami team in to chilly South Bend
Angel Rodrigues leads a hot Miami team in to chilly South Bend
Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Many thanks to Jerry over at The State of The U for initiating this Q&A. You can follow him at @category6um and follow all the Hurricane action @TheStateofTheU.

Great win Tuesday over the Blue Devils. Can you give us the abridged version of the keys to that victory? Any worries about a letdown after knocking off an ACC blue blood?

To encapsulate that game, Miami absolutely dominated the Duke D with their penetration, and dribble drives, and handily controlled Duke on the other end by swarming Jahlil Okafor, and forcing other players to beat them. They were intense, and unselfish. And frankly, Angel Rodriguez was the best player on the floor, and Manu Lecomte was not far behind. Tonye Jekiri was also very solid down low. UM looked like the better team, and the fresher/deeper team down the stretch.

After a win like that, a letdown is always a concern. Something tells me that they will find a way to being their best effort on Saturday nonetheless.

I think it would be safe to call the Hurricanes a little up and down on the season so far. Has there been a "tell" if you're going to get a night like Duke vs. one like Eastern Kentucky?

That is an excellent question. The best way I can answer that is to paraphrase something Miami Coach Jim Larranaga expressed in a presser a few weeks back. Following an excellent start and a top 15 ranking, Miami's players seemed to "exhale." In the losses to Green Bay and Eastern Kentucky, the effort and concentration just weren't there. In the first half vs UVA, ditto. Then suddenly as if a light bulb went on, they seemed to realize in the second half Vs the Hoos, how hard they needed to play to be successful. Will it sustain? So far, so good. Bottom line, if the 'Canes are playing hard as they should, they are a handful. If you see them not getting back on defense, or hustling for loose balls, you know they are in for a long night.

On paper these teams have similar offensive and defensive efficiency metrics and statistical profiles. What's the stat Hurricane fans watch most closely to get a measure of their progress?

If Miami limits their turnovers to 12 or less, and has 15 or so assists, they are playing the kind of basketball they are most successful at. In their losses this year, there were times that the ball just didn't move on the perimeter, and far too many forced jumpers off the dribble were taken. If Miami's assist to turnover ratio is at about 1.5:1 as a team they are pretty hard to stop/beat.

With no seniors playing any significant role for Coach Larranaga, are fans concerned about handling the challenging atmosphere at Notre Dame? We were going to look in to an outdoor venue, but the ACC wouldn't allow it.

Normally I would answer yes to the question above. But how can I? Miami just won at Cameron, ending a 41 game home winning streak for Duke. Earlier this season they ended Florida's 33 game home winning streak. Chances are the 'Canes will not lose because of lack of composure. Rodriguez is a seasoned vet of Big XII battles and Lecomte has International experience, having played two season's on Belgium's U-20 team. So while the 'Canes only have one senior (graduate transfer Joe Thomas, a role player) they are not exactly wet behind the ears. More than anything else though, Coach L and his staff have proven time and time again intheir 4 years in Coral Gables that they will have this team prepared for anything.

Give ND fans the one guy to watch. Who's the Miami guy that has to win his match-up for the Hurricanes to be successful?

Sheldon McClellan is as talented as any player on Miami's roster. At 6'5 with a reported 44 inch vertical, he finishes with the best of any player in the Conference. His shooting touch is improved, but he has also played very unselfishly this year. Perhaps too unselfishly, given his talent. But beyond his offensive prowess, he will need to be a two way player for Miami to win on Saturday. We are not sure if you will see McClellan on Jerian Grant, Pat Connaughton, or even Steve Vasturia. But as UM's most athletically gifted defensive player, he will need to slow down at least one of the Irish' talented 6'5 players for UM to hinder their high powered attack. Look for 6'6 Davon Reed, who is a defensive stopper in his own tight, to get a lot of burn right alongside McClellan in hopes of solidifying UM's perimeter D.

How about a prediction?

It is tough to see how this one plays out, because of the obvious impact of Zach Auguste's potential absence. if Auguste can not go, Miami's 7 foot Tonye Jekiri, who leads the ACC in rebounding, will have a huge advantage down low. Additionally 6'10 JUCO transfer Ivan Cruz Uceda, will be eligible for the first time all season, after having to be forced to sit out 17 games because of a vague rule involving International players and how many years ago they graduated H.S. (don't ask me to explain it, I can't).

Cruz Uceda's game is not vertical at all, but he is said to be a big man who can knock down threes and has exceptional hands. He led the 'Canes in rebounding over their summer tour in Spain. So for ND, this is a bad time to be facing the Hurricanes. They have their full compliment of players for the first time all season, and coming off the win in Cameron are flying high. Grant scares me to death, and Connaughton is severely underrated. But I think the 'Canes come away with a hard fought win, in a close one 76-72.