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Game #5: St. John's at Miami Hurricanes

So this is what passes as a big game this year-- St. John's at Miami, the first road test for the young Johnnies. I can't say i know what to expect, exactly; under Coach Roberts, the team has not been a road warrior:

Including St. John's Super Bowl Sunday win at Cincinnati on Feb. 4, 2007, the Red Storm owns four road victories since the dawn of the Norm Roberts Era...

4 victories in 4 years? Well, that's a trend to turn around, isn't it? Coupled with the Vegas point spread (not that I bet or condone betting), which has MIA favored by 10 and a 135 point over under, there are less-than-positive indicators for the Red Storm men's basketball squad.

Part of that has to be the amount of information we just don't know about this team. There will be one player on the court who received significant minutes last year in Eugene Lawrence. I don't know how Norm Roberts is going to coach the game - will Sean Evans get lots of time?

Will Larry Wright play half the game?

If it were me 3 or 4 guys would be playing 35 minutes each.

Miami is 6-0, seems pretty effiecient and solid defensively. They've beaten Providence College. They rebound well, especially on the offensive side, shoot quite a few free throws, and depend on their three point shooting, because their two-point shooting is suspect.

They play a little slower than St. John's. The teams that have hung close with the Hurricanes seem to shoot the ball well. They play man to man, physical defense, kind of like St. John's (but sometimes the Johnnies aren't really getting in guards' grills). Norm and Justin Burrell on the Miami squad:

Norm:

"The other thing they do a great job is getting to the offensive glass. What's going to be a huge key for us is our ability to rebound the ball and defend the first shot and get open looks. The big guys all hit the glass, they all have double figure offensive rebounds in the six games they played."

Burrell:

"We're definitely going to need a big team effort to rebound this weekend. Their three big guys have about 50 rebounds together so far, we're going to need Dele Coker, Tomas Jasiulionis and Sean Evans and our guards as well to rebound in order to get it done.

This afternoon, the Miami team may be without starting guard Jack McClinton, but will start their top freshman Eddie Rios, who has had a pair of 2-10 shooting games recently. Anthony King weighs in at 246 lbs and 6'9"; the rest of the team is strong but not tall.

Some notes from the Miami Herald:

The Hurricanes didn't just improve in the paint, they also made their free throws. After going 8 of 21 from the line Saturday, they went to the free-throw line a season-high 42 times and converted 31 attempts.

Something else got better, too, Wednesday -- attendance. There were 2,339 fans at the game -- 600 more than Saturday's game. More are expected Sunday, when UM faces former Big East rival St. John's (4-0). It is expected to be UM's stiffest test before it plays at Mississippi State on Dec. 13.

Haith hopes to have co-captain Jack McClinton back by then. McClinton, the team's leading scorer, missed his second consecutive game because of an injured left thumb. Haith said he is hopeful McClinton will be able to play Sunday.

''I know Jack is anxious, he wanted to get back tonight,'' Haith said. ". . . I think we're looking to take the cast off in the next couple days. I think we want to see what it looks like, feels like, and we'll go from there.''

Freshman point guard Eddie Rios got his second consecutive start in place of McClinton, and again shot 2 of 10 from the field.

But he showed positive signs running Miami's offense, finishing with 11 points, five assists, four rebounds and three turnovers in 35 minutes.

Keys to the game:

Composure. Not that those 3000 fans are going to be overwhelming. The Red Storm play in front of about that many people at home games against crap teams, and Miami has historically had bad attendance for their basketball games. But being on the road for the first time as freshmen, and on national television will certainly get a few players to press, to try to impress.

Burrell, especially, has to concentrate on his game and not imagined fouls or the fouls that will be called on him as he goes against the veteran Anthony King defensively. The talent is there to win, but the team has to try not to play above their heads.

Mano-a-mano. This is obviously the most talented team the Red Storm has had to play defense against, and they have to be up to the challenge early. In other games, the defense on the guards has been more lax than it needs to be, and while they have been able to step it up in the second half, this is a different weight class.

The 'Canes have some strong guards, and that will favor Eugene Lawrence on defense, hopefully. St. John's will need to screen to get Larry Wright free, and Burrell will have a chance to show what he can do on offense and defense with his incredible quickness and skill around the basket. If Coker (and Jasiulionis, if he plays) can stay on the court, they may be difference makers. And DJ Kennedy will slip inside and make plays.

Make it Ugly. Paris Horne and the other guards need to force turnovers, keep them out of rhythm-- especially if freshman guard Eddie Rios is starting. And collect the rebounds.

Big Time 'Em. Burrell, Kennedy, here's your showcase. Go get them.