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Next Up - Miami

The ‘Canes may be better than you think

Boston College v Duke
DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA - DECEMBER 31: Vernon Carey Jr. #1 of the Duke Blue Devils takes the ball away from Derryck Thornton #11 of the Boston College Eagles during the second half of their game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on December 31, 2019 in Durham, North Carolina. Duke won 88-49.
Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images
  • Time: 8:00 pm
  • Venue: Watsco Center
  • Video: ESPN

Duke moves into ACC play in earnest with a trip to Miami Saturday.

No insult to Virginia Tech, but that was sort of a lonely game almost a month ago. And Boston College is just not good and even less so given injuries.

So really, ACC play begins in earnest Saturday and Miami is an interesting test.

The ‘Canes are 11-3 and admirably coached by Jim Larranaga. We would say five of the games Miami has played were against unworthy foes so that leaves a record of 6-3 to take seriously.

The losses come to Louisville by 13, Florida by 20 and UConn's by 25 (the latter two were back to back).

This is not a vintage Larranaga team. However, they’re rounding into form and playing with confidence and at home. And you can’t underestimate that.

Nor this: for Duke, every ACC road game is treacherous. You might say well, sure, ACC, right? And that’s true. But it’s more than that for Duke.

Boston College doesn’t sell out every road game. Neither does NC State or Syracuse.

Duke does. BC turns out for Duke. So does Syracuse. So does NC State. Even Clemson would if this game were at Clemson tomorrow, even with a football championship game looming.

That’s just the reality - and the greatness - of playing at Duke. You always get everyone’s best shot and more often than not, you better it.

Not always though. Could this Miami team upset Duke? Well of course they could. They’ve done it before and have the confidence to do it again.

And they have Chris Lykes.

When Larranaga signed him, he said - and we’ve never forgotten this - if he was a foot taller people would call him Michael Jordan.

And the man has made a career out of “if” players. You can be a too-short center, a too-slow forward, a too-small guard. As long as you can play, Larranaga knows how to use you.

So while a lot of coaches shied away from the 5-7 Lykes, Larranaga saw a quick and hugely athletic guard who plays with guts and who presents his own match up problems. We don’t know what is vertical is exactly but we’re guessing it’s at least 40”. If his standing reach is about 7 feet, then he’d need at least 36 to dunk and dunking is easy for him.

He’s hard to keep up with to stay the least.

His backcourt mate is DJ Vasiljevic, a 6-3 Aussie who at times can really get hot from behind the line.

Also starting: transfer Kameron McGusty, who started at Oklahoma. We’d like to say he blows hot and cold but we haven’t seen him enough to earn that one. He is averaging 15.2 ppg though, nearly five boards and 2.1 assists.

Miami is also starting Sam Waardenburg and Rodney Miller.

Waardenburg is a 6-10, 216 lb. New Zealander who at times can hit a very high level of play. He hasn’t been able to sustain it though. He’s averaging 6.8 ppg and 6.3 rpg so far.

He’s a lot more mobile than Miller though, who is 7-0 and 255 (Miami lists him at 238).

Miller has taken a while to really get up to speed, not uncommon for a big man. He’s a redshirt junior who has never averaged more than four minutes per game. He’s putting up 5.9 ppg and 5.1 rpg currently.

Larranaga has basically a nine-man rotation including Florida transfer Keith Stone, who has been eligible since December and has played in five games. at 6-8 and 244 lbs., he’ll help more as he integrates into the system. At an absolute minimum he’ll be a key reserve.

Freshmen Isaiah Wong and Anthony Walker round things out with about 12 and half minutes each.

Wong is a 6-3 guard who’s breaking in with 3.3 ppg and, presumably, good defense.

Walker is having a minimal offensive impact so far as well.

Although we think Miami will have trouble with Duke’s Vernon Carey, this game is likely to come down to a contest between the backcourts.

Duke will have to control Lykes, Vasiljevic and McGusty. It won't be easy, least of all with Lykes. He’s hard to keep up with. His dribble is very low, his vertical is very high and he’s also very smart. Obviously Tre Jones and Jordan Goldwire will have dibs on him.

Cassius Stanley could conceivably play off of him a bit with an 11-inch height advantage and a near 50” vertical but he’ll probably spend a lot more time on Vasiljevic

Wendell Moore may have a big role in this game since he can guard four out of five players most games and Alex O’Connell has clearly decided to be a better defensive basketball player.

Jack White won’t guard Lykes unless he has to, but he can guard most of the rest of Miami’s roster at least in brief stretches.

We should also mention Joey Baker here. He gets the most attention for his gorgeous jump shots, but we’re not sure anyone plays harder than he does. He’ll get his licks in on defense.

Miami may be tempted to try some zone to limit Carey inside. Between Baker and Matthew Hurt, that could prove to be a mistake.

One final thought.

When Seth Curry was a Blue Devil and Duke was playing at his father’s school, Virginia Tech - a school that failed to offer both Seth and big brother Stephen, either of whom would have almost certainly been thrilled to be Hokies - he was too wound up to play well. Instead of a great game he wasn't much of a factor at all.

We don't know what Carey’s emotions are about playing at his dad’s school - Vernon Sr. was a Miami football player - but it might be a lot, and possibly either way. Just something worth remembering.