Angel Rodriguez

Angel Rodriguez
Associated Press

Angel Rodriguez, Miami take home Puerto Rico Tipoff title

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Miami’s depth and talent were certainly on display this weekend as they won the Puerto Rico Tipoff, beating No. 22 Butler 85-75 in Sunday’s title game. And it was clear all weekend that their hopes of contending in the ACC this season will ultimately hinge on the play of senior point guard Angel Rodriguez.

Rodriguez produced more positive plays than negative all weekend in San Juan, performing well in his return to the island he calls home. And if Jim Larrañaga’s team is to make a run at their first ACC title since 2013, that will have to be the case as the Hurricanes play in even bigger games when conference play begins.

Rodriguez accounted for 17 points and three assists, but he also had four turnovers with three coming during a second-half stretch in which Butler mounted its rally. The first half for Miami was, when factoring in the caliber of the opponent, as good a half of basketball they’ve played all year. Even better than what they did in the first half of the win over Mississippi State on Thursday, because Butler is a team that will hear its name called Selection Sunday.

The Hurricanes’ length and athleticism caused problems for Butler at both ends of the floor, as the Bulldogs shot 40.7 percent from the field, and Miami was able to shoot 52.9 percent. Half of Miami’s 18 first half field goals were assisted, with Butler’s help side defenders paying the price for being too quick to help in an attempt to take away driving lanes.

Tonye Jekiri accounted for eight points and seven rebounds, finishing with 12 and 12, and backup point guard Ja’Quan Newton scored eight of his 17 and dished out three assists during the first stanza. Whatever Miami wanted to get done they were able to in the first half, leading by as much as 19 and taking a 13-point lead into the break.

Butler improved on both ends of the floor in the second half, and with Miami not playing with the same efficiency the Bulldogs were able to climb back into the game. Managing the game is where point guard play comes in, which is why Rodriguez is the most important piece for Miami as they look to compete with the likes of North Carolina, Duke and Virginia atop the ACC.

When he’s on Rodriguez can be one of the ACC’s top point guards, and by extension the Hurricanes are an ACC contender. But when he struggles, even with their depth the Hurricanes have the appearance of a team that’s a bit scattered on the court. Outside of a few minutes Sunday night Miami got “good Rodriguez” in Puerto Rico, and as a result they head back to the mainland with the Puerto Rico Tipoff trophy in tow.

And if this group is to have a chance of reaching the heights last seen by Shane Larkin and company, that will have to be the case during ACC play as well.

Miami beats up No. 4 Duke, ends nation’s longest home-court win streak

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Entering Tuesday night, Duke had not lost in Cameron Indoor Stadium since March of 2012, a streak that had reached 41 games, the longest in the nation.

That all changed thanks to Miami, as the Hurricanes put up 56 points on the Blue Devils in the second half of a 90-74 win. Angel Rodriguez, who thrives for moments like this, finished with 24 points, five assists and five steals and Manu Lecomte added a career-high 23 points as the Hurricanes hit 10 threes in the win.

Duke got a combined 29 points and 27 boards — 14 offensive — from Jahlil Okafor and Amile Jefferson, but between Okafor’s struggles finishing in the post and the shooting issues that the Duke guards had on Tuesday night, the Blue Devils dug themselves a hole that they couldn’t get out of.

It’s the second straight loss for the Blue Devils, who dropped a road game against N.C. State on Sunday afternoon.

I’ll write more on this tomorrow, but the issue for the Blue Devils is on the defensive end of the floor. They have some major defensive issues that they are going to have to work their way through. Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones are both small guards and below-average on-ball defenders, which creates a problem with the way that Duke likes to defend in their half-court man-to-man defense. They consistently have been geting beaten off the dribble far too easily.

It doesn’t help that Okafor is not a rim protector or much help defending pick-and-roll actions. It leaves the guards hung out to dry, and when you’re going against someone as good as Rodriguez of N.C. State’s Trevor Lacey, that becomes a major problem.

Back to Miami, this is a major win for the Hurricanes. Obviously. It’s going to look terrific on their tournament resume come March, and it will help the committee overlook the fact that this group lost to Green Bay and Eastern Kentucky by a combined 41 points in Coral Gables. More than that, this is the kind of confidence-boosting win that can change the course of a team’s season.

They just game the entire ACC the blueprint on how to beat the Blue Devils.

Eastern Kentucky’s 3-point shooting leads to blowout win over No. 18 Miami

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Eastern Kentucky held a narrow 27-25 lead over No. 18 Miami heading into the locker room on Friday night. To start the second half, the upset alert in Coral Gables turned into a full-on rout, as the Colonels’ 3-point shooting took down the Hurricanes, 72-44, in a wire-to-wire victory.

The two sides traded buckets to begin the second half. What followed was 14 unanswered points by Eastern Kentucky, 12 of which came of 3-pointers. The Colonels hit 5-of-12 threes in the first half, and that shooting didn’t cool down in the last 20 minutes, as they ended up connecting on nine more threes.

Over the previous five games, the Hurricanes limited teams to a combined 26 percent from three, with only Savannah State shooting better than 30 percent. On Friday night, Eastern Kentucky, shot 54 percent shooting from beyond the arc of 14-0f-26 from three. Miami made only 12 field goals through the entire game.

Miami had 11 days off to prepare for this game, and just came out flat, especially in that Eastern Kentucky spurt in the second half, failing to locate the shooters on the floor and letting Isaac McGlone to get three open looks during the 14-0 run. Couple that with Miami’s 29 percent shooting and the 37 points the Colonels scored off turnovers, and you got one of the more surprising upsets of the season.

Timmy Knipp hit five 3-pointer en route to a game-high 19 points, followed by Corey Walden with 18, Eric Stutz with 13 points, nine rebound and five assists and McGlone with 12 off the bench.

Angel Rodriguez went 0-for-6 with one point.

For Miami, it doesn’t get easier before ACC play, the Hurricanes take on Providence on Monday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

Player of the Year Power Rankings: We have a new leader!

Jahlil Okafor, Frank Kaminsky (AP Photo)
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Jahlil Okafor, Frank Kaminsky (AP Photo)

Every Tuesday, we will be providing you with a breakdown of the top ten candidates for National Player of the Year. You can read through the older posts here.

1. Jahlil Okafor, Duke
2. Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin

Jahlil Okafor and Frank Kaminsky went head-to-head last Wednesday as Duke and Wisconsin squared off in the Kohl Center. Okafor’s team got the best of the Badgers, as Duke won 80-70, but it was Kaminsky that ended up with the better line, finishing with 17 points, nine boards and two assists to Okafor’s 13 points and six boards.

We wrote plenty about the different ways that Mike Krzyzewski and Bo Ryan utilize their all-american big men in the lead-up to the game, but the irony of it all was that the way that Coach K schemed basically took the two out of it and turned this into a battle of the guards. Duke switched all exchanges defensively, meaning that anytime there was a screen — or even two players running by each other — Duke would switch, regardless of size.

This meant that Wisconsin couldn’t invert their offense, that they couldn’t run what they wanted to run and couldn’t take advantage of their size relative to Duke. But it did mean that Wisconsin’s bigger, slower defenders had to try and cover Duke’s quick, talented perimeter players.

The upper image shows you an example of what a typical Wisconsin possession devolved into. The bottom image is a screen grab of power forward Nigel Hayes, matched up with Justise Winslow, reaching instead of moving as a help defender, allowing Quinn Cook a lane to drive and find Okafor for a layup:

source:
Screengrabs via Synergy

The irony of it all.

The two best individuals matchup in the best game of the season and it was decided by coaching and maximizing the ability of role players.

And Duke won out.

I can’t be the only one hoping for a rematch in March, can I?

3. Jerian Grant, Notre Dame: Mike Brey has harped, over and over again, on the fact that Grant’s return is so important because Grant is this team’s “closer”. The Irish lost nine games by single digits after Grant was suspended last season, and that would have changed seeing as he’s the guy they go to down the stretch of games. Notre Dame has played two close games this year. In the final eight minutes of regulation in a win against Michigan State, Grant had ten points and an assist and, had the refs called a foul on this … :

… likely would have been the hero as well.

In the final 12 minutes of a loss to Providence, Grant had 12 points and four assists, setting up all of the final 25 points the Irish scored in that game. Notre Dame lost by one. Grant did not take the final shot, but it did look like he got fouled on a drive a few seconds before that.

4. Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga: Like I said earlier, we talked last week about just how good — and efficient — Pangos has been for the Zags this season, but he learned the hard way that Tucson is where efficiency goes to die. Pangos was 3-for-10 from the floor with four turnovers in an overtime loss to Arizona. He did hit a big three in overtime to cut a deficit to 64-63, but he wasn’t that effective down the stretch. He turned the ball over in a tie game in the final minute of regulation, down by one with 1:15 left in overtime and then, down by one on the ensuing possession, was stripped and lucky to get the ball back on held possession.

5. Caris LeVert, Michigan: LeVert is averaging 18.6 points, 5.6 boards and 4.4 assists this year, and while the Wolverines did just lose to NJIT at home, LeVert did his best to make sure that didn’t happen, finishing with 32 points and making big shot after big shot late. He’s demanding the ball at the end of games, which is something that he hasn’t done before.

6. Georges Niang, Iowa State: You see how versatile Niang is as a scorer by the numbers, this is a quintessential Georges. Slip a high-ball screen (1) and receive a pass on the right wing, using a pump-fake (2), a nasty behind-the-back move (3) and another pump-fake (4) to get all the way to the block and score over a shot blocker that’s bigger and much more athletic:

source:
Screengrabs via ESPN

Ok, Georges

A video posted by Rob Dauster (@robdauster) on

7. Montrezl Harrell, Louisville: All that talk about Montrezl Harrell adding a three-point shot during the offseason appeared to be supported by the 6-foot-8 center hitting three threes in the season-opener against Minnesota. In the six games since, he’s 0-for-9 from beyond the arc.

8. Justin Anderson, Virginia: The most surprising development of the early part of this season has been the development of Anderson into a knockdown three-point shooter for the ‘Hoos. He’s 20-for-34, or 58.8 percent, through nine games, and in two road wins against VCU and Maryland last week, Anderson was 11-for-16 from the floor, 4-for-7 from three and averaged 18.5 points.

9. Angel Rodriguez, Miami: Rodriguez has come crashing down to earth after a scorching start to the season. In his last three games, he’s shooting 6-for-31 from the floor and 3-for-13 from three with nine turnovers and nine assists during that stretch. The Hurricanes did beat Illinois last Tuesday, but they lost to Green Bay at home by 13 in that game. Rodriguez finished 2-for-15 in the loss.

10. LaDontae Henton, Providence: In his last three games, Henton is 11-for-40 from the floor and 3-for-15 from three in a trio of losses for the Friars. One of those losses was at Kentucky, which is understandable. The second was at Boston College, which is not. The third was at home t0 in-state rival Brown. The fact that he’s still on this list should tell you just how good he was to start the season.

OTHERS THAT WERE CONSIDERED: Ron Baker (Wichita State), Craig Bradshaw (Belmont), Quinn Cook (Duke), Tyler Haws (BYU), Buddy Hield (Oklahoma), Jonathan Holmes (Texas), D’angelo Russell (Ohio State), Wesley Saunders (Harvard), Robert Upshaw (Washington), Tyrone Wallace (Cal), Delon Wright (Utah), Joseph Young (Oregon)

Player of the Year Power Rankings: Kaminsky, Okafor top list, Pangos climbing

Frank Kaminsky
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source: Getty Images
Kevin Pangos (Getty Images)

Every Tuesday, we will be providing you with a breakdown of the top ten candidates for National Player of the Year. You can read through the older posts here.

1. Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin
2. Jahlil Okafor, Duke: On Wednesday night, Kaminsky and Okafor will square off as No. 4 Duke makes the trip up to Madison to take on the Badgers in what very well could be the best game of the entire regular season. There may not be an individual matchup all season long that is more tantalizing, either. Okafor commands as much attention as any low-post player that has come through the collegiate ranks in a long time, and while Kaminsky is just as big, he’s more of a face-up big man than he is a low-block work horse.

I shouldn’t have to explain this anymore than that. These are the two best big men in the country — and arguably the two best players. If you’re not watching, you’re a lost cause.

3. Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga: We may only be six games into the season, but that doesn’t mean that it is too early to talk about just how good Kevin Pangos has been this season. It’s off the charts. His offensive efficiency, according to Kenpom.com, is 166.0, a number that is unheard of. His effective field goal percentage is 75.7, which is extremely high for a guard, and he has an assist rate of 33.0 and a turnover rate of 8.7.

If those numbers don’t do it for you, how about this: He’s played 173 minutes this season, handing out 38 assists while turning the ball over just four times and missing, including free throws, just 17 shot attempts.

Perhaps what Pangos has done best this season is execute in the pick-and-roll. He and Kyle Wiltjer have become borderline-unstoppable on side pick-and-roll actions. Against St. John’s at Madison Square Garden on Friday, he showed a nice rapport with both Domantas Sabonis and Przemek Karnowski, hitting them both multiple times with lobs over the defense as they rolled to the rim.

RELATED: As good as Pangos is, Gonzaga’s bigs remain key

Here is how Pangos’ numbers stack up to the rest of the guard on this list:

(PP(P+A) = points-per-possession plus points-per-assist; P’n’R PPP = PP(P+A) on pick-and-rolls)

source:
Stats via KenPom.com and Synergy

4. Angel Rodriguez, Miami: Rodriguez still has the most impressive individual performance of the season, scoring 20 points and hitting five threes in the final 6:47 in a win at Florida. The Hurricanes are still undefeated on the year, and at this point they look like they will very much be in the mix for an NCAA tournament berth.

5. LaDontae Henton, Providence: Henton was 1-for-8 from the floor for three points in a 58-38 loss to No. 1 Kentucky. He won’t be the only star to get swallowed up by Big Blue this season. He’s averaging 24.3 points in the other six games Providence has played.

6. Jerian Grant, Notre Dame: You can see Grant’s numbers above. He’s also averaging 18.7 points and 7.0 assists. He’ll climb this list if Notre Dame starts beating some teams worth noting.

7. Jonathan Holmes, Texas: His numbers aren’t other-worldly, but in three games against potential tournament teams, Holmes is averaging 17.7 points and 8.7 boards while shooting 8-for-15 from three. Oh, and he did this:

8. Caris LeVert, Michigan: LeVert is averaging 17.5 points, 6.2 boards and 4.7 assists while shooting 50.0 percent from three. We knew that he was going to have a big year, but what’s been impressive is that he appears ready to takeover the alpha-dog role on this team. He made a number of big, big shots during Michigan’s two games in the Legends Classic.

9. Montrezl Harrell, Louisville: Harrell was unbelievable against Minnesota on the opening night. He’s been solid since then, but those performances have come in games against teams that the Cardinals have beaten by 61 points.

10. D’angelo Russell, Ohio State: We were hardly the only people to pick Russell as one of the freshmen expected to have a massive season, but I’m not sure that I could have predicted this: 18.0 points, 5.4 assists, 4.0 boards and 48.3 percent shooting from three to go along with the numbers you see listed above. Here’s the thing: most of his damage has been done against patsies; he was 2-for-5 with seven turnovers in the win over Marquette. The Buckeyes play Louisville Tuesday night. We’ll see how he does then.

OTHERS THAT WERE CONSIDERED: Justin Anderson (Virginia), Ron Baker (Wichita State), Quinn Cook (Duke), Buddy Hield (Oklahoma), Marcus Paige (North Carolina), Wesley Saunders (Harvard), Shannon Scott (Ohio State), Joseph Young (Oregon)

Miami guard could be back sooner than expected

Davon Reed, Jahil Carson
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On Monday, Miami guard Sheldon McClellan was named ACC Player of the Week after averaging 24.0 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists per game in two wins for the Hurricanes.

The back court received more good news besides McClellan’s accolades, as sophomore guard Davon Reed is on track to rejoin the No. 15 team in the country sooner than expected, according to Christy Cabrera Chirinos of the Sun-Sentinel.

In early September, Reed was ruled out 4-6 months following surgery on his left knee. The team was intending on having Reed back in the line up until at least January. However, the Sun-Sentinel is reporting that Reed took part in warmups on Friday night against South Alabama.

“How quickly we can actually put him in a game. … I talked to him yesterday and said ‘You let me know when you’re ready. I’m ready to put you in tomorrow,'” Miami head coach Jim Larrañaga told Cabrera Chirinos. “He’s not ready for that yet. He’s only had maybe an hour and a half of practice, but what Davon provides this team differently is some experience at defending and rebounding the way I want our players to do it.”

Larrañaga is hoping to get Reed back on the floor at some point this month. From the looks of it, the recovery looks to be going well:

Reed, who averaged 6.6 points per game last season, will join a deep perimeter for the Hurricanes with McClellan, Angel Rodriguez, Manu Lecomte (all averaging double figures), Deandre Burnett, James Palmer and freshman Ja’Quan Newton all logging more than 14 minutes per game.

Miami will take on its second ranked opponent this season on Tuesday night, hosting No. 24 Illinois, part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.