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Big Ten/ACC Challenge Preview With Category 6 UM

The day we have been dreading is here. By my count Purdue has faced the Miami Hurricanes once in women's tennis in an NCAA Tournament and twice in women's soccer, but for the first time since Mrs. T-Mill and I were joined in wedded bliss on January 15, 2005, My Boilermakers face her Hurricanes in a big name sport. Tonight we head to Mackey Arena (maybe, if we can get car issues settled) with our marriage on the line. I hold the edge here, as we are 2-0 all-time against the 'Canes in basketball. We beat them 110-82 on 12/30/1987 in West Palm Beach, FL, and 73-63 in in the 1999 NCAA Tournament in a 10 over 2 upset in the second round. This will be the first game played on either team's home floor.

Fortunately, Mrs. T-Mill is like many UM fans in that basketball is a fringe sport. It takes a back seat to football and baseball at "The U". One of the guys trying to change that perception is Jerry Steinberg. Steinberg is an avid UM basketball fan who publishes the excellent basketball specific blog, Category 6 UM. Jerry contacted me this summer when this game was announced, and this week we exchanged some questions about tonight's game. Here is what Jerry had to say about my queries, while my answers can be found here:

T-Mill: Update my readers, if you would, on who Miami lost to suspension and injury and how big of a loss those players were.

Jerry: First and foremost starting center Reggie Johnson is out until January (torn meniscus). Big Reggie at 6'10 300 was by far the 'Canes best rebounder and post up player, and was was expected to improve on 11.9 points and 9.6 rebounds a game from last year. Reggie provides huge match-up problems (even against elite centers) and draws tons of fouls in nearly every game he plays. The buzz is that he's doing well and will be ready to go when ACC conference begins.

Julian Gamble tore his ACL and will be out for the year. Gamble is more a role player. But the 6'10 250 pound Gamble provided size, hustle, and depth. (4 points 3.4 rebounds per game last year).   DeQuan Jones is sitting out the year until the Nevin Shapiro scandal investigation is concluded by the NCAA. At 6'7 218 Jones has been an inconsistent player during his career so far, but was expected to utilize his athleticism in Coach Jim Larranaga's new system. Jones would have seen consistent time at the 4 and most 'Canes fans agree that if he would focus on defense he could be an outstanding defensive player. (4.5 points 2.5 rebounds last year)

Miami is really really shorthanded in the front court and will have difficulty against bigger teams until Reggie Johnson returns.

T-Mill: How do you expect the Hurricanes to handle one of the toughest home courts in the nation Tuesday, as Purdue has now won 21 straight at Mackey Arena.

Jerry: Miami did seemed rattled early on in last year's NIT against Alabama who was 18-0 at home at the time. But UM recovered from a slow start to make the game close. The experienced back court of SR Malcolm Grant and JR Durand Scott (both New York City natives) aren't easily shaken and both have the ability to make big-time shots. After all, these guys have played at Cameron Indoor Arena and many other tough ACC venues through their careers. This is not to say some home cooking at Mackey Arena won't play a part; we just think the game will come down more to execution and match-ups, rather than 'Cane players becoming rattled. We're also jealous you guys have a packed house all the time, but don't tell anyone we revealed that.

T-Mill: Do you think that Miami is currently an NCAA tournament caliber team? Do they need this game badly for their resume?

Jerry: At the moment they appear to be a bubble team, but a great deal of their hopes are dependent on the return of Big Reggie. Right now they are trying to keep their head above water while learning a new system. Since the 'Canes still have games against Memphis and West Virginia as well as a full ACC schedule ahead of them, I would not call this a must win just yet, but a win on the road against a high-quality Purdue team at would definitely bolster their resume for Selection Sunday.

T-Mill: How do the Canes stack up against the rest of the ACC, especially Duke and UNC.

Jerry: Until they get Johnson back . . . not so good. In all reality no one matches up well with Duke or UNC as they are elite teams crammed full of McDonald's All-Americans. In Grant and Scott the 'Canes do have a back court capable of matching up with anyone. Their reserve G/F's such as Garrius Adams, Trey McKinney-Jones and Rion Brown are skilled and athletic (especially TMJ). But right now they are real small up front and very susceptible to bigger front lines.

T-Mill: What is Miami's plan to handle Purdue's normally stifling man-to-man defense?

Jerry: We hope they have one (LOL). In all seriousness, we think the biggest surprise this year has been Shane Larkin. Cleared late by the NCAA after transferring from DePaul before the season started, Larkin has been getting more minutes every game. He is the first true PG the 'Canes have had in several years. His quickness on the perimeter and ability to penetrate and kick the ball out for open 3's might be a key in beating Purdue, especially considering their tight man defense. The 'Canes have struggled offensively so far this year, especially against zone defense, but slashers like Scott and McKinney-Jones that may thrive on one-on-one match-ups. If SO C Kenny Kadji (6'11 251) shows up to play, he could be a big factor in deciding the outcome.

Miami might choose to counter defense with defense, following Alabama's strategy earlier in the season against the Boilermakers. Since size match-ups don't look to be a problem against Purdue, the question is whether or not the 'Canes have the horses to chase Purdue around and execute Coach Larranaga's famed 'scramble' defense. The 'Canes have struggled offensively so far this year, but they have some dead-eye shooters and athletic players that may be thankful to get a reprieve from facing the zone.