#15 Miami Hurricanes (Record:7-0)
Jim Larranaga’s team was not expected to make much noise this season. The ‘Canes entered the year with a very young roster that didn’t have much experience playing with each other, having to integrate five freshman, a lone senior (a graduate transfer from Niagra), and a couple other transfers who sat out last season. Miami didn’t receive a single vote in the AP Preseason ranking and secured only one vote in the USA Today Coaches Poll.
As of today, however, the ‘Canes sit at #15 in both the AP and Coaches polls, clearly gaining respect after two impressive victories against then-8th ranked Florida Gators and #24 Illinois Fighting Illini.
Their best players have been Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan, both of whom transferred from Big 12 schools. Rodriguez, the junior transfer from Kansas State, is the team’s emotional leader. He provides steady guard play and gives strong defensive output. Rodriguez leads the team in assists, steals, free throw attempts, and is second on the team in scoring. McClellan, the Texas transfer, has given the ‘Canes a strong offensive punch, averaging 16.1 points per game with a 59% field goal percentage and a 42% 3-point field goal percentage. He’s also second on the team in rebounds and assists. What makes Miami a potentially dangerous team, though, is their solid depth off the bench. Coach Larranaga trots out four freshman in the second unit, all of whom combine for nearly 20 bench points.
Miami plays Green Bay-Phoenix on Saturday, which won’t be an easy game. The early season tests have provided Miami with challenges that will only help the team grow in time for the tough ACC schedule; thus far the ‘Canes have done well.
#16 West Virginia Mountaineers (Record:7-0):
Much like Miami, the now-undefeated Mountaineers have exceeded the initial expectations placed on them. Bob Huggins’ team only secured one AP Preseason Poll vote after an uneven 2013-14 season, in which they only won 17 games.
They jumped into the top-25 after a very impressive 10-point win over the UConn Huskies in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off Championship game. Their full court press mystified UConn for much of the game to the tune of 19 forced turnovers.
Bob Huggins’ team is a rugged, tough, and active bunch, as evidenced by the nation-leading 13.9 steals per game. They get a ton of shots up and score at one of the highest clips in the country. They are lead by the ever-improving Juwan Staten, who is averaging 14.3 points per game with 4.3 assists. Last year Staten was named to the All-Big 12 First Team and All-Defensive Team, and looks to do the same this season. To supplement Staten’s production, Junior College transfer Jonathan Holton has put up stellar numbers of his own, averaging 12.6 points, 8.0 rebounds, 1.4 blocks and 2.1 steals. Holton is every bit the consummate fiery, competitive player, and his combination of length and agility give Bob Huggins a very dangerous forward at the top of his press. Sophomore Devin Williams has improved upon his freshman campaign, averaging 11.8 points and a team-leading 8.1 rebounds and 6.6 free throw attempts.
The Mountaineers are a deep team with balanced scoring outside of their big 3. The team will face a tough test on Thursday night against the LSU Tigers who boast a strong front line. Regardless of the outcome, look for Bob Huggins’ team to be a force in the Big 12.