'Canes Can't Afford to Get Blown Away

Dec. 12, 2001

Miami was a legit preseason sleeper nationally and in the Big East. The ‘Canes still are, but few have seen or read about them outside of South Florida.

All that can change Saturday if undefeated but unknown Miami (8-0) beats Indiana (fresh off wins over Notre Dame and Ball State) in the Orange Bowl Classic — a doubleheader with Charlotte-Florida — in Miami.

“There’s no question that this game is what it is against Indiana,” Miami coach Perry Clark said. “This is a game that is very important to us and it especially will be come March.”

Clark isn’t hiding behind some coach speak of “one game at a time,” or it’s only December kind of stuff. He knows the real deal. If the ‘Canes don’t win two of the next three games — the second against either Florida or Charlotte with the third being LSU — then Miami might look back at December and wonder what could have been if they hadn’t stumbled through the difficult part of their non-conference schedule.

Miami beat up on Eastern Michigan and UAB in the Virgin Islands to open the season. The ‘Canes had to go down to the final minutes to beat Clemson in the final of the six-team tournament. But then came the guarantee wins over Lafayette, Florida Atlantic, Howard and nearby Florida International before a decent road win at Texas A&M on Saturday.

But it’s not a schedule that exactly jumps out as a saying this team should be in the top 25.

Clark knew that but was building a schedule that would put the ‘Canes in position to be undefeated, but more important, confident heading into the heart of it against Indiana.

“I liked what Boston College did last season,” Clark said. “They did a magnificent job getting games to give them a psychological boost. That’s what we got. We got confidence and were able to believe in what we’re doing. But this game will give us a gauge at where we are. We don’t just want to prove to other people that we can win this, because we do need some quality non-conference wins. Our schedule was put together right for our team.”

Clark moved 6-foot-7 John Salmons to the point, which could cause some matchup problems for Big East teams trying to defend him. He’s not like former SMU 6-7 point Jeryl Sasser (he doesn’t have the quick drive to the basket), but he can control the basketball and dictate tempo. It’s working with him averaging 13.7 points and 4.6 assists a game.

“He won’t blow past people with his dribble but he makes good decisions and he’s shooting the ball better,” Clark said of Salmons

Meanwhile, Darius Rice, the all-American candidate and potential Big East player of the year, is leading the ‘Canes in scoring (14.3 ppg), but more importantly he’s able, Clark says, to influence the outcome of a game.

“That’s what will make him a more valuable player,” Clark said.

Elton Tyler, who was struggling the first month of the season after sitting out last season, is rebounding the ball better. Tyler and James Jones give the ‘Canes shot-blockers and rebounders with Rice. Add Marcus Barnes to shoot from the wing and the ‘Canes still have one of the most athletic five in the Big East.

Maybe, they’ll be worthy of being considered nationally in the same regard, if they can beat Indiana.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com