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Top Recruit Gives Miami Angst

Wednesday, January 29, 2014 9:26am
By: Miami Insider

CORAL GABLES – Defensive end Chad Thomas – Miami’s sole five-star recruit – is making Hurricane fans a bit jittery.

Thomas may be wearing Miami green but he also likes the red carpet treatment from Florida State and Alabama in the final weeks of college football recruiting season.

The 6-5, 229-pound Thomas – ranked as the nation’s second-best player at defensive end – has a high interest in being a musician. Right now, he’s included a few dance moves during the recruiting process and his comments about his FSU trip being a 10 and being impressed with the school’s music program have Canes’ faithful freaking out, not rocking out.

“If you’re 17 or 18 and you’re going to Tallahassee or Tuscaloosa and they’re rolling out the red carpet and giving you steak and foods you don’t normally eat, it looks good for the moment,” said Larry Blustein, a veteran recruiting analyst. “A good meal, a good time can sway kids. That’s the recruiting process. That’s why schools put their best foot forward.

“Some kids like to be lured in with that type of attention. It’s like the Johnny Be Good movie with Michael Hall. Show him enough things and you can win a scholarship.”

Blustein said Miami couldn’t get with Thomas for what he considers a big key – the final visit. As a result, it’ll be sweaty palms day until Feb. 5.

Thomas told Canesport he remains “solid” with Miami while he also tweeted out a picture of him wearing Hurricanes shorts, shirt and ski cap. However, he also said he may not rule out FSU and Alabama until signing day.

With 12 players listed among ESPN’s top 300, Miami’s recruiting class is solid. But Thomas is a plum for a team that has had problems along the defensive front.

For a program that has seen three players de-commit in the past couple of weeks, these are anxious times.

Canes Face More On-Court Tests

The good news is that the marquee basketball teams in the ACC – Syracuse, Duke, North Carolina – already have played Miami.

The bad news is that the Hurricanes still could have quite a few NCAA teams left on their schedule.

That’s coach Jim Larrañaga’s thoughts, anyway. He hasn’t had one of those talks with his players that resemble, “Hey guys, the worst is over. It should be easier from now on.”

“Not at this point,” Larrañaga said. “When I look at the ACC, I see eight or 10 teams that can get in the NCAA Tournament. There’s a lot of good programs. There are teams that can get hot and with the caliber of teams they beat, they can move up the power rankings.”

Of the six teams in the top 50 or so in RPI, Miami has played four – the Orange twice, the Blue Devils, Tar Heels and Florida State. Pittsburgh and Virginia are the other two, and the Hurricanes will play them later this season.

With an RPI in the top 90, Miami still has an outside shot as an NCAA at-large bid, something few people could’ve even dreamed of at the start of the season. The Hurricanes are 3-6 against top-100 teams and they’ll likely have another nine contests against those level foes by the regular season’s end. If Miami goes 10-8 in ACC play and wins a couple of conference tourney games, it’ll be at 20 wins, which gets the Hurricanes in bubble talk.

Again, such talk would’ve been heresy after losses to St. Francis (N.Y), Central Florida and Virginia Tech.

“If we had won twice (against Duke and Syracuse), we would’ve gotten votes in the Top 25,”Larrañaga said. “It’s not a forgiving conference, but if you can win, it’s a major plus to your résumé.”

However, Larrañaga knows his team has little margin for error. The Hurricanes still haven’t allowed 70 points since late November, but they haven’t reached that mark offensively in conference play, either.

Against Virginia Tech, FSU and Syracuse at home, Miami just didn’t have the offensive firepower to make plays down the stretch. The lack of veteran experience really sticks out during crunch time when either executing a play needs to be done or somebody needs to make a clutch shot.

Syracuse outscored Miami 15-3 in the final 5:24, FSU outscored Miami 13-2 in the final 4:06 and Virginia Tech outscored Miami 8-1 in the final 3:23 of regulation before it won in overtime.

“The very, very good teams play close games and win,” Larrañaga said. “The teams that struggle play close games but lose.”

Despite the solid defense, the one area that is hurting Miami is limiting teams to one shot. Every ACC foe has had double figures in offensive rebounds against the Hurricanes, with the average just under 14.

“That shouldn’t happen,” Larrañaga said. “We run into a little challenge in that we play zone, but that shouldn’t be a weakness. We need to stay focused.

“Rebounding is a skill just like shooting. It does require effort, but effort alone will not work. You have to fight for position. It’s an ability to anticipate the shot missing, blocking out your man and going after it.

“When the ball goes off the rim, you have to attack it with both hands. Against Syracuse, there were five opportunities to rebound, but we had a kid go after it with one hand. It gets knocked around, and Syracuse winds up with it. Those kind of buckets we can’t allow.”

The one good thing is that crowds have been much better at Bank United Center. In 10 games, the Hurricanes have averaged a little more than 5,900 per game.

Not great – particularly for a team that went to the Sweet 16 last season – but significantly better than past years.