In Miami's surprising opening game loss to St. Francis (N.Y.) there were a number of disconcerting factors. High turnover on the roster and a key injury to highly touted freshman Deandre Burnett left their offense completely out of sync.
But even more alarming was the amount of easy inside looks that SFNY got against the UM defense.
Three days later the 'Canes again struggled to contain their opponent in an 81-80 OT win over Georgia Southern.
But perhaps the low point was on 11/21, when UCF scored time and time again on takes to the basket. The 63-58 score is not indicative of how poorly the Hurricanes defended dribble drives.
The new rule changes designed to eliminate hand checks and reduce charges had made it challenging for teams across the country to defend, including Miami.
That and they simply weren't communicating and providing help to each other on D.
So Coach Jim Larranaga dug deep in his rolodex and contacted former Louisville Assistant Ralph Williard and former Syracuse Assistant Bernie Fine for a crash course on Zone.
"I saw us giving up a lot of easy baskets in our man-to-man and decided, ‘It doesn’t look like this is going to be our bread-and-butter defense,’"Larranaga said back on 1/13. "It was kind of out of necessity."
Whatever they told him, it worked wonders.
Starting on 1/4 Vs Syracuse, when the zone really became a permanent staple, Miami allowed just 59 ppg. On the season, largely bolstered by the switch, they finished 10th Nationally in scoring defense.
In short, in a season where the Hurricanes really struggled to consistently shoot and put points on the board, they remained highly competitive all season because of their D.
It was not a classic 2-3 zone, but rather a match-up zone with many man principles.
It capitalized on the long wingspans of perimeter players like Rion Brown, Davon Reed, The Super Athletic Erik Swoope, and Garrius Adams. And it protected the deficiencies of Manu Lecomte, while he learned to become a better individual defender.
Big men Raphael Akpejori, Tonye Jekiri, and Donnavan Kirk also excelled as rim protectors in the scheme.
Perhaps its' one shortcoming was it left open many an offensive rebound for 'Canes opponents. But the zone's positives far outweigh its downfalls.
UM was clearly a better, more competitive team the moment the switch was made. With out the switch I highly doubt the Hurricanes win 16 games.
And why is all of this so important?
First and foremost, coming off a historic 2012-13 season it did not behoove the program to take a huge step backward. Remaining competitive was crucial to both fan support and recruiting.
But even more importantly, the change to zone demonstrated that Miami has a coaching staff that can think out of the box, and will do anything they can to help the team win.
And with the 'Canes talent level expected to be upgraded significantly next year, that is a scary thought for the rest of the ACC going forward.
For more on what exactly a Match Up Zone Defense is: