With a 2-2 conference record following an unexceptional out-of-conference performance, the young Canes basketball team has some work to do to achieve the consistency necessary to make a major impact this season (and a ticket to the Big Dance in March).
Currently, both ESPN’s Joe Lunardi and CBS Sports’ Jerry Palm have Miami as a 10 seed in March, in spite of two wins of 18-plus points against fellow NCAA tournament contenders NC State and Pittsburgh that made the Hurricanes look like a potentially tough out for any opponent. Led by a tough defense that rates as 11th best nationally, per KenPom.com’s adjusted defense rankings, and is holding ACC opponents to 61.5 points per game (59.3 points per game over the whole season, good for fourth in the nation), opponents are finding few easy buckets against Miami. Yet those buckets can be hard to come by for the Hurricanes as well, who are averaging just 67.5 points in ACC play (last in the conference) and are in the bottom third in nearly all offensive statistics. But the split personality exists even on the same side of the ball – in its blowout win at Pittsburgh, the team turned the ball over 15 times, but added 17 assists and hit 10 three-pointers. Coach Jim Larrañaga liked that the ball didn’t “stick” as much, but still prefers it stays with his team. “We really want to get 16 assists every game, and this was one of the games where we were able to do that,” Larrañaga said. “We still have way too many turnovers and we have to improve that aspect of our offense.”
The ratio was much rougher on the Hurricanes in its heartbreaking home loss to Notre Dame just two days earlier, where the team had 13 turnovers but only seven assists in a game where neither team shot well. Though the defense was stout for most of the game, keeping Notre Dame well under its 81 points per game average and blocking 12 shots, Miami only had three steals and was unable to turn these into easy buckets. In the end, poor shooting and turnovers doomed the Hurricanes. Looking at a box score where Miami out-rebounded Notre Dame and matched them in shooting, Larrañaga summed up where the team is currently. “We talk all of the time about how important it is to do the little things well...the game came down to little things, he said. “We turned the ball over at critical times...we are a good free-throw shooting team, but we went 8-of-14 from the foul line and they went 12-of-14. So we shot the same number of free throws that they did, but they outscored us by four…when we have 13 turnovers and they have six, that really is the difference in the game, the free throws and the turnovers.”
As the season moves forward, the Hurricanes need to play more complete games as they did in Pittsburgh, rather than struggling on one end of the court like against Notre Dame or Syracuse. Miami has faced a lot of zone this year, reducing the effectiveness of its primary ball handlers and its pick-and-roll offense. The key to a more effective offense starts with reducing turnovers and producing more assists, which is surely a point of emphasis in practice. The ACC schedule makers haven’t done Miami, which had by some preseason measures the toughest conference schedule in the entire country, any favors. The Hurricanes have two more road games up next, at a pesky Wake Forest team that sports a top 40 RPI, and at Cameron Indoor against #18 Duke. Both teams are in the top 50 in offense, and even with stingy defense, it could be a long week in North Carolina if Miami gives away too many possessions.
We’ll find out soon which Miami Hurricanes team shows up.
A special shout out to CanesHoops Consigliere Josh Frank (@JoshDaCane) for his additions to this piece and my ace photographer (and daughter) Abby Strauzer for taking such great pictures and letting us use them!