This year's Miami Basketball team came into the season with the highest preseason ranking in school history, so understandably expectations are high for the Hurricanes. But how far can this team really go? Many fans have speculated, however, I wanted to take a different conceptual approach to the topic by comparing this year's team to the most successful team in the program's history, which was the 2012-13 Canes led by All-American Shane Larkin.
Just a quick refresher, the 2012-13 Canes went 29-7 including 15-3 in the ACC. Larkin and company won both the ACC Regular Season and Tournament titles en route to a Sweet 16 appearance. They were one of the best defensive teams in the country, allowing only 60.6 points per game, and they were efficient on the offensive end, shooting 45% from the field and 36% from 3 as a team. That season was truly special, as I'm sure most Miami Basketball fans remember this moment:
Any college basketball fan can appreciate their team running North Carolina off the floor with an alley-oop that gets Lebron James and Dwyane Wade onto their feet. North Carolina would lose to Miami again later on in the ACC Tournament finale, and a #1 ranked Duke would also be humbled in Miami due to a 27-point shellacking. While their NCAA tourney loss to Marquette left everyone wondering what could've been for this team, overall it was definitely a season to remember.
The 2012-13 Miami Hurricanes were a pretty complete team with no glaring weaknesses. So let's look at the top players on that team and match them up with players on the current Hurricanes squad based on their production and skill sets.
Shane Larkin 2017 Counterpart: Bruce Brown Jr.
Shane Larkin was one of the younger members on that team, but he was undoubtedly the leader in terms of production. The sophomore averaged 14.5 points, 4.5 assists, 3.8 rebounds, and 1.9 steals per game. finishing the season as a National Player of the Year candidate. Larkin also had some freakish athleticism, posting the highest vertical jump at the combine leading up to being selected in the 1st round of the NBA Draft. Bruce Brown Jr. matches up with Larkin as the overall production leader of this year's team. Brown is a threat to post a triple-double on any given night, and the sophomore is getting a lot of buzz as a potential 1st round pick in the upcoming NBA Draft. The most notable difference between the two players is their size, as Brown measures 6'5", while Larkin was closer to 6'0". Larkin was a better shooter, hitting 40% of his shots from behind the arc compared to Brown hitting at 35%. Brown makes up for the difference in scoring production with his ability to pull in rebounds, set up teammates and play quality defense. This year's Canes match up well in this case.
Durand Scott's 2017 Counterpart: Ja'Quan Newton
Durand Scott was a talented combo guard that had a knack for putting the ball in the basket. He had great size at 6'5", and could hit the outside shot or get to the rim and finish. Most of the playmaking duties went to Shane Larkin, as Scott's assist-to-turnover ratio (1.3:1) would have left a lot to be desired had he been the Canes primary ball handler. Scott was the second leading scorer at 13.1 points per game, but he also did his share on the glass, pulling in 4 boards per game. While Ja'Quan Newton has many similar qualities with his style of play and production, he typically is the primary ball handler for the current edition of the Canes. I would give Newton the nod with his ability to get to the basket, but Scott definitely outpaces Newton when it comes to defense and rebounding. I would like to see Newton get more involved in other parts of the game and take better care of the basketball, especially when his shot isn't falling. Still, not a much of a drop off at all for this year's team.
Reggie Johnson's 2017 Counterpart: Dewan Huell
This is where we start to see the the past and present differentiate themselves. Reggie Johnson was somewhat of a plodding, classic big man who was immovable on the block, but had a real talent for scoring with his back to the basket. Johnson had a wide array of post moves at his disposal, and had the ability to take over games when he was force-fed the rock. He lack of lateral movement and jumping ability limited his prospects as a rim protector, but his stature allowed him to pull down a team-best 7 rebounds per game. Dewan Huell was a more-heralded recruit coming out of high school, mostly due to his superior athletic ability. Huell can run the floor extremely well for someone who's 6'10", and can get above the rim to catch lobs on the offensive end or send away shots on the defensive end. Johnson definitely had a much more polished offensive game, as Huell isn't a player you can give the ball down low and expect a bucket. Where Huell excels, is his ability to leave opposing big men is his wake on pick-and-rolls. I would give the current Canes the advantage here, as Huell contributes more as a whole than Big Reg.
Trey McKinney-Jones 2017 Counterpart: Dejan Vasiljevic
One of the more unheralded players from the 2013 Canes was Trey McKinney-Jones. The transfer from UW-Milwaukee stepped in to be a reliable 3 point shooter who also did whatever he could to contribute elsewhere on offense as well as on defense. He shot 39% from 3 that season, and was 3rd on the team in assists and steals. McKinney-Jones was a consistent scorer, putting up 9.2 points per game. Dejan Vasiljevic plays a similar role on the current edition of Miami Basketball, although he is not on the same level as far as athleticism or consistency in production. DJ has started off this year on a hot streak, with scoring contributions of 30, 7, and 16 points in the scrimmage and 2 non-conference games so far. TMJ definitely pushes the needle in the direction of 2013, although DJ is showing that he may be able to close that gap and bring more to the table this season.
Julian Gamble's 2017 Counterpart: Ebuka Izundu
Julian Gamble transitioned from the bench to a starting role early on in the 2012-13 season and did not disappoint. Despite a somewhat limited skill set, Gamble averaged 6.5 points per game shooting 56% from the field, pulling down 4.9 boards per game and leading the Canes in blocks with 63 on the season. While Reggie Johnson was considered more talented on the offensive end, Gamble scored almost as much as Johnson and at a better rate, which prompted Gamble's promotion to the starting lineup. His effort could never be questioned, as I have images ingrained in my mind of the 6'10" center diving for lose balls and hustling up and down the court. Ebuka Izundu gives similar effort, but in a leaner and more athletic package. Izundu has been terrorizing defenses so far with his ability to beat other big men to the basket without the ball, leading to easy dunk after easy dunk.
You can read more about my assessment of Miami's current big men here: Big Fellas: How Miami's Big Men May Be the Key to ACC and Tourney Success
While Gamble's development truly was a revelation for the 2013 Canes, I'll give the advantage in this matchup to Izundu, who is developing into a reliable scorer and an elite level shot blocker and rebounder.
Rion Brown's 2017 Counterpart: Lonnie Walker IV
Rion Brown took a somewhat reduced role on the 2012-13 Hurricanes after he started ascending the season prior as one of Miami's top scoring options. Trey McKinney-Jones took over a starting spot in 2013, and Brown remained on the bench as a sixth man. Brown looked like a prototypical 3-and-D wing that is coveted in today's NBA: good size, very athletic, and a streaky shooter from behind the arc. Brown struggled somewhat in 2013, shooting 29% from 3 after shooting 39% the year prior, but he also played a lot of crucial minutes on the defensive end. As of now, the current Cane filling this role is the impressive freshman Lonnie Walker IV. In his 3 games so far, Walker has shown that he possesses off-the-chart athleticism with a smooth jumper and a mature feel for facilitating in the offense. The one-and-done prospect could move into the starting lineup at some point because of his immense talent, but for now he is giving the 2017-18 Canes a huge playmaker off of the bench. Advantage new-school Canes.
2013 Team Enigma: Kenny Kadji
2017 Team Enigma: Anthony Lawrence Jr
Kenny Kadji was a very unique player that has no counterpart on the current Miami Basketball team. Kadji was a 6'11" stretch forward that could put the ball on the floor and create his own shot to the tune of 12.9 points per game. He was a skilled scorer from anywhere on the court, shooting 47% from the field and 35% from behind the arc. The pick-and-roll/pick-and-pop game with Kadji and Shane Larkin was lethal to defenses in the ACC. Kadji didn't just live on the perimeter, however, he banged with the big boys inside pulling down 6.8 boards per game.
Anthony Lawrence Jr. is an athletic wing with great size at 6'7". Amp is the swiss army knife the current Canes rely on to guard multiple positions and fill in the gaps on the offensive end. He has been a streaky performer so far, but has the potential to become a regular lunch pail type player. While Lawrence and Kadji don't exactly match up in their role for the team, Kadji gets the nod here for his superior production.
From this study of the personnel from what will probably go down as 2 of the best teams in school history, it's reasonable to expect the 2017 Canes to compete for an ACC Championship and hopefully make a run in the NCAA Tourney. The current Miami Hurricanes have a solid core of players (like the team in 2013) that should match up favorably with most teams on their schedule. If this season is anything like 2013, we're in for a fun ride.