In advance of our season opener this Friday against Gardner-Webb, let’s look at who will set the tone for our 13th ranked Hurricanes this season. Miami returns the majority of its team that finished 21-12 and reached the first round of the NCAA tournament, Davon Reed and Kamari Murphy are the only major contributors gone from last year’s squad, and that continuity should bode well on the defensive end for the Canes. Recreating their strong defensive identity (Miami ranked 24th nationally in points allowed per game at 64.1) will be crucial for Miami to walk away with the ACC title and make a deep run in the tournament this season. We’re going to look at 3 key defensive areas, lockdown defense on the perimeter, rim protection and hitting the defensive boards.
Best Lockdown Defender: Bruce Brown
Despite playing in the conference with possibly the best collection of guards in the country, the Canes were still able to perform well defensively last year thanks to the active defense of Bruce Brown. Dennis Smith Jr, Joel Berry II, Bonzie Colson and Grayson Allen are a few names you’ve almost definitely heard of, and they are all matchups Brown had to deal with throughout the season. Brown led the Canes with 49 steals last year (1.48 per game), and many of those steals led to his gaudy production on the other end (Brown was 3rd on the team in scoring and led the Canes in assists). Miami will need those transition opportunities again this year to break open games. Anthony Lawrence was not far behind Brown with 42 steals last year, and with incoming freshman Lonnie Walker IV joining the Canes on the perimeter, hopefully Brown and co. can terrorize the guards of the ACC once again.
Best Rim Protector: Ebuka Izundu
Miami will boast one of the tallest frontcourts in the ACC this year, with Izundu (6’10”) Dewan Huell (6’11”) Rodney Miller (7’0”) and Deng Gak (6’9”) patrolling the paint. Izundu and Huell were the primary rim protectors along with former Cane Kamari Murphy. Both Izundu and Huell finished the year with 25 blocks, however Izundu accumulated those rejections in 140 less minutes. You could still make an argument for Huell being a more efficient rim protector since he accrued 14 less fouls, but we’ll give the nod to Izundu as his main calling is to protect the rim, while Huell will be asked to expand his responsibilities this season. It definitely doesn't hurt to have 2 interior defenders, and hopefully the great size the Canes have this season will be able to shore up the back end.
Best Defensive Rebounder: Anthony Lawrence
The defensive glass may be the one area Miami will miss Davon Reed and Kamari Murphy the most, as they were the Canes 1st and 3rd best rebounders last season. The Canes second leading rebounder was Bruce Brown at 5.6 rebounds per game, but for the sake of spreading the love around we’ll give Anthony Lawrence the preseason title here. Lawrence brought in 3.8 rebounds per game last season, good for 4th on the team. Lawrence was very active on the defensive end last year, as he was among the team leaders in steals and blocks as well. It isn’t a great sign when 3 of your top 4 rebounders are guards, although Miami typically plays 3-4 guards regularly. Ebuka Izundu and Dewan Huell will need to step up in this area this season to eliminate second-chance opportunities that can be extremely costly in those close conference matchups.
Coach Larranaga has done a great job establishing a strong defensive identity in Miami throughout his time here, and with our assortment of long, athletic, guards and wing players and great height inside, the Canes have a great shot at becoming one of the best defensive squads in the conference, if not the country. It’s gonna be another fun season in Coral Gables.