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Canes Hoops: Best and Worst of Non-conference Play

A look at the best and worst of the 11-1 ‘Canes season as they head into ACC play

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BEST: Miami defeats 12th ranked Minnesota 86-81 in their first true road test of the season

Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

It’s still, obviously, the ‘Canes best win of the season and showcased a talented and gritty roster that was willing to do whatever it took to take down the Golden Gophers at a sold out Williams Arena. Miami had just found their way into the top 10 of the AP poll, yet just about everyone across the country was predicting a Minnesota win. The ‘Canes had other plans. Led by a 23 point performance from Dewan Huell, the ‘Canes managed to outscore the Gophers in the second half on their way to a solid, true road, non-conference win. Minnesota tumbled in the next few games, but has since righted the ship and now sits at 11-3 with an RPI if 47 (the second highest RPI victory on the ‘Canes schedule behind only Middle Tennessee). This was a game that saw the ‘Canes looking like true national contenders on the road against a power five opponent and is hopefully a sign of things to come.

WORST: The ‘Canes drop the Semifinal game of the Diamond Head Classic to New Mexico State

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If the best moment of the non-conference was a quality win, well then the worst moment has to be the only blemish on the ‘Canes resume. The ‘Canes were huge favorites going into the Diamond Head Classic. Ranked 6th in the nation, healthy, and one of just 4 undefeated teams in the entire country, the ‘Canes looked poised to cut through a field that didn’t consist of a single other ranked opponent. Then New Mexico State took the court, more focussed, energized, and ready to spoil Miami’s trip to paradise. Ja’Quan Newton, who is averaging 10.1 PPG, scored just 5 and the bench put up a season low 7, as the Aggies pulled away late to cap off the 63-54 upset. By no means is this a backbreaking loss for the ‘Canes. The Aggies are ranked 41 in the RPI and currently sit at 11-3. So, is this loss as bad as Wofford winning in UNC or Ball State winning in Notre Dame? No, but it was a disappointment for a team that expected to win the tournament and instead found themselves watching the championship game.

BEST: Lonnie Walker IV breaks out against Boston University

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With Bruce Brown Jr. out with an injured hand, Freshman phenom Lonnie Walker finally got his chance to start. After a disappointing performance in his hometown against La Salle, ‘Canes fans were waiting to see what the hype around the 5-star recruit was all about. Walker delivered scoring 26 points, including 5 of 7 from long range, to go along with 7 rebounds. Was this truly a better performance than Bruce Brown’s season opening triple-double against Gardner Webb? Probably not, considering that was just the third triple-double in school history, but it’s what this performance meant for the ‘Canes that makes it so great. It showed that even if Brown can’t go, the ‘Canes have plenty of talent and depth off the bench to make up for his absence. And it also meant that the hype around the young star was real.

WORST: Free Throw Shooting

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It’s been a storyline all season long: when will the ‘Canes figure it out at the charity stripe? The answer for now is hopefully as soon as possible. The ‘Canes are shooting an atrocious 61.3% from the line which ranks them 345 out of 351 in the NCAA. Against the Aggies the ‘Canes actually shot above their season average, knocking down 72.7% of their free throws, but they still left 6 points up on the board. In a game the ‘Canes trailed 54-53 with just 1:25 left, those 5 (Brown missed one with under a minute left) extra points would have been huge in altering the shape of the game. As crazy as it sounds, the shooting has actually been improving, but not nearly fast enough for a team that is now about to face the hardest part of it’s schedule, and hopes to prove that they are one of the elites in college basketball.

BEST: Defense

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For all the inconsistencies the ‘Canes have had, the one thing that has been certain all season is stout defense. 12 games into the season and Miami is giving up just 59.0 PPG, good for 3rd best in the country behind just Virginia and Texas Tech. Miami has only given up 60+ points 4 times all season, an astounding number no matter who the competition. In two of those four games, Miami has given up over 80 points, yet both times the ‘Canes managed to pull out victories, while forcing opportune stops that helped set up the win. Miami averages 37.2 rebounds per games, 6.2 steals, and 4.3 blocks, so while the offense may go quiet at times, the ‘Canes defense should be able to keep them in just about every game. The real test is about to begin, as ACC play kicks off Saturday, but if the ‘Canes defense continues to play the way it has, it’s going to be hard to beat Miami on any given night.