These are trying times for Canes fans. There’s plenty of turmoil across both the football and basketball programs. This is also the holiday season, however, so it’s not a time for focusing on all the shortcomings of our programs, but instead a time for appreciating the good and imagining the possibilities. While the football season is finished and all of its questions now related to the offseason, let’s look at Canes Hoops, whose season is just getting started.
Coach Larranaga and the Canes had plenty of obstacles before the season even started: the losses of 3 top players in Lonnie Walker(NBA Draft), Bruce Brown Jr(NBA Draft) and Ja’Quan Newton(graduation), an empty recruiting class due to last year’s FBI investigation, and Dewan Hernandez being wrapped up in an eligibility review due to documents from the same FBI investigation. Now, with nearly the entire non-conference slate complete, the Canes have lost another member of their frontcourt due to injury, they’ve stumbled through a 4-game losing streak, and they’ve seen their rotation shortened to 7 scholarship players.
Now for the positives. Miami was able to secure 2 commitments in the early signing period for 2019. Ebuka Izundu has taken steps forward in his new starting role. and the Canes have shown flashes of excellence on the offensive and defensive ends of the floor. Still, the ACC is the toughest conference in all of college basketball, so it’s hard to imagine Miami succeeding when the team is not at its best with plenty of factors holding it back. Luckily, there is a recent case study on how a team with a short bench and plenty of distractions can have a successful season: last season’s Syracuse Orange.
Syracuse came into 2017-18 with 10 departures from the prior season. The Orange had one scholarship senior, Geno Thorpe, a grad transfer who would only play in only 6 games all season. Jim Boeheim traversed their grueling schedule with only 7 players seeing the court in more than half of the games. In the season prior, Cuse was only selected for the NIT and was ousted in the second round. The 2018 squad appeared flawed for the majority of the season, finishing 11th in the ACC with a 8-10 conference record, and a second-round exit in the ACC Tournament.
The Orange’s fortunes quickly turned on Selection Sunday, when they were given an 11-seed and a First Four matchup against Arizona State. After defeating the Sun Devils, Syracuse pulled out a second-consecutive single-digit victory over 6-seed TCU. In the round of 32, the Orange lined up across from Miles Bridges and Michigan State, who eliminated Miami the year prior. Syracuse was still up for the challenge, knocking off the Spartans to reach the Sweet 16. Unfortunately, next up was fellow ACC team Duke, and despite another herculean effort, Syracuse finally fell in a crushing 4-point defeat. Still, the 11th place team in the ACC finished as one of the top 16 teams in the nation.
Here are three reasons why the Canes could follow a similar path to last season’s Syracuse team:
1. A strong starting lineup
The Canes are the only team in the ACC with 5 different players averaging double-digits in scoring. Only Sam Waardenburg has started for the Canes and is not averaging double-digits. Syracuse had one of the ACC’s leading scorers in Tyus Battle, strong NBA-draft prospect Oshae Brissett, and one of the ACC’s top passers in Frank Howard.
2. A long, athletic defense
Syracuse is known for the zone defense, which is a wrinkle every opponent has to adjust to. Paired with the great size and length of Battle, Howard, Brissett, Marek Dolezaj, Paschal Chukwu, Matthew Moyer and Bourama Sidibe, with an average height of 6’8.5”, and you have a turnover-creating, paint-stuffing machine. The Canes don’t have quite the same size, but with Waardenburg, Izundu, Anthony Lawrence II, and Anthony Mack, the majority of the Canes rotation is long and athletic. We’ve seen Coach Larranaga start to experiment with a 1-2-2 zone, so Miami should be able to give opponents trouble on that end.
3. A championship-caliber coach
Jim Boeheim is in his 43rd season, and has an impressive resume of a national championship, 3 national championship appearances, 5 trips to the Final Four, 7 trips to the Elite Eight, 19 Sweet 16 appearances, and 33 appearances in the NCAA Tournament. His defense is iconic, and he is a regular member of USA Basketball’s coaching staff. Jim Larranaga does not have quite the same resume, but he does have 638 career wins, 6 regular season conference championships, 4 conference tournament titles, 9 NCAA Tournament appearances, several national coach of the year awards, and the feat of taking George Mason to the Final Four in 2006. Both coaches are well-respected and should be expected to lead their teams to success through tough situations.
There are plenty of reasons to believe this could be a tough year for Canes Hoops. As the new year approaches, don’t be too quick to write off this Miami squad. Miami returns to the court of their final non-conference game against Campbell on Saturday at 4:00pm ET.