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Is Canes Hoops Just Young or Unlucky?

Miami has shown tons of promise this season, but has struggled to avoid the big letdown. Does this team need time or just luck?

NCAA Basketball: Virginia at Miami
Freshman Chris Lykes had a career-high 19 points against Virginia, but that wasn’t enough as the Canes lost 59-50 Tuesday evening.
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Canes started off the season ranked 13th in the polls, one of the favorites to win the ACC, and a team poised to make a deep tournament run. Fast forward to now, and the Canes are a talented team that has struggled to close out some games, deal with certain defenses, and get consistent performances out of their top players. Add to that an injury to the leader of the team Bruce Brown Jr, and many Canes fans could have seen this season going a lot better. Many of the difficulties in Coral Gables this season can fall into two categories, too young or just unlucky. But which is the better explanation. Let’s take a look.

Too Young

The Canes starting lineup currently consists of two freshman, two sophomore, and a junior. The Canes do have senior Ja’Quan Newton coming off of the bench, but he has seen his minutes dip this season as he has struggled with decision-making. Even injured guard Bruce Brown Jr is only a sophomore. Yes, we do live in the time when College Basketball is often ruled by one-and-done players, but most of the top programs still have some upperclassman leadership to provide a steadying hand throughout the season. We’ve seen teams like Duke, with 3 surefire lottery picks in their lineup, struggle to deal with teams like Boston College, NC State and St. John’s, who are all in the middle of their conferences’ hierarchies because of their lineups being composed of so much youth. Lonnie Walker IV has looked the part of a lottery pick on many occasions this season, but also has nights like his 6 point performance against Virginia. Dewan Huell, while still looking much improved from his freshman campaign, has been a non-factor in many games down the stretch, unlike his consistent dominance of the paint early in the season. Chris Lykes has filled in admirably at the point, a position with little identity early on, but is feast or famine because of his size. Lykes either terrorizes defenses because of his speed and ability to fit through tight spaces, or is shut out because he gets bumped around all over the court. This theme runs through the entire squad, as no one currently can be relied on for day-in day-out, lunchpail consistency. Some have blamed Coach Larranaga for not preparing his players or being able to adjust, but I don’t buy that a coach as talented as ours is suddenly dumbfounded after years of steady performance. Sometimes, players just need to catch up with the learning curve.

NCAA Basketball: Virginia at Miami
Lonnie Walker IV was given the opportunity to shine, but has also been subjected to the pressure of the spotlight.
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Too Unlucky

Luck often seems like a copout when you can’t really figure out what’s wrong. But we all can acknowledge that are things that happen in sports that are out of your control and could derail an entire season. Teams like Notre Dame have fallen further from their expectations than Miami, as the Irish began the season ranked 14th (right behind the Canes) and due to an injury to star forward Bonzie Colson, are likely staying home in March. Bruce Brown Jr, while still playing a valuable role, was having an up-and-down season that many would attribute to a nagging injury that eventually benched him for 6-8 weeks later in the season. Coach Larranaga caught the flu bug just before the Canes took the court against Boston College, and his presence was missed late in the game as the Canes blew a lead and lost 72-70. There have been missed calls here and there that could have pushed a game one way or another. There were some plays against Duke where the ball bounced the Blue Devils way despite solid efforts by Miami players, and that gave Duke enough momentum to complete the comeback.

The amount of talent found on the Canes this season is encouraging to many fans, we’ve recruited well and are reaping the benefits. But to take the program to the next level, you need more than talent. You need experience, execution, and sometimes luck. Hopefully, the Canes will start to match up their talent with execution tomorrow when the Syracuse Orange come to town. While the Canes should win, the presence of the 2-3 zone and of Cuse’s potent backcourt of Tyus Battle and Frank Howard could spell trouble for Miami. What do you think about the Canes’ season so far? Let us know in the comments.