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The Untapped Potential of Canes Hoops

The 2017-18 Hurricanes could be so much more than what they are.

NCAA Basketball: Miami at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

The current edition of Miami Hurricanes men’s basketball entered the season with high expectations. The national spotlight was on the team as they were ranked 13th in the preseason AP Top 25, and boasted a roster with a highly touted freshman (Lonnie Walker IV) and a preseason Wooden Award watchlist player (Bruce Brown Jr.).

Since then, however, things haven’t exactly gone according to plan. The Hurricanes currently find themselves just on the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble with two regular season games remaining.

Their latest contest was a memorable one that came down to a stunning last-second winner from Lonnie Walker after a late 14-point comeback.

The game - and this posession - served as perfect examples of what the Canes have going for them, but also what they are lacking. The team has star power and the types of talents who can get themselves baskets when necessary. Unfortunately, they are also almost entirely stagnant off-the-ball at all times.

Jim Larranaga’s current half-court offensive scheme primarily consists of high pick and roll sets with little variation or creativity. It goes like this: Dewan Huell (or another big man when he sits) sets a screen at the top of the key and rolls after contact, and then the ball-handling guard either penetrates, finds a way to slip it to Huell, or kicks it out to another teammate standing on the perimeter. If nobody is able to get a shot up after the first attempt, they usually reset and run the exact same motion. It is a simple offensive concept that should be the base of the offense.

Unfortunately, if you go back and rewatch the BC game you would struggle to find a possession with anything more elaborate than that. This could also be forgiven if the Hurricanes had a reliable facilitator who made the most of this set, but that is not the case. More often than not the team scores through brute force.

NCAA Basketball: Miami at Notre Dame
Amp Lawrence (right) executing Miami’s patented ‘brute force’ offense against Notre Dame.
Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

If the initial pick and roll doesn't yield an easy basket, the Canes tend to quickly attempt contested threes or beat their man off the dribble. This could be one of the main reasons the team has struggled on offense. Thankfully, however, the roster consists of individually talented players that allow this approach to keep the team in contention, and never was this more apparent than it was on Saturday.

Regardless, that does not negate the apparent flaws.

As of February 23rd (the day before the BC game), Miami ranked 184th among NCAA Division I men’s programs in scoring offense. They also ranked 208th in team assists per game. This sort of output should be unacceptable given the personnel at hand.

The Hurricanes have most of the components to make a fluid offense. They have two elite wings (Brown and Walker), an uber-athletic big with an evolving offensive game (Huell), a dynamic scoring guard (Chris Lykes), a versatile ‘glue-guy’ (Anthony Lawrence II), and a solid combination of shooters and depth (Dejan Vasiljevic, Sam Waardenburg, and Ebuka Izundu).

Of course, the missing piece may be the aforementioned “reliable facilitator.” The current leader in assists for the Hurricanes is Bruce Brown with four per game. The next highest assist leaders on the team are Ja’Quan Newton, Amp Lawrence, and Chris Lykes, each of whom are averaging just over two per game.

Brown’s injury was a significant blow in this department, but even with him healthy the team wasn’t consistent on offense. In his time on the court this season and last, he showed sufficient ability as a passer to warrant a bit more offensive creativity.

Whether these offensive shortcomings are a function of a lack of creativity by Coach Larranaga and his staff, or insufficient basketball IQ by his players remains unclear. What is clear, however, is how much better they would be if they righted these wrongs.