If there is one thing that is becoming overwhelmingly obvious about this University of Miami basketball team is that they have the talent to handle any team in the ACC but not for 40 minutes at a time.
The Hurricanes have been playing seven players every game since losing freshman Deng Gak for the season due to an injury sustained on December 1 in a game against the Yale Bulldogs.
This has led to an over reliance on their main scorers against conference opponents who have the luxury of depth.
“That’s always going to be a factor,” Hurricanes head coach Jim Larrañaga said after the Hurricanes’ 85-76 loss to North Carolina on Saturday. “We went one stage, I took Chris Lykes out after three minutes, I put him back in after he has rested two or three minutes and then he never comes out again. I don’t know how many minutes they have him playing today, but it has to be more than 35. It’s hard, he is a very necessary part of our offense. When he is not in the game, we do not have enough fire power. And then, he and Zach Johnson, they share that ball handling responsibility and that wears you down. When it got to the last, I’ll say, eight to 10 minutes, I thought Carolina was rolling and we were drained.”
Miami tied UNC 37-37 going into halftime on Saturday and kept it close until the final minutes. However when their main scorers like point guard Chris Lykes and forward Anthony Lawrence II started to lose gas, the Tar Heels went on a late run and took over the game.
“It’s always tough for me because, playing at the 4, they try to attack me and get me out of the game, get (Ebuka Izundu) out of the game, because we’re short-handed. That’s the game plan, so we have to game plan not to foul, so it’s always tough. Going down the stretch, with the minutes that we’re playing, it’s tough too, but we just have to keep playing and not think about it. Just keep playing the game because we’re always playing to win, so we can’t think about that stuff. We’re trying to get a win.”
”To be honest, I think we did a good job,” Lykes said. “It’s tough, everybody knows that, but I think we will find a way to fight through it.”
One of the biggest cause, if not the biggest, is that one of the Hurricanes’ best players, junior forward Dewan Hernandez, has been ineligible by the NCAA because of his part of the college basketball corruption case. During the case last year, a federal jury in New York found three men guilty of fraud charges for channeling secret payment to the families of top-tier recruits to influence their choices of schools, apparel companies and agents.
Hernandez has had to sit out the first 16 games because he was among more than a dozen players listed in a business plan to pay prospective NBA players. The AAU coach, Jordan Fair, was fired from his assistant coaching position at the University of Louisville for his role in the scandal.
Larrañaga said during his media availability on Friday that Hernandez was “duped by his AAU coach” and “deserves to be back playing.”
”Jordan Fair is the one who created this problem,” Larrañaga said. “A competitor of ours was talking to one of our players. From what I understand that’s inappropriate — talking to players who played for another college.”
Without Hernandez, to at least provide depth, the Hurricanes are 1-4 in the ACC. All the games were close going into halftime but their opponents would eventually go on a fatal run in the middle of the second half. The next four games are going to be daunting for the Canes, starting with a road trip to Syracuse, who are in the middle of a six-way tie for first place in the ACC. After that game, four of their next five opponents are currently ranked in the Top-25.
“There’s a reason the ACC is considered the best basketball conference in the country,” Larrañaga said. “There are a lot of really great players in this league and some of Hall of Fame coaches coaching them. So they’re not so easy to beat. Even if you got a terrific team, they probably have more guns than you do, more weapons, more size, more athletic ability … Eventually it is a battle of attrition.”