Football season is over. Mercifully. Save for some (hopefully good) recruiting and transfer portal news, time to turn our attention to the hardwood.
Eight games into the 2022-23 campaign, Jim Larrañaga's squad is off to a strong (7-1) start and looks poised for another NCAA Tournament berth. Along the way, Coach L picked up his 700th career win (232 from Miami’s bench). Coach L is just the 66th men’s college coach to accomplish this feat. To put that into perspective for football fans, if Coach L was to suddenly retire he’d have roughly the same win ranking as Ohio State’s Jim Tressel (No. 51 all-time CFB wins), Florida/South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier (No. 53), Kansas State’s Bill Snyder (No. 70), and TCU/Alabama/Texas A&M’s Dennis Franchione (No. 72). But the 73 year-old Larrañaga is showing no signs of stopping and he’s now a mere 500 wins behind Duke’s recently retired Mike Krzyzewski. Keep climbing that win ladder Coach L!
Let’s run through how the season’s gone thus far to catch football-focused Canes fans up as the team enters ACC play. We’ll start with a recap of the games played this first quarter of the season, then hit a rundown of what to watch for in the next quarter, and finish with some highlights of the early season.
Taking Care of Business in Early Season Warmups
- (11/7) - Miami 67, Lafayette 54
- (11/11) - Miami 79, UNC Greensboro 65
- (11/15) - Miami 87, Florida A&M 61
Miami started the season (3-0) with comfortable home wins over three low quadrant teams, all of whom currently carry sub .500 records.
Sluggish starts was a troubling theme for the first two games. Miami trailed Lafayette 30-28 and UNC Greensboro 34-33 at halftime. With several new players, some early season jitters and chemistry hiccups were expected. Even as Canes newcomers adjusted to Coach L’s motion-heavy offense, Miami was able to rally strong in each second half behind their trademark, swarming defense.
This was our first glimpse of Miami’s transfer portal stars guard Nijel Pack (So.) and forward Norchad Omier (So.). Pack earned First Team All Big XII honors at Kansas State while Omier was the Sun Belt Player of the Year at Arkansas State. Neither disappointed. Pack quickly established himself as a reliable bucket-getter while Omier proved he could serve as Miami’s glass-cleaner extraordinaire.
Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame Tip Off Tournament
- (11/19) - Miami 74, Providence 64
- (11/20) - Miami 70, Maryland 88
Miami next travelled to the Mohegan Sun Arena where the Hurricanes went 1-1 at the Hall of Fame Tip Off Tournament.
The Hurricanes opened with a hard-fought, ten point victory over the Providence Friars. This should be a great, neutral court (that played like an away game) resume booster against last year’s regular season Big East champions. Unfortunately, Miami was later humbled by Maryland in the tournament’s championship game. All things considered, picking up the Providence win could prove pivotal come March.
Guard Isiah Wong (Jr.), Miami’s most notable returnee from last year’s Elite Eight team, earned all tournament honors for leading the Canes in scoring with 20.0 ppg. Starting guard/forward Jordan Miller (Sr.) was another tournament standout averaging 13.5 ppg and 8.5 rpg.
State of the U’s Mike Schiffman recapped the tournament.
Post-Tournament Win Streak
- (11/23) - Miami 79, St. Francis (NY) 56
- (11/27) - Miami 66, UCF 64
- (11/30) - Miami 68, Rutgers 61 (ACC/Big Ten Challenge)
Since the Maryland loss, Miami has tore off three straight wins, two of which are against potential tournament teams.
The Hurricanes had an excellent “reset” effort against St. Francis (NY) before travelling to Orlando to avenge last year’s home loss to the Golden Knights. Last Wednesday night, Miami completed an incredible comeback victory over Rutgers at home in the ACC/Big Ten challenge.
The Rutgers and UCF teams are particularly strong wins. Rutgers is coming off back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances, while UCF itself is an aspiring tournament team. Mike Schiffman had recaps for UCF and Rutgers.
What to Watch For in the Second Quarter of the Season
Notable Upcoming Games
The meat of Miami’s nonconference schedule produced three quality wins and no bad losses. That’ll do just fine. In terms of metrics, the Canes currently have: an ESPN BPI Rank of 38; a KenPom Rank of 42; and an RPI Rank of 44. That’s pretty solid at this point, and those numbers should only improve as Miami’s strength of schedule ticks up over the course of conference play.
The ACC schedule begins on Sunday at the struggling Louisville Cardinals. The big December matchup is on December 20th when the currently No. 3 ranked Virginia Cavaliers visit Coral Gables. Virginia is undefeated and a legitimate Final Four and ACC championship contender. Most recently they survived a tough Michigan team in the ACC/Big Ten challenge. They also have wins over ranked Baylor and Illinois teams.
Miami also hosts NC State on December 10th. The Wolfpack demonstrated that they will be a factor this year in the ACC after earning wins against Dayton and Butler. Their only blemish thus far is a close defeat to Kansas.
A Deep, Healthy, and Reliable Backcourt Rotation
For the first time in years, the Hurricanes are healthy! With respect to the backcourt, while Wong and Pack are the stars, guards Bensley Joseph (So.) and Wooga Poplar (So.) are also averaging more than 20 mpg. Poplar has started each game while Joseph has been first off the bench with virtually the same minutes. Harlond Beverly (Jr.) is another backcourt veteran who has seen some significant minutes at times. Beverly started 15 games in the 2020-21 season, however he missed all but four games last year due to injury.
As long as Miami isn’t clanking three pointers (the principal reason they found themselves in a deep hole against Rutgers), this guard-heavy team now looks much more comfortable operating Coach L’s offense than it did at the start of the season. The Virginia game should be a fun watch considering that UVA also operates a high tempo, small-ball offense. For example, Virginia’s 6’11” starting big man Kadin Shedrick is an agile floor spacer who’s only averaging 4.5 rpg but can shoot the three if called upon.
How Will Miami Handle Bigger Teams
In contrast to Virginia, teams like the UNC Tarheels (Feb. 13th) and the Duke Blue Devils (Jan. 21st) can throw multiple big men at Miami. UNC is most worrisome as they feature 6’10” Armando Bacot and 6’10” Pete Nance. Nance is more of a stretch big while Bacot is a physical terror with NBA talent. As for Duke, they’re lead by 7’1” Dereck Lively II, the No. 2 ranked recruit last class, as well as 6’11” Kyle Filipowski.
These teams could pose a matchup problem considering that Miami is starting Omier at the five and Miller at the four. Both are listed at 6’7” and Miller is a natural guard. Of course, the athletic Omier and agile Miller could pose their own matchup problem for lumbering big men. The key will be on the boards to ensure the height difference doesn’t produce a glaring rebound advantage.
Miami really needs four star frontcourt recruit A.J. Casey (Fr.) to continue to blossom into a rotational player. After only seeing seven minutes of court time combined over the first three games, Casey has been averaging 10.0 mpg since the Hall of Fame tournament. 6’9” forward Anthony Walker (Jr.) is another veteran big man on the roster, but he’s been living in brick city to start the season (5-22 from the field and 0-8 from 3pt) and appears to be falling out Coach L’s favor as he only played a single minute on Wednesday against Rutgers.
Right now, the offense tends to grind to a halt when Casey and Walker are in there. Walker especially. Casey needs to continue to grow while Walker needs to re-discover his place in this offense so that Coach L can ease the pressure off Omier as the Canes’ only reliable big man.
Early Season Highlight Plays
Enough talk. We leave you with a hand-picked buffet of Miami Hurricanes early season highlights:
Norchad Omier slams home the exclamation point to a well run set against St. Francis (NY)
Nijel Pack hitting floater after floater after floater against UCF
Nijel pack had an efficient (7/10 shooting) game with 16 points 3 assists and 1 steal vs UCF Sunday. What stood out to me was his floater being lethal in the faces of bigger defenders, as well as an impressive iso stop n pop 3 pic.twitter.com/35FKtIlTu6— Mavs/Magic Draft (@MavsDraft) November 29, 2022
Wooga Poplar with a rim-rattling, one-handed finish against UCF
Isiah Wong coast-to-coast with a behind the back dribble before finishing at the rim against Providence
A highlight reel collection from the FAMU win (warning, lots of dunks and alley oops)