The Miami Hurricanes Men’s Basketball squad had about as good of a 2022 as they could’ve hoped for. They finished the calendar year with a stellar 13-1 record, including 4-0 in ACC play. They are the first ACC team with four conference wins. Clemson and Pittsburgh are both 3-0 in ACC play so far. Miami is the only ACC team with one loss overall. They are the only ACC team undefeated at home and away (their loss to Maryland was a neutral-site game). And they have an All ACC First-Team caliber player in Isaiah Wong.
Okay, I’ll stop, but you get the idea. I’m just pumped about how good the Canes look so far this season.
In all seriousness, Miami has a legit chance to win the ACC this season. Look around at the rest of the conference: this is Duke’s first season without Coach K, UNC is struggling and off to a 1-2 start in conference, and Virginia doesn’t scare me after watching them struggle for long stretches against the Canes. Plus, the other two undefeated teams in the ACC are Clemson and Pittsburgh, not exactly powerhouse programs in recent years, but definitely improved.
I’m not going to pretend to know a ton about the other teams in the ACC. I have a life, and college basketball not involving the Miami Hurricanes isn’t fun to watch. I have watched the four ACC teams Miami has played this season (Louisville, NC State, Virginia, and Notre Dame) and I can confidently say none of them have the roster talent of the Canes. Further, Isaiah Wong has been the best player on the court for the majority of the games this season. That’s one of the best advantages a good basketball team can have.
Let’s look at the other contenders in the ACC and try to identify the key for a Miami victory.
The other current top teams: Clemson, Pittsburgh
Clemson is one of the most experienced teams in the ACC. Their top five scorers are all fourth-year players or older. Reminds me of last year’s Miami team. The Tigers’ elder squad knows how to shoot it from deep. They are 15th in the country in three-point percentage, at 39.4%. Clemson did beat NC State by 14 points in their last game. Other than that, they haven’t played anyone. They also lost to a 6-6 Loyola Chicago team by 18 points. Yuck. Clemson’s two leading scorers are named Chase Hunter and Hunter Tyson. That’s just funny. They sound like the names of the two main characters from a bad TNT buddy cop show. The Tigers’ schedule toughens up quickly, as they play Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh, and Duke three of their next four games.
Key for Miami vs Clemson: Rebounding
Miami plays Clemson once this season, a Saturday matchup on February 4th at 3:00 PM EST. The Tigers are not a big team. Good thing for the Canes, as teams with size tend to give them the most trouble. I like Norchad Omier in this matchup. I think he will take advantage of Clemson’s lack of size, punishing them on the offensive glass. Omier averages 4 offensive rebounds per game; Jordan Miller averages 2 per game. Wong and Wooga Poplar crash the boards sometimes as well. Other than rebounding, Miami needs to play smart basketball against the experienced Tigers. They are one of many seasoned teams in the ACC this season. Lastly, there will be no shortage of the color orange for this contest. Ba-dum-bum!
Jeff Capel is Pittsburgh’s coach. Let me be more specific. Jeff Capel has been Pittsburgh’s coach since 2018. I honestly did not know that. I saw him on the sideline in their game against UNC last week as I was waiting for the Miami game against Notre Dame to start and was like, “Hey, that’s Jeff Capel!” He hasn’t led the Panthers to an NCAA Tournament appearance since taking over, so I haven’t missed much. This appears to be Capel’s best team yet. They’ve won nine of ten games after a 1-3 start to the season.
The Panthers are led by two transfers, par for the course in today’s world of college sports free agency. Junior guard-forward Blake Hinson came in this season from Ole Miss. He leads Pitt in scoring and rebounding, at 17.1 and 7.3 per game, respectively. Senior guard Jamarius Burton played for Pitt last year, after two years with Wichita State, then a season with Texas Tech. Phew. So much movement. I don’t know how former Miami point guard Charlie Moore did it. Anyway, Burton is averaging 15.8 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 4.2 assists per game, good for second on the team in all three categories. Pitt does have some size on their team, with sophomore center Fede Federiko and sophomore reserve forward Jorge Diaz Graham both being 6’11”. The pair combine to average 10 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks per game in just under 34 minutes. Those are solid numbers for a starting center in college basketball.
Key for Miami vs Pittsburgh: Overcoming lack of size
Miami plays Pitt twice this season. Their first matchup is on Saturday, 1/28 at 4:00 PM EST at the Petersen Center in Pittsburgh, PA. The two former Big East foes then face off in their final game of the season, Saturday 3/4 at 6:00 PM EST at the Watsco Center in Coral Gables, FL. The Panthers are active on the boards, averaging 36.7 rebounds per game. Miami fights hard on the glass, especially considering their lack of size up front. Sadly, I have seen the Canes give up a ton of second, third, and fourth scoring chances this season. And it wasn’t just Virginia beating them to the ball. Miami gave up 15 offensive rebounds to Cornell and 19 to Rutgers. Yikes. Pittsburgh has experience and is tired of being at the bottom of the ACC. The Canes need to secure the boards and not let the Panthers hang around. That is how you lose games in this conference.
The Virginias: Virginia and Virginia Tech
This year’s Virginia Cavaliers team got off to a hot start, beating #5 Baylor at home, then beating #19 Illinois and Michigan on the road. Those wins propelled Virginia near the top of the AP Poll. Watching from afar, it looked like they were under-ranked in the preseason at #18. Tony Bennet appeared to have another awesome team. Virginia does not have a future NBA stud on this roster. Instead, they have five players averaging at least 9 points per game. Senior forward and East Carolina transfer Jayden Gardner leads the team in scoring and rebounding, at 11.8 and 6 per game, respectively. Fifth-year senior guard Kihei Clark puts up 11.2 points per game, and leads the team in assists per game at 5.5. Clark is one of those guys that seems like he’s been playing college basketball for a decade.
Watching Virginia play against Miami, I was a little underwhelmed. They had some bad unforced errors in the first half. Granted, some of that was due to the Canes’ pressure defense. I just didn’t see the discipline and intelligence I’m used to seeing with Tony Bennet-coached teams. Junior guard Reece Beekman took his sweet time getting the ball up the court on the final play, eventually dribbling the ball off his leg. I was stunned. Happy, but stunned. Virginia couldn’t even get up a shot. After writing the above, I looked up the Cavaliers’ team statistics for this season. Of course, they are second in the country in turnovers, averaging only 8.9 per game. (Sigh). I know what I saw! Also, when looking at their game logs, their turnover numbers are deflated by the early season non-conference wins against overmatched small schools. Virginia will not be the dominant team in the ACC this season.
Key for Miami vs Virginia: No scoring droughts!
We know the Canes won their lone matchup with the Cavaliers a couple weeks ago. It wouldn’t be surprising in the least if there’s a rematch in the ACC Tournament this March. Miami looked awesome in the first half and led by 10 points at halftime. They extended their lead to 15 points after an Isaiah Wong three-pointer just over two minutes into the second half. After that, it was crickets on offense for Miami for the next six minutes. If the Canes could’ve mustered up just a couple baskets during that stretch, they wouldn’t have had to sweat out the final couple minutes like they did. Miami has more talent than Virginia. Miami has a closing lineup that can handle pressure. Miami has a team that can beat Virginia for an ACC title this season.
Virginia Tech looks to be building on their momentum from last season, where they surprised Duke in the finals of the 2022 ACC Tournament. Sophomore guard Sean Pedulla has taken a leap for the Hokies, going from a stat line of 5.4 points, 1.2 rebounds, and 1.3 assists per game last year to 17.3 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 4.1 assists this year. The rest of their starters are experienced upperclassmen who won’t be intimidated by any other ACC team. Fifth-year senior Justyn Mutts is having a great final season, averaging 13.3 points and 7.9 rebounds on 60.4% field goals. Virginia Tech is fourth in the country in turnovers, committing only 9.3 per game. They are yet another experienced ACC team who won’t beat themselves. I fully expect the Hokies to be competing for a double-bye come conference tournament time.
Key for Miami vs Virginia Tech: Get stops and limit turnovers
The Canes get two shots at the Hokies this season. The first matchup is at home on Tuesday, 1/31 at 7:00 PM EST. Miami then visits Blacksburg, VA on Tuesday, 2/21 at 7:00 PM EST for their second meeting. The Canes cannot afford to play a sloppy game against Tech. Coach Mike Young has gotten the most out of his guys since his arrival in Blacksburg. He is a skilled in-game coach that has his players prepared when they hit the court. The Canes have the talent advantage. If they play smart basketball and execute Coach L’s game plan, they have a good chance to sweep Virginia Tech in 2023.
The blue bloods: UNC and Duke
The #1 ranked team in the AP Top 25 Preseason Poll, UNC has struggled mightily so far this season. They are 9-5 on the year, 1-2 ACC. Fans and media assumed the Tar Heels would have a great regular season, considering all their underclassmen returned. Watching some highlights and looking at their team statistics, the issue appears to be lack of depth. UNC doesn’t have a bench. Puff Johnson played well in the NCAA Tournament last March, but he is only averaging 3.5 points and 2.1 rebounds per game in 14.8 minutes this season. Not exactly the sixth-man spark they’re looking for. It hasn’t happened in every game, but UNC has had some bad second halves in 2022. The lack of depth has to be a big reason why. Armando Bacot is a huge guy who does a lot for the Tar Heels on both ends of the floor. He is going to get worn out when he has to play big minutes against the top-tier competition in conference.
Key for Miami vs UNC: Bench play
The Canes only play the Tar Heels once this season. UNC hosts the 2/13 matchup at 7:00 PM EST. Miami is not the deepest team in the country by any means. However, Coach L is not afraid to go to his bench in order to keep his stars fresh for crunch time. Freshman forward AJ Casey has had his struggles so far this season, no doubt. Freshmen are going to struggle. The important thing is he gives great effort and doesn’t do more than he should. Coach L obviously has a plan for Casey. He played ten minutes against Notre Dame, scoring 0 points on 0 shot attempts, with 3 rebounds and 1 turnover. Bad stat line, right? Not if you actually watched the game. Casey fought hard on the glass, played solid defense, and didn’t force any bad shots. The Canes have enough on offense that they don’t need Casey to be a force on that end. If he can relieve Omier with good defense, rebounding, and some selective shooting around the rim, Miami is even more dangerous of a team.
Duke doesn’t seem as evil as they did all those years under Coach K. The intimidation factor isn’t what it used to be. Coach Jon Scheyer has a young roster for his first season in Durham. Three of the top four scorers are true freshmen. Big guy Kyle Filipowski is the best of the bunch, averaging 14.4 points and 8.9 rebounds per game. Mark Mitchell and Tyrese Proctor are the other two freshmen starters. They have been inconsistent all season. No huge surprise there. Junior point guard Jeremy Roach is the leader of the team. He is averaging career-highs in both points and assists this season, putting up 12.8 and 3.4 per game, respectively. Roach is a steadying presence for a team full of teenagers.
Key for Miami vs Duke: Guard play
The Canes play the Blue Devils twice this season. The first matchup is in Durham on Saturday, 1/21 at 12:00 PM EST. The second game is in Coral Gables on Monday, 2/6 at 7:00 PM EST. As mentioned above, Jeremy Roach is the unquestioned leader for Duke. Filipowski is a force, but I think Omier and Casey can keep him under control. This is a matchup where Wong and Nijel Pack can impose their will on both ends of the floor. The two of them have the ability to consistently create shots for themselves and others. On defense, their combined length should bother the 6’2” Roach. Wong has had active hands all season. I could see Coach L sticking Wong on Roach in order to make it as difficult as possible for him to initiate Duke’s offense in the backcourt.
Expectations for this season:
The Miami Hurricanes Men’s Basketball squad and their fans should expect to compete for an ACC Championship this season. This year’s Canes team has the talent, experience, and just enough depth to get it done. There isn’t a matchup listed above they can’t handle. Other than UNC, there isn’t a more talented roster in the conference. Having said all that, I wouldn’t be shocked if Miami didn’t win either the ACC regular season or ACC Tournament. There are so many experienced teams in this conference this year. Virginia is good, and could easily improve during conference play. UNC probably has the highest ceiling. Duke could get hot for a few games in a row. I didn’t even mention Wake Forest above and they just beat Duke and Virginia Tech in their last two games.
I’ve watched all but a couple of Miami’s games this season; every minute of the ones against Power Five schools. Coach L knows this team well. His players love him. He is also one of the best strategists in the ACC both before and during the game. I trust Coach L to get the most out of this year’s squad. Let’s hope for a successful and healthy 2023 ACC season that leads to another deep run this March.