The Miami Hurricanes make their inaugural appearance in the NCAA Tournament Final 4 tonight in Houston. The Canes, 29-7 on the year, go up against the UConn Huskies, who enter at 29-8.
Before we dive into the particulars of that matchup, however, let’s look at the bigger picture. And by bigger, I mean the biggest picture. Yup. That’s exactly what I mean.
Here are the Final 4 reasons why the Miami Hurricanes can win the Men’s Basketball National Championship.
An Elite Offense
Miami has taken the adage “a good offense is the best defense” to extreme levels this season. The Canes are averaging 79.6 points per game on 48.4% FG, 36.9% 3FG, and 78% FT. Those are great numbers, and the ability to put the ball in the basket is the main thing that Miami can do to propel them to a National Championship.
Extending this out, Miami is 5th in adjusted offense nationally, scoring 119.6 points per 100 possessions. This is a mix of transition, executing the half court offense, and elite shot-making from isolation situations. Basically, however you need a bucket to get scored is a way that Miami can score them.
If you take away the 63-56 come from behind win over 12 seed Drake in the first round, Miami is averaging 87.3 points per game in their last 3 games this tournament. That number plummets all the way down to....81.5 points in the tournament including the Drake game. So, Miami is a full bucket better on offense in the tournament overall, and nearly 8 points better on offense in the last 3 games if you take out that low-scoring outlier performance. So, an already elite offense has elevated itself when the games mattered most.
For a deeper look into the X’s and O’s of Miami’s elite offense, check out this piece by Brian Geisinger for the SB Nation mothership:
For @sbnation: Scouting the Miami Hurricanes— Brian Geisinger (@bgeis_bird) March 31, 2023
A look into some of the things that make Miami click in its half-court offense, go-to sets, the importance of Jordan Miller as a connector + interior finisher, and the opportunity ahead for Wooga Poplar https://t.co/tFj3Wdybnj
If Miami continues to produce on the offensive end to the level that has been seen in the tournament, the Canes can absolutely win a National Championship.
The Death Lineup
In 2014, the Golden State Warriors unleashed a previously-unseen 5 man grouping that dominated their opponents at previously unseen levels of offensive efficiency and defensive disruption. Nicknamed “The Death Lineup”, that unit went thru several iterations over the next 7 seasons, but all had the same function: destroy their opponent.
Obviously, it’s not the same level as the Championship Warriors, but the Miami Hurricanes have a Death Lineup of their own. But here’s where Miami and the Warriors differ:
Miami’s Death Lineup is actually the starting 5.
We’ve already looked at the elite offensive numbers the Canes have put up this season and this tournament, but things are even better when the Starting 5/Death Lineup of Nijel Pack, Isaiah Wong, Nisine “Wooga” Poplar, Jordan Miller, and Norchard Omier are on the floor together.
The Pack-Wong-Poplar-Miller-Omier quintet is +208 in 458 minutes playing together this season. They are outscoring opponents by 27.3 points per 100 possessions, with an offensive rating of 126.8 per 100, 7 points better than the overall offensive rating on the year.
The Death Lineup has continued their elite efficiency and performance in the postseason, out-scoring opponents by 35 points in just 66 minutes played together in this tournament.
If the starters can stay on the floor together, that bodes very well for Miami. They have carried this team this far, and they have the ability to keep that going all the way to a Championship.
Disruptive Defense Leads to Transition Offense
Yeah, we all know that Miami is undersized in terms of height. But what they lack in height, they make up for in quickness and intentional disruption.
Miami routinely hedges hard on pick & roles all over the floor, pressuring ball handlers and getting hands and bodies into passing lanes. Miami has forced opponents into 11.5 turnovers a game this tournament, and has also sped opposing offenses up, making them play at Miami’s speed. The only team that was able to slow things down was Drake, but only for so long. And that didn’t even work for them in the end.
Miami is averaging 13.2 fast break points per 40 minutes, accounting for 17.1% of their offense on the year. When you consider that transition by definition comes off of empty opponent possessions, that is a big factor in Miami’s success this season. And, like the other reasons listed, this can help propel Miami to a National Championship if it continues.
The Experience and Wisdom of Coach Larrañaga
While this is Miami’s first trip to the Final 4, it’s not Coach Larrañaga’s. Miami’s coach previously led George Mason to the Final 4 in 2006, so he’s been on this stage before. And, with 40+ years coaching experience, he’s been around the game long enough to have plenty of tricks in the bag for just this occasion.
Whether it’s designing and reworking Miami’s explosive offense, or building a roster with elite performers at nearly every role, or drawing up great after timeout (ATO) plays on a regular basis, Larrañaga has shown what it takes to put Miami in this position, and definitely has what it takes to guide the Canes to a championship.
While the UConn program has previously been to the Final 4 (multiple times, with multiple coaches), Larrañaga is the only Head Coach at this year’s Final 4 who has guided a team there before. He’s seen the bright lights on the big stage before, and that experience will serve him well. He’ll know the right plays to call, the right substitutions to make, and the right buttons to push to get the most out of this team.
Larrañaga lets his players play, and they’ve done a great job rewarding his faith in them so far this season. But he also knows when to step in and give his guidance and direction. He’s been to this rodeo before, and that experience will enable him to be the final piece in Miami’s championship puzzle.