The second half against Yale confirmed things.
After two straight losses, Miami looked to get back in the win column Saturday night, and appeared to be on their way toward doing that, taking a 15-point lead early in the second half.
But Yale come back and left the Hurricanes to ponder, what happened? And what has been happening?
The Shallow Truth
The depth on this team is just not where it needs to be. This is due to a combination of factors. The Adidas scandal last year obviously didn’t help recruiting, and forced coach Jim Larrañaga to fetch a handful of transfers to simply field a full team.
But one of the transfers, Miles Wilson from Mount St. Mary’s, was dismissed from the program before his career at Miami even got started, thinning the roster even more.
And Dewan Hernandez, formerly known as Huell, has been sidelined all season so far due to an eligibility audit from the NCAA.
This leaves the Hurricanes with just eight scholarship players right now, with the decision to redshirt Rodney Miller this season in effect.
The departures of Lonnie Walker, Bruce Brown and Ja’Quan Newton have left UM with a lack of guards.
Anthony Lawrence, who in the past has been more of a stretch four type of player, is now in a wing role as the big men are now making up a larger portion of the team.
Chris Lykes and DJ Vasiljevic, occasional starters last season, have joined Lawrence in the starting front court, while Sam Waardenburg has earned a promotion to starter in the post in place of Hernandez.
Transfers Zach Johnson and Anthony Mack add a new dimension, with Johnson showing glimpses of brilliance—such as his 24 and 18 point showings in the Wooden Legacy Tournament—while Mack still looks to find his identity in Coral Gables.
Ebuka Izundu has been extremely effective throughout this young season averaging a near double-double per game with 12.4 points and nine rebounds.
Deng Gak rounds out the newcomers, generally coming off the bench to add depth in the backcourt. He did receive his first career start on Saturday night against Yale.
Besides wins and losses, one glaring team stat stands out to boxscore readers.
The number of assists has decreased as the season has gone down. As a team, Miami averages a notch under 14 assists per game. But a couple of outliers on the upper end of the sample may be dragging that total up.
In the win over Stephen F. Austin, the Hurricanes raked up a season-high 22 total assists. The other four wins featured 16, 15, 15 and 12 assists.
The losses feature assist totals of 12, 12 and 10. Assists have not necessarily directly correlated with points either, as Miami had 10 assists against Seton Hall, a game in which they scored 81 points.
With the ho-hum win over Bethune-Cookman being the lone exception, games in which Miami has fewer than 13 assists have always resulted in losses.
Larrañaga has said this team is best when they freely move the ball and make shots. The assist trend shows that those things are not happening.
I’d Lyke Improvement
The lack of assists may explain the scoring decline in a couple of key players.
Chris Lykes’ has seen his production level fall. The Maryland native scored 22 points in the season opener against Lehigh, but hasn’t replicated that performance this year. He broke the 20-point threshold in each of the first three games but hasn’t reached that milestone again yet and has struggled in scoring especially in the last two games, with a season-low eight points against Rutgers and just 12 against Yale.
His assist numbers have gone down, akin with the team, but has also seen his turnover numbers increase. In the first three games of the season, the Gonzaga High alum committed just five total turnovers. In the most recent three games, he has committed five turnovers per game.
His assist/turnover ratio, a major focus of Larrañaga, stands exactly at 1.
Another question mark has been the consistency of Waaardenburg. After two games in double figure scoring during the team’s first four outings, the forward from New Zealand has been virtually silent in the last two games.
Waardenburg had just two points against Rutgers, and against Yale, he had no points, rebounds, or assists.
This is not the kind of performance one can expect from a starter.
That depends. Is Hernandez returning soon? If he is, depth and post play will improve with his return to the starting lineup, and Waardenburg and Gak can return to being bench contributors while they continue their development as players.
Rest can help as well.
After three home games to start the season, a 4,000+ mile, round-trip trip to California, and a road game in Philadelphia at Penn are part of an ongoing stretch of five games in under two weeks. But another two-week stretch with no games due to final exams will help the Canes recharge their legs and recover their early-season production levels.
“We’re going to need it,” says Larrañaga on upcoming break from action— Austin Pert (@AustinPert98) November 29, 2018
Maybe the last three games are just a blip on the radar, things will recover and this period will just be remembered for a few close loses.
Or maybe the lack of depth and production is too much to overcome, and recent play is an omen for the entire season.
Regardless of the cause of this pseudo-slump, with Atlantic Coast Confrence play on the horizon, Larrañaga and his players must find ways to improve.