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Canes Hoops: What Jim Larrañaga Says is Holding This Team Back, the Hurricanes See Hamilton, Prepare for Temple and More

Why have the defensive struggles continued for Miami, and what does the freshman class need to work on to make an impact? Also what kept Larrañaga out of Saturday’s game?

NCAA Basketball: ACC Media Day Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Hurricanes are 6-3. Following a season opening loss to Atlantic Coast Conference foe Louisville, UM has proceeded with non-conference play. There have been downs, including two blowout losses to Florida and Connecticut at the Charleston Classic. But the Canes also notched a road win at Illinois in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge despite letting a 27-point lead be chipped down to a single possession in the waning seconds. The Illini since, however, came within a basket of beating No. 7 Maryland and beat No. 14 Michigan.

So, ultimately, where does Miami stand nine games into 2019-20?

“We’ve been able to execute offensively much better than we've been able to execute defensively,” said head coach Jim Larrañaga on Friday. “So hopefully [the offense] can continue [to progress] while we improve the defense.” Larrañaga also stressed the challenge of continuing improvement on offense given that so much practice time will be devoted to the defensive end of the floor.

“We’re still in the process of getting better,” said Larrañaga. “It’s going to be very important during these next few weeks for our freshmen to improve. Especially at the defensive end of the floor, and the entire team needs to improve as a defensive rebounding team because we’re not very good at that part of the game.

“Until you can defend and rebound it’s very hard to beat the caliber of opponents we’ll be playing from now on.”

UM on the defensive end has been looking for a long-term fix for nearly two years to date.

“When Bruce Brown got hurt [in 2017-18], we were a top 25 defensive team in the country,” said assistant coach Chris Caputo after Saturday’s win over Alabama A&M. “I think we’re working our way back to that from a personnel standpoint, but if you look we’re a little bit undersized across the backcourt, and a little bit under-athletic.”

“Every team is going to make mistakes on the defensive end,” said Junior Sam Waardenburg on Saturday. “I think the one issue we’re having right now is that we’re not correcting those mistakes.

“We just have to all collectively buy in,” said guard Kameron McGusty.

On the freshmen class, Larrañaga elaborated, “[they] are very talented, but haven't quite understood how hard they have to play consistently to really contribute at a high level. I think they’re learning, they’re working hard to improve that part of their game.”

Freshman forward Anthony Walker has some of the biggest room for improvement according to Larrañaga. “[Walker] is an extremely gifted athlete, but he’s very inexperienced, and his level of effort needs to dramatically improve under game conditions.” The Brewster Academy graduate is averaging just over three points per game this season.

Larrañaga a Scratch Saturday

Caputo coached Saturday’s game at the Watsco Center as Larrañaga was sidelined with back spasms.

“[Larrañaga] called me and said that I may have to do the radio [pregame show] at noon, and called me again at 12:45 and said ‘Look, I don’t think I can make it.’” Caputo said. “It’s a difficult thing because you get these spasms, and what you need is probably rest, and it’s hard to rest in the middle of the season.”

Preparing for Temple

Miami will take the court at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn against Temple on Tuesday night at 9:30 p.m. as part of the Air Force Reserve Basketball Hall of Fame Invitational.

The Owls are a year removed from an appearance in the NCAA Tournament, are 7-2 in 2019-20, and scored 108 points the last time they took the court on December 10 against St. Joseph’s.

Quinton Rose leads Temple in points per game, averaging 14.7. Nate Pierre-Louis and Alani Moore follow with 12.3 and 9.9 points per game respectively, with Pierre-Louis’ 8.6 per game rebounds leading all Owls. De’Vondre Perry meanwhile leads in three-point shooting, making just under 43% of his shots from beyond the arc.

Miami last saw Temple in the 2015 NIT semifinals at the Madison Square Garden, winning 60-57.

Fans can see the renewal of the teams’ series Tuesday night on ESPNU, and can listen to Joe Zagacki’s call on 560 WQAM-AM as well as Josh White and Danny LaRose on 90.5 UVUM-FM.

Seeing Hamilton

The Hurricanes got a treat Sunday when they got the chance to see Hamilton on Broadway. “We’ve tried to educate them a little bit on Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr and all the people involved with that. Really cool experience for them,” Caputo said. Waardenburg added that the last few film sessions before the weekend started with a song from the musical.