In the preseason, the Atlantic Coast Conference media voted Miami to finish fifth in the ACC, behind NC State, Duke, North Carolina, and Florida State. The coaches were only a tad kinder to the Hurricanes, placing them ahead of the Seminoles in fourth place.
While many were discussing whether or not the Wolfpack’s return to national prominence was “for real,” how UNC would adjust to losing four first-rounders, or if Austin Rivers’ departure would be addition by subtraction for Duke, Miami went largely unnoticed. The only early attention they may have received from most ACC fans was the negative variety, as the Hurricanes opened with a preseason loss to St. Leo and followed it up with a loss to Florida Gulf Coast in their second regular season game.
Since then, Miami has reversed course, sporting a perfect conference record as we near the midway point of the ACC slate. NC State, Duke, North Carolina, even defending ACC champions Florida State, the Hurricanes have defeated them all. Lost in the white noise of the preseason was the drastic edge Miami has in seniority over its conference counterparts.
Obviously, experience isn’t the only factor in determining the outcome of a college basketball game. Otherwise, Kentucky wouldn’t have won a national championship last season. It can provide an edge in a close contest, as the experience of battling in the ACC can help an older team handle the various challenges of a given game better than a younger team. If the younger team is talented enough, though, it can certainly overcome the experience gap.
Miami’s experience, however, is staggering when compared to the rest of the conference. To demonstrate this, let’s look at how each ACC’s team minutes and points are distributed by class rank during conference play.
The first thing that jumps out when looking at these numbers is how much of Miami’s rotation (and offensive production) comes from seniors. Kenny Kadji, Durand Scott, Trey McKinney Jones, and Julian Gamble all play key roles for the Hurricanes, and that was before Reggie Johnson recently returned from injury. Boston College doesn’t even have five upperclassmen on their roster, and Miami is trotting out five seniors. NC State’s 67.9% of minutes to juniors and seniors combined is the only opponent that comes close to Miami’s 63.8% of minutes to its seniors.
Another team that would have likely touted similar experience to Miami was Duke. However, Ryan Kelly’s injury has forced players such as freshmen Amile Jefferson to step up in his absence. They have performed admirably, but one can’t help but wonder how things could be different for Duke if Kelly wasn’t injured.
As we’ve touched on before, road teams are struggling mightily in the ACC this season. Home teams have won 35 of 50 games to date in conference play. Of the 15 road wins, five belong to Miami. No other team has a record above .500 away from their home floor in ACC play. Four teams (Maryland, Clemson, Wake Forest, and Georgia Tech) are still looking for their first road ACC wins. Three of those four teams give less than 20% of their minutes to seniors, with Clemson being the exception (Devin Booker and Milton Jennings). There’s no doubt that experience in pressure-packed ACC games has helped Miami on the road while every other team has struggled.
In their last two games, Miami has shown poise in erasing double-digit deficits on the road. Against Virginia Tech, the Hokies jumped out to an early lead. With 5:56 remaining in the first half, Virginia Tech led 28-16. By halftime, the Hurricanes had trimmed the deficit to three points. They outscored the Hokies 44-32 in the second half, winning 73-64.
In Raleigh, Miami faced a more dire scenario. Against a stronger NC State team, the Hurricanes trailed 54-44 with 13:53 remaining. Despite a 16-2 run that gave Miami a lead, the Hurricanes trailed again, 76-71, with 1:57 remaining. They rallied to put themselves in position to win the game on the final possession. When Shane Larkin’s jumper missed its mark, senior Reggie Johnson was able to tip it back in for the win to extend Miami’s perfect ACC run.
It shouldn’t be lost in all these numbers that Miami also happens to be a very strong team. Shane Larkin and Durand Scott form, arguably, the best guard duo in the conference. Julian Gamble is a shot-blocking machine. Kenny Kadji is an incredibly versatile player. Reggie Johnson scored 15 points and collected eight rebounds against NC State, his best game since returning from injury.
In other words, you’ll have to be good to beat Miami, but you’ll also have to be able to withstand the pressure of the situation. No team has proven to be cooler under pressure so far than Miami.