Miami is coming off a high note, a rebound victory over a walk-over opponent in Savannah State. It was good to see them right the ship after the prior weekend’s loss at home to Green Bay. After having an emotional win earlier in the week against the Flightless Illini, it was understandable that they could be facing a challenge in the Horizon League “power”.
Fortunately for the Canes the loss isn’t going to kill their RPI. Green Bay has oscillated between first and fifth nationally in the RPI until just recently. It definitely won’t count as a negative unless Green Bay were to lose the rest of their games. Jim Larranaga is in his fourth year, and this is his group of recruits.
He did a fantastic job with the Frank Haith leftovers, and reached a Sweet 16. With Miami football scuffling, the hopes are that basketball will help liven spirits in Coral Gables this spring. That however, will prove to be a challenge. It’s time for Larranaga’s group to assert itself as a perennial NCAA contender. The question is though: Do they have the weapons to get to .500 in the ACC?
Ranked early in the season, the Hurricanes had high expectations and lived up to them by beating Florida on the road, and then dispatching A-10 RPI darling Charlotte twice in 3 days (don’t ask me how that came about, one was at a tourney, and then Charlotte hosted). The Canes still have some convincing to do. Let’s examine how that might come about.
Note: First quarter only deals with the regular season schedule. We’ll call the postseason overtime when we arrive there this Spring.
Why a B+
Because they are well-coached, don’t beat themselves, and they have wins over major programs like Florida (who is an RPI 191, after a season they went undefeated in the SEC, so I’ll let you make sense of it) and Illinois. They have handled their business by imposing their style. They have one of the better three point defenses, and they make their own threes. That gap right there is enough to get to 9-1.
That one though. Not a bad RPI loss, but still Horizon league losses resonate. They need to win some big ACC games to get back to that upper echelon with the A graders.
How Can They improve Their RPI Before Conference Play?
Winning road games at Providence (RPI 77) and against Charleston (206, but will be stronger at EOY) should help solidify the 44 RPI Miami currently enjoys. They open at home vs UVA and BC, then go to Duke. So, they need to make the best of these last couple weeks of preparation.
What Does Miami Do Well?
- They are a very efficient shooting team. They work for the best shot. Led by Angel Rodriguez, Sheldon McLellan, and Manu Lecomte, they rank 16th in made three-point shots with Lecomte and Rodriguez combining for 4.8 threes per game. All this sharp-shooting is good for 41.6% per game.
- They make their Free Throws. They are 24th in the nation and make exactly 75%.
- They defend the three with a vengeance. They allow just 28.7% from their opponents.
- They play what I will refer to as plexi-glass defense. Hands up, as if you’re pressed against a window. This team is 7th in the country in fouls allowed.
- Their 15 ppg margin is good for top 40 in the nation. They are playing Coach L style basketball. I got to witness it up here in Fairfax, VA at George Mason, and the system works. It just depends on the talent.
Where Can The Hurricanes Improve?
- Finding alpha replacements who can be counted on to take over during crunch time. Past years you had Shane Larkin, Rion Brown, Kenny Kadji, Durand Scott. All those guys wanted the ball. None shrunk from the moment. This year’s team has to decide who that guy is.
- This team is 229th in the country in FT attempts. This is not going to find things going in the U’s favor late in games if they don’t attack the rim more.
- The team needs a 2nd rebounder behind Tony Jekiri, who has made tremendous strides this year and averages close to 10 rebounds, and offers good rim protection. He needs more help. Particularly when Duke, Notre Dame, and Syracuse come calling.
- The Canes don’t pursue offensive boards. They rank 228th. Sheldon McLellan, the leading scorer is surprisingly productive at tracking down loose balls. He is by far the Canes most reliable player. But as I’ve said before if your best player is only 15th best player in the league, there isn’t much you can do. You have to rely on team to get it done.
This looks to be a tournament team, even with one more loss out of the league, I can see Miami getting to 10 ACC wins. Teams they play twice: VT, Florida State, Boston College, Louisville. To me that looks like 5-3, at worst, if not 6-2.
The home games they have are UVA, NC St, Georgia Tech, Clemson, and UNC. I’m going to go with 3-2 there. Meaning they’d need to just win 2 of the five road games: Duke, Notre Dame, Syracuse, Wake Forest, and Pitt. That’s not such an easy order.
Miami might be the premier bubble team this year, with only a mediocre early season resume and a tough ACC docket to navigate. Will they have the interior presence required to do battle and win those game-ending free throw marches that decide so many ACC games? Just a couple of those might mean NCAA vs NIT.
The Week Ahead
- The Canes have a breather on Friday night against East Kentucky (RPI 132) and then will prepare for Monday night’s game against Providence, who beat Notre Dame in a tournament on an Native American casino court. To me that’s international waters.
Have a great Tuesday everyone, and check back in as I am going to be posting these until I am exhausted. Follow me on Twitter (@insidetheacc) and the site on Facebook.