After a barrage of 3-pointers and free throws turned an early lead over UNC into a 93-81 loss at the Dean Dome, the Virginia Cavaliers (18-7, 8-4 ACC) head down to Coral Gables for a Tuesday night showdown with league leading-Miami (21-3, 12-0 ACC). Will the Wahoos start another winning streak or drop their second straight in ACC play? Find out in the Miami Primer.
1. Team Introduction. Last season, Miami finished 18-11 (9-7 ACC), including a nail biting 52-51 loss against UVa at the John Paul Jones Arena. Then, after splitting games in the ACC Tournament, the Hurricanes beat Valparaiso in the NIT before getting smoked by Minnesota, 78-60. Despite returning most of their minutes from last season, the Canes were merely picked to finish fourth in the ACC in the preseason coaches’ poll and fifth in the preseason media poll. After some hiccups to start the season, Miami has left those expectations in the dust.
In nonconference play, Miami went 9-3, with some of those wins coming against Michigan State (No. 12 in KenPom), La Salle (No. 46), and UMass (No. 89). Miami did lose at Florida Gulf Coast (No. 141), but that was without Durand Scott , who was suspended. And the Hurricanes did drop two games in the Diamond Head Classic against Arizona (No. 17) and Indiana State (No. 81), but that was with Reggie Johnson missing in action with a broken thumb. In conference play, Miami is undefeated, and none of its home games except for a 54-47 win over Maryland have been especially close. Aside from that game, the Hurricanes have won each home game by at least 22 points, including 90-63 and 87-61 wins over Duke and UNC. In their last game, the Hurricanes escaped with a 45-43 victory over Clemson at Littlejohn on Sunday night. On the season, Miami is No. 2 in RPI, No. 10 in KenPom, and No. 14 in TAPE.
2. Offense. On offense, coach Jim Larranaga’s teams mostly run two different zone offenses, the slice and dice zone and the seek and find zone. Both of these are 4-out offenses, starting with only one player in the post and four players outside of the 3-point arc, with a good variety of screens to set up penetration and open 3-pointers. Most of the time, what you will see is Miami’s point guard initiating the offense from the top of the key, with a big man (usually Kenny Kadji or Reggie Johnson ) setting a high ball screen to start an offensive progression that ends with the ball finding an open 3-point shooter or a player ready to drive to the hoop for a pull-up jumper or lay-up. Miami ranks No. 31 in adjusted offensive efficiency, and, while I usually would like the chances of the Pack Line defense to shut down the mid-range isolation game that Larranaga’s offenses produce, with the attrition issues in the post and defensive lapses the last few games, it could be tough to keep the Canes off of the scoreboard.
3. Defense. Defensively, Larranaga is known for his famous scramble defense, a pressure man-to-man defense with trapping of both posts and guards. This season, though, I’ve seen the Canes play a lot more straight up man defense, probably for two reasons. First, Miami’s veteran players are good enough to stop most players without the need for any help defense. Second, the Hurricanes don’t have enough depth to sustain the scramble for 40 minutes of hell. In the end, it’s hard to argue with the results. Miami is No. 4 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency. That efficiency, however, has been based more on forcing bad shots (Miami is No. 11 in opponent effective field goal percentage) than on forcing turnovers (No. 232 in opponent turnovers per possession).
4. Player Turnover. Shooting guard Malcolm Grant, who was third on last season’s team with 10.8 points per game, is lacing them up for the Wollongong Hawks in Australia. Swingman DeQuan Jones (5.9 PPG) is seeing limited action for the Orlando Magic. And shooting guard Garrius Adams (4.5 PPG) is out for the year with a knee injury. Finally, redshirt freshman Bishop Daniels transferred after 3 games this season, leaving Miami with essentially a 7-man rotation.
Can Evan Nolte and the Hoos upset Miami?
5. Possible Starters. Some of the potential starters for Miami …
Point Guard: Shane Larkin (No. 0), the son of former Reds shortstop Barry Larkin, is a 5’11”, 176-pound sophomore. In last season’s Miami Primer, I commented on how I really liked Larkin’s game, and he has taken the proverbial next step this year. Larkin’s the complete package: He’s fast, has a terrific handle, possesses tremendous court vision and passing ability, and can score from anywhere on the court. Larkin is second on the team with 13.2 points per game and shoots 47.8% from the field and 42.6% from long range. He also dishes 4.3 dimes per game, with his only flaw being his occasional carelessness to the tune of 2.3 turnovers per game. Larkin is also a tenacious defender who averages more than 2 steals a game, and he’s an aggressive rebounder, pulling down 4.1 boards a game.
Shooting Guard: After primarily playing point guard last season, Durand Scott (No. 1), a 6’5″, 203-pound senior, has slid over to what I consider his more natural position at the “2” this year. Scott is a volume shooter who leads the Canes with 10.5 shots a game and who keeps shooting whether he’s making them or not. Overall, Scott is an adequate shooter: He averages 47.1% from the field and 32.3% from 3-point range. Scott’s jump shot, however, is not a sight to see, and he gets many of his points on bull rushes to the basket, often off of isolation plays. Scott’s stats are pretty solid across the board: 13.4 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 3 assists per game. But, when his shots aren’t dropping, Scott seems to visibly ease up. That’s certainly been the case against UVa the last 2 years, when he’s shot 3-11, 4-11, and 4-12. When he wants, however, Scott can be a lockdown defender, as evidenced by his 1.7 steals per game.
Small Forward: Trey McKinney Jones (No. 4), is a 6’5″, 220-pound redshirt senior. Jones is a terrific athlete who mainly makes his living from downtown. Note that 4 of his 7.3 shot attempts per game come from long range, and he’s connecting on 36.8% of his triples, allowing him to average 9.2 points per game. McKinney is a heady, “right place at the right time” type of player and sort of the forgotten man among Miami’s stars. Part of his problem is that he’s recently been hampered by a shin injury, with the result being that he has scored only 4, 5, 6, 6, and 6 points in his last 5 games. Jones is a decent defender but not as good as Larkin or Scott, and, with his shin problems, he has seemed a step slow lately.
Power Forward: Kenny Kadji (No. 35), a 6’11”, 242-pound redshirt senior, should start at the “4” for Miami. Kadji is rangy and fluid and has a slick inside-outside game. His 13 points per game come from a combination of drives to the basket and 3-point shooting (36.5% on 3.5 attempts per game). Kadji won’t wow you with his explosiveness and he could use some work on his handle (2 turnovers a game), but he has terrific coordination for his size. Defensively, Kadji uses his 7’3″ wingspan to block 1.3 shots per game, and he does a good job defending both on the blocks and on the perimeter.
Center: At center, Julian Gamble (No. 45), a 6’10”, 250-pound redshirt senior, should get the start after missing last season with a torn ACL. Gamble, a sixth-year senior, plays “old man” basketball. He likes to back his defender into the paint and then score over him, often with an old school left-handed jump hook. Gamble doesn’t have the softest hands, but he takes high percentage shots and averages 55.6% from the field and 6.8 points per game. He also gets good offensive rebounding position and pulls down 2.2 offensive boards a game, allowing him to get garbage points. Additionally, Gamble has nice timing on the defensive end, allowing him to block 1.9 shots per game. While Gamble has been the starter at the “5”, he only averages 20.9 minutes per game, but he played 29 minutes in his last game against Clemson
6. Key Backups. Some of the other key contributors …
Center: Part of the reason for Gamble’s additional minutes has been the play of the enigmatic Reggie Johnson (No. 42), a 6’10”, 292-pound redshirt senior. As always, Johnson is supremely talented but only occasionally interested, and, like last year, an injury has led to his weight being considerably higher than what’s listed. Johnson still has been able to bully his way into 8.3 rebounds a game, but his points per game (9.5 vs. 10.0) and shooting percentage (41.3% vs. 49.%) have both dipped from a year ago. Johnson can be a fearsome defender when he wants, and he averages 1.4 blocks per game. But he too often seems listless as was the case Sunday night at Littlejohn, when he had 2 points on 1-4 shooting and seemed out of sorts on the defensive end.
Small Forward: Besides Larkin, the only non-senior in Miami’s rotation is Rion Brown (No. 15), a 6’6″, 200-pound junior. Brown is primarily a 3-point shooter who has been in a shooting slump for most of the year. Brown’s shooting and scoring numbers are down across the board from last year despite the swingman playing 2.5 extra minutes per game: points per game (6.5 vs. 7.2), two-point shooting (39% vs. 42.7%), 3-point shooting (27.1% vs. 39.4%), and free throw shooting (67.6% vs. 76.6%). These offensive struggles also seemingly have caused Brown to dial down the defensive intensity, and his rebounds per game have also dipped from 2.8/game last season to 1.6/game this year.
7. Prediction. 504-C Brandon predicts this one as a 58.6-51.5 Miami victory, with the Hurricanes having a 71.4% chance of winning. I wish that I saw it differently. At the start of the season, I thought that Virginia had a pretty good chance of winning any game on its schedule except one. That one game was this game, and I think that UVa’s chances are even worse given the injury issues in the front court. In the end, I think that Miami is too big, too experienced, and too talented to lose a game on the home court that they have protected so well in ACC play. I think that the Hoos keep it closer than most but end up on the wrong side of a 66-54 defeat.