Hello again Canes fans! The season is now almost one-third of the way through and the Canes have seen less than ideal results. After losing four games in a row and sitting at 5-4, the Hurricanes will look to get a few more wins under their belt before the ACC schedule kicks in. Their final three non-conference games of the season come against Houston Baptist, Florida Atlantic, and Campbell who are a combined 13-10. Hopefully Miami can enter ACC play on a three game win streak. With what we’ve seen so far, here are the biggest issues I have seen in watching the Hurricanes play and what we must fix before we host NC State on January 3rd to start the challenging ACC slate.
Going into the season, we knew depth may be an issue for this team. Due to the FBI corruption scandal, which Miami has since been redacted from, the Hurricanes didn’t bring in any new recruits. They were aided by the addition of graduate transfer Zach Johnson from Florida Gulf Coast. Also Anthony Mack was granted a waiver making him immediately eligible despite transferring from Wyoming. Zach Johnson has been a major contributor however Mack is still just a freshman and is still finding his way in Coral Gables. Coach L mentioned at the beginning of the season that the team has seven “starters” and that the rotation was short.
These depth issues were further accentuated when the University announced prior to the first game that Dewan Hernandez (formerly Huell) would be withheld while his eligibility was reviewed. This created more depth issues on top of the fact that he was Miami’s best player coming into the season. The absence of Hernandez has thrust red-shirt freshman Deng Gak and sophomore Sam Waardenburg into prominent front court roles. Don’t get me wrong, both are very capable players, however neither has started a game for Miami before this season. The front court was also hurt by Miami deciding to red-shirt Rodney Miller before the season began. Izundu has done a fantastic job so far this season, averaging 12 points, 9 rebounds, and nearly two blocks per game.
Then there’s the back court. Miami’s typical back court of Chris Lykes, Zach Johnson, and DJ Vasiljevic are all averaging more than 31 minutes per game. In addition, stretch 4 Anthony Lawrence Jr is averaging 34 minutes per game. That’s four Hurricanes playing more than 31 minutes per game. To put that in perspective, Duke, UNC, and Virginia have one player COMBINED that is averaging more than 31 minutes per game. If and When Dewan returns, some of these issues will improve but Miami will still only have 7-8 guys contributing meaningful minutes.
Assists & Turnovers
After the Lehigh game to start the season, Coach Larranaga pointed out that he preaches sharing the ball to his guys. He wants high assists numbers and wants the players to trust each other. The season started very well on this front as Miami had 49 assists through their first three game (16.3/game) to 30 total turnovers for a ratio of 1.63 assists per turnover. During the Wooden Classic, the Hurricanes offense committed an absurd 46 turnovers to only 38 assists. After the Rutgers game Coach L said, “We thought we solved our turnover problems the way that the season started, but we went out to California and those issues came back.” These issues continued and Miami’s assists to turnover ratio now sits at 1.13. Here’s a little perspective compared to the top teams in the ACC:
If that’s not bad enough, when you remove the first three games for Miami, that ratio drops to an abysmal 0.91 assists per turnover. That’s no Bueno. You can’t win games like that and the road will only get tougher as the ACC schedule begins.
In what seems to be a theme here, the Hurricanes started the season shooting at a blistering pace. Through the first four games, Miami was shooting 46% from the field and 41% from three point range. However, in their last three games against Rutgers, Yale, and Penn they’ve shot 41% from the field and 26% (insert puking emoji here) from three point range. No one on the team is shooting better than 34% except DJ who is shooting a solid 46% (we have got to find ways to get him the ball more). Miami seems to force way too many bad shots instead of being patient and finding the open man. This is especially apparent when playing from behind or when the opponent goes on a run. From my perspective, the players seem to press a little too hard and play “hero ball” rather than staying patient and looking for good shots.
Miami has also been a very streaky team so far this season. In every game so far there seems to be a period where Miami can’t miss or where one player becomes unstoppable and then immediately goes ice cold. The Yale game was the perfect example of this. Miami scored 49 (!) points in the first half which was fantastic. However, they then scored less than half of that (24) in the second half. Same thing against Penn where Miami was down by as many as 19 before pulling within three points with 3:23 remaining only to go scoreless for the remainder of the game. Miami has got to find a go to guy that can get a tough bucket when needed. Zach Johnson and Chris Lykes have been those guys at times but not consistently enough.
It ain’t all bad
With all of the things Miami must improve on, there are some bright spots that should be mentioned. For starters, the Hurricanes are the only team in the ACC with five players averaging double-digit points. Chris Lykes (16.9), Zach Johnson (13.7), DJ Vasiljevic (13.1), Anthony Lawrence Jr (12.7) and Ebuka Izundu (12) have all proven that they are capable of scoring when the Canes need it. This also adds to my point about assists. We have scorers all over the floor, we just have to find the open man and the shots will fall. Ebuka Izundu is averaging near a double-double while DJ is shooting at one of the highest three-point percentages in the ACC. This all bodes well for a turnaround if we can just nail down the details.
Where do we go from here?
The good news is the ACC is tough enough that if the Hurricanes can pull off some impressive wins, they can still find their way into the tournament. Coach L’s squad will finally get a little bit of a break after playing six games in 12 days. Their next game will come at home against Houston Baptist (2-4) on December 19th. Hopefully this break will let the Canes get rested and work on the issues that need to be worked on. For the record, I have 100% confidence in Coach Larranaga and his staff to right the ship. Coach L has proven himself over and over to be among the top echelon of coaches in college basketball. Hopefully we will get a resolution to the Dewan Hernandez saga soon and we can move forward with our best player back on the court.
That’s all for now Canes fans! Just stay the course and continue supporting the team, things will turn around soon!