Hurricanes on the Radar: Is Miami an ACC or National Contender?

Posted by Shane McNichol on January 8th, 2016

The Big 12 may have fired the first shot in the war for America’s top conference — or at least its favorite to watch this season — earlier this week with the triple-overtime classic between Oklahoma and Kansas. The 109-106 Jayhawks’ victory may have been the first truly great game of the year, but it won’t be the last, and the ACC will certainly have something to say something about that. It’s not often that the behemoth East Coast conference does anything under the radar, but the ACC deserves some additional attention this season. Were you aware that five of KenPom‘s top 11 teams reside in this league? Duke (#8) and North Carolina (#11) will always be touted by fans and the media. Virginia (#6) has notched some big wins this season as well a few notable losses. Louisville (#7) was home to the offseason’s biggest scandal and has been featured in two of this season’s biggest games — against Michigan State and Kentucky.

Jim Larranaga and Miami are quietly having a very good season. (Getty)

Miami is quietly having a very good season. (Getty)

But one of those five ACC teams has marched itself to a 12-1 start without attracting much attention. Miami (#7) is shooting 50 percent from the field, scoring more than 80 points per game, and have already notched victories over Utah, Butler, Florida and Syracuse. So why hasn’t the hype train found its way to Coral Gables? Four other highly-ranked ACC teams limits the available oxygen, but there are also a number of reasons to be reluctant about Jim Larranaga‘s squad. First, Miami’s schedule has been iffy. It ranks 234th nationally and, as a result, its only loss came to an up-and-down Northeastern (#81) team at home. Furthermore, the wins the Hurricanes have logged are impressive, but none came in true road games. In fact, Miami has so far only played two of those against mediocre competition (at Nebraska and La Salle).

miami schedule

The table above shows how the scheduling gods have spared the Hurricanes thus far. Looking ahead, even the road in ACC play looks favorable, as Miami avoids trips to Duke, Louisville and Pittsburgh this season. Aside from that, we really don’t know if this is an issue. The Hurricanes are experienced, with four seniors and two juniors playing heavy rotation minutes. They protect the ball (16.1 percent turnover rate), get to the foul line and convert when there (77 percent, seventh nationally). But it’s unclear what all of this means. They might in fact be road warriors, ready for the tougher schedule ahead. Or they might be a good team benefiting from a favorable schedule. If you’re grading Miami’s first semester, as tempting as it would be to reward their impressive performances, the correct score would be “incomplete.”

But there’s nothing wrong with that. Conference champions  and Final Four teams aren’t determined in November and December. Beating Butler on a neutral court four months before the NCAA Tournament will help Miami when the committee seeds them, but it has little reflection on its postseason capability. That will be determined by upcoming contests versus Duke, Pittsburgh and Louisville; and at Virginia, North Carolina and Notre Dame. The schedule ahead allows Miami every opportunity to prove itself worthy. If it wins the ACC regular season, the Hurricanes should rightfully be considered among a handful of favorites to cut down the nets in early April. If Angel Rodriguez can continue to nab nearly two steals a game and Ivan Cruz Uceda can keep shooting above 50 percent from beyond the arc and Ja’Quan Newton can consistently draw 7.5 fouls per 40 minutes and Sheldon McClellan can remain in the top 10 nationally in offensive rating against the rest of the ACC, the sky is the limit. Miami has the pieces to compete with the best teams in college basketball and the path to prove it. It’s up to Larranaga and his charges to follow through.

Shane McNichol (30 Posts)

Shane McNichol is a national columnist for Rush The Court. He is also the founder, editor, and writer at and has contributed to and Follow him on Twitter @OnTheShaneTrain.

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