It’s often said that the best way to measure a coach is to look at how his teams perform relative to its talent level. Miami head coach Jim Larranaga has always been well-regarded by using that method of evaluation, and not that anyone should be surprised, but Larranaga is doing it again with his 2013-14 Hurricanes. Back in October, the ACC media tabbed Miami as the 12th best team in the conference. After a shaky 5-5 start to the season, the Hurricanes have now won five of their last seven games, including a solid 2-2 league mark in that stretch. In fact, Miami now looks like it is well on its way to topping its preseason ranking, and the Hurricanes now also have legitimate hopes of reaching postseason play. Let’s take a closer look at how Larranaga has managed to turn things around.
It was obvious that this was going to be a rebuilding year after losing five seniors along with ACC Player of the Year Shane Larkin from the greatest Hurricanes team ever. And we also knew that with only four returnees from the 2012-13 ACC champions, it would take them a while to figure out how all the pieces would best fit together. The first 10 games of the season got off to a rocky start with an overtime home loss to St. Francis (NY) and closed with another overtime home loss, this time to league bottom-feeder Virginia Tech. It was at that point when Larranaga decided to try a new defensive game plan in switching to a zone. As a coach who had primarily taught man-to-man defense during his long career, the 64-year old decided to call on a couple of his old coaching buddies for some help. Former Pittsburgh head coach Ralph Willard and Syracuse assistant Bernie Fine each spent a day teaching the details of playing a match-up zone to the Miami coaching staff.