ACC Preview: Miami’s Burning Question

Posted by Matt Patton on October 30th, 2014

How quickly can Jim Larranaga rebuild at the ACC level?

There’s no denying Jim Larranaga is a great coach. He won at George Mason and he won when he got to Miami. But the question is whether he can put together a program in Coral Gables like Leonard Hamilton or Tony Bennett have in Tallahassee and Charlottesville? There are two parts of coaching at any level: player development and game coaching. Two seasons ago, Larranaga showed he was a master at both. But at the college level, there’s a third equally important factor in play: recruiting.

Jim Larranaga needs this team to improve on last year's. (photo credit: AP)

Jim Larranaga needs this team to improve on last year’s. (photo credit: AP)

Leonard Hamilton is the better comparison because Miami doesn’t have nearly the investment in basketball as Virginia, but both Hamilton and Bennett run sustainable programs. He also turned Miami into a strong Big East program before moving on to Tallahassee. Hamilton’s team has had its ups and downs, but Florida State is always competitive and will be a contender every few seasons. It’s important to remember that building a program takes time, but this year should say a lot about Miami’s momentum. Last season, Larranaga established his floor: close to .500 overall, bottom of the middle tier of the ACC, and a win in Chapel Hill. The team was competitive. Rion Brown stepped up as the only important returnee from the 2013 conference champions. Now he’s gone, leaving junior Tonye Jekiri and sophomore Manu Lacomte to take the reins here.

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ACC Team Preview: Miami Hurricanes

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 6th, 2013

Last season was a historic one for Miami basketball. The Hurricanes became the first school from outside the state of North Carolina to win the ACC regular season title outright and the ACC Tournament in the same year. Along the way came two home blowout wins over perennial league powers Duke and North Carolina, and a level of local support never seen before at Miami. They even had LeBron James and Dwayne Wade attend a game! Unfortunately, the top six players from that squad are now gone, so this will clearly be a rebuilding year for the Jim Larranaga’s squad.

Miami Preview 2013

The good news is that the man in charge is still Jim Larranaga. The 29-year head coaching veteran swept conference and national Coach of the Year awards last season, but he is best known for leading George Mason to the 2006 Final Four. Larranaga excels at putting pieces together to form a cohesive team and, despite his age, is known as a progressive thinking coach. He’s constantly looking for new teaching and motivational techniques, and has also embraced the new advanced statistics now available. To prepare for this season’s rules changes limiting contact, Larranaga has put a greater emphasis on defending without fouling. As he explained to the media at the recent ACC Operation Basketball, the Hurricanes’ goal each game is to limit opponents to less than one point per possession. If you put someone on the free throw line, all they have to do is hit one out of two to beat their goal. To combat that tendency, Miami preseason practices are stopped when the defense fouls and everybody runs sprints. Although the Hurricanes will have a dropoff this season, the program is in good shape moving forward. Next year, two transfers from Big 12 schools will be eligible, when Angel Rodriguez (Kansas State) and Sheldon McClellan (Texas) will form a solid junior backcourt.

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ACC M5: 10.28.13 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on October 28th, 2013

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  1. Syracuse Post-Gazette: Mike Waters does a good job reporting on CJ Fair’s decision to come back to Syracuse for his senior season. Fair was right on the edge of declaring for the draft. But between very mixed feedback from the NBA’s Undergraduate Advisory Committee along with his father and coaches pushing for him to return, Fair ended up coming back. Fair’s inconsistent draft stock may have a lot to do with his previous role for Syracuse; while he was the team’s leading scorer and rebounder last year, Michael Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche really ran the team. This year, with a freshman point guard in place, Jim Boeheim will need Fair to step into that first option role.
  2. Duke Basketball Report: Barry Jacobs took a look at the worst three-point shooters in the ACC. The only two players who took over 100 threes but still finished in the bottom 10 were Rion Brown (29.2%) — Miami’s streaky, bright shoe shod, lone returning wing — and rising Syracuse sophomore Trevor Cooney (26.7%). Miami desperately needs Brown to become an efficient scoring option, as he’s essentially the only returning scoring option. Another player who made the list is Florida State senior Ian Miller, whose offense will also be in high demand this season.
  3. Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: The latest in the “adjusting to the less physical ACC” articles out of Pittsburgh, Kevin Gorman’s takeaway will be a little more interesting to follow. He points to Jamie Dixon’s recent recruiting of stretch fours instead of the bruising power forwards of old as a sign of changing times. While it’s true many ACC schools have a forward capable of stretching the floor, it’s also true that many have a bigger lineup better off staying near the paint. However, the new rules also put a value on spreading the floor, which could also influence future recruiting.
  4. Raleigh News & Observer: PJ Hairston may be in trouble with the NCAA but North Carolina fans understand how important he is for this team’s success. Despite (or because?) of his summer troubles, Hairston received the biggest ovation at Late Night with Roy last Friday before he went on to be the leading scorer in the scrimmage. But it’s still unclear for how long Hairston will be suspended. In other concerning news for the Tar Heel faithful, Roy Williams mentioned that the athletic department is also talking with the NCAA about Leslie McDonald‘s eligibility. If you recall, McDonald was shown on a website for a custom mouthguard company, leading to questions about his connection with that organization.
  5. KenPom.com: Ken Pomeroy’s preseason rankings are out. His methodology is pretty simple, although ACC fans may be upset with being the third-ranked conference in the country. Duke leads the way for the conference at sixth, followed closely by Syracuse (#9) and North Carolina (#10). Like myself, Pomeroy is bullish on Boston College (#37) this season. Virginia Tech (#154)? Not so much. I have a feeling Duke and Syracuse have pretty high Pomeroy-ian ceilings, as both lost a lot from last season, where I imagine Miami (#62) has a low cellar because of its stellar finish last season.
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The ACC in the NCAAs: Previewing Marquette vs. Miami

Posted by KCarpenter on March 28th, 2013

It wasn’t always easy for Miami to get to this year’s Sweet Sixteen, but it was certainly never easy for Marquette to make the same journey. Ultra-tight games and impressive comebacks highlighted the Golden Eagles’ close wins over Davidson and Butler, while Miami romped over Pacific and held on against Illinois. Say what you will about Buzz Williams‘ team, but improbably this team has figured out how to handle the big gut-check moments. During the regular season, Marquette played four overtime games and won three of them. I’m honestly uncertain if “clutchness” is a real phenomenon, but the Golden Eagles give my doubts doubts.

Larranaga and Larkin Intend to Take the Hurricanes to the School's First Final Four

Larranaga and Larkin Intend to Take the Hurricanes to the School’s First Final Four

Big news came for Miami when it was announced that Reggie Johnson would not be traveling with the team for tonight’s match-up, but it’s unclear just how significant this news actually is. Johnson missed a huge chunk of the season with an injury and was out of shape and often ineffectual when he finally returned to the court. Against the smallish Golden Eagles, how much would the lumbering Johnson actually have played anyway? In Miami’s statement game in the ACC championship against small ball North Carolina, the center played all of three minutes. His time instead went to Rion Brown and Julian Gamble,  a pair of players who supercharge the Hurricanes’ offense and defense. It feels unlikely that Johnson would have (or should have) played all that much against Marquette. It’s not that this news doesn’t have a big impact on Miami’s title chances, but for the purposes of this match-up, it doesn’t feel particularly significant for those who have watched this team closely.

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Rushed Reactions: #2 Miami 63, #7 Illinois 59

Posted by WCarey on March 24th, 2013

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Walker Carey is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after the Round of 32 NCAA Tournament game between #2 Miami and #7 Illinois in Austin.

Three Key Takeaways.

Miami Outlasted the Surging Illini Sunday (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Miami Outlasted the Surging Illini Sunday (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

  1. The way Miami won this game was important. The Hurricanes have received a great deal of national attention due to the fact that their roster had zero NCAA Tournament experience before this year’s event. Miami coasted to an easy win over Pacific in its first game, but as a two-seed, that type of win is expected. Needing a test to prove its NCAA Tournament toughness, the Hurricanes definitely received one from Illinois. The Illini took a 55-54 lead with 1:24 to play and Miami kept its collective cool and was able to come back and grab the victory. On the possession after Illinois took the lead, Miami sophomore guard Shane Larkin nailed a ridiculously difficult step back three-pointer at the 1:04 mark to give the Hurricanes a two-point lead. Miami was able to maintain that lead and earn the victory by calmly going 6-of-6 from the free throw line down the stretch and not allowing Illinois to get anything easy on the offensive end of the court.
  2. Illinois deserves a lot of credit for the way it played. The Illini did not shoot the ball very well all night – just 37.7% from the field and 25.9% from three – but it fought hard all game and pushed Miami to the brink. In his postgame remarks, Illini coach John Groce spoke of how his team has battled hard all season and that they have gotten contributions from everyone all season. That was definitely the case against Miami, as different guys stepped up in different spots to make an impact. On a night where the usually solid D.J. Richardson was just 1-of-11 from the field, senior forward Tyler Griffey stepped up for the Illini with 12 huge points on a 4-of-6 performance from deep. Sophomore forward Nnanna Egwu was a force inside all night, as he finished with 12 points and 12 rebounds while playing very rugged defense against the Miami frontline. Senior guard Brandon Paul struggled at-times with his shot, but he certainly showcased his ability to take over a game with his performance Sunday night. The Illini might not have been victorious, but their effort and the way they played was certainly admirable.
  3. A blown call definitely had an impact on the game. When Richardson missed a three-point attempt with 43 seconds to play in what was a 57-55 game at the time, it clearly looked like the ball last touched the hand of Miami forward Kenny Kadji before going out-of-bounds. The ball was incorrectly rewarded to Miami, which resulted in guard Durand Scott nailing two clutch free throws to give the Hurricanes a four-point lead. While the Illini were able to trim the lead down to two again with 22 seconds to play, they never again had the chance to tie. There were many other reasons why Miami won and Illinois lost, but this call certainly had an impact on the last 43 seconds of what was a thrilling game.

Star(s) of the Game. Rion Brown and Shane Larkin, Miami. The junior Brown was outstanding for the Hurricanes off the bench. He finished with 21 points on 7-of-14 shooting from the field and 5-of-10 shooting from deep. In a game where every shot was crucial, it seemed like every one Brown made was of great importance to the outcome of the game. Larkin turned in a normal stellar performance – 17 points and five assists – but the reason he makes this category is due to the ridiculous step back three-pointer he nailed to give his team a lead it would never relinquish with one minute to play.

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Miami Has Arrived: Two Conference Road Wins Show Hurricanes Experience

Posted by mpatton on January 11th, 2013

Miami is finally here. The past two years the Hurricanes’ roster was better on paper than it ever performed on the court. This year it looks like they’re finally reaching that potential, despite Reggie Johnson‘s current absence from the lineup with a broken thumb. The Hurricanes will also contend with NC State for the ACC runner-up slot come March. Their success isn’t thanks to a flashy offense, which you might expect from a team with Shane Larkin at the helm — rather, it’s thanks to their physical defense.

Durand Scott's toughness adds a lot to Miami's backcourt. (Photo: Robert Willett / Raleigh News & Observer)

Durand Scott’s toughness adds a lot to Miami’s backcourt. (Photo: Robert Willett / Raleigh News & Observer)

This is the first year the team has been in the top 50 in defensive efficiency since 2009, and it’s making a big difference. Statistically, the secret is two-fold: The Hurricanes shut down the interior (opponents are only 41% from inside the arc this season), and they don’t commit fouls. Visually, their experience plays a big role. Kenny Kadji and Julian Gamble are very good shot-blockers and their guards are athletic enough to stay in front of people. Experience combined with Jim Larranaga’s system allow the Hurricanes to play physically and avoid fouling. Offense is still a factor in Miami’s success. Miami runs Larkin or Durand Scott through at least one (often two) high ball screens per possession. Against North Carolina the Hurricanes’ offense looked bad most of the game. They shot too many threes, and there was no flow. After the game, Jim Larranaga made it sound like this was at least in part intentional: “When we play a team that pressures us and is going to be trapping the ball-handler, we share the ball and spread them out. And if you get an open three, you have the green light to shoot it.”

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ACC Team Previews: Miami Hurricanes

Posted by mpatton on October 29th, 2012

Throughout the preseason, the ACC microsite will release a preview for each of the 12 teams. Today’s victim: the Miami Hurricanes.

Miami never really clicked last season. The team showed flashes of brilliance like in its overtime win at Duke or their home dismantling of eventual ACC champion Florida State. However, more often than not, Jim Larranaga’s team looked mediocre and inconsistent. Reggie Johnson added trying to recover from a knee injury to his ongoing weight issue, which meant he couldn’t stay on the court for extended stretches nor run the floor very well. To make matters worse, senior sharpshooter Malcolm Grant lost his stroke last season, regressing at an alarming rate to an abysmal 34% from the field. This year looks much better on paper, though history certainly calls for caution when prognosticating Miami’s season.

Shane Larkin

Shane Larkin Is The X-Factor For Miami This Season (credit: Paul Abell / US Presswire)

Newcomers

Consensus three-star center Tonye Jekiri and shooter Steve Sorenson are the only freshmen joining Larranaga in Coral Gables this season. However, redshirt freshman Bishop Daniels may prove to have the most impact, as he’s spent the most time with the team. Daniels redshirted last season after missing the first half of the season with a foot injury. He’s a very athletic combo guard known for his leaping and could provide an offensive spark off the bench backing up Durand Scott or Shane Larkin.

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ACC M5: 10.29.12 Edition

Posted by mpatton on October 29th, 2012

  1. Baltimore Sun: Maryland transfer Dez Wells‘ story is complicated. He was suspended four games after contributing to the Xavier-Cincinnati brawl last season; then he was expelled from Xavier after being accused with sexual assault. An Ohio grand jury refused to indict him on those allegations and the prosecutor assigned to the case called the school’s action against Wells “an injustice,” presumably because the university jumped to conclusions of improper behavior. The NCAA has denied Maryland’s appeal for Wells immediate eligibility, and good arguments can be made for both sides of the debate. However, the author’s allusion that Maryland is in the NCAA crosshairs while high profile schools like Kentucky skate by seems farfetched.
  2. State of the UState of the U caught up with Miami junior Rion Brown, who showed major improvements last season. Brown calls for Miami fans to take a more active role cheering on the team this season. He noted that Jim Larranaga no longer spends his time teaching philosophy, instead focusing on basketball; he also thinks the Hurricanes will be a faster team than last year. Brown is an under-the-radar guy Miami will really need to perform well if this season is going to live up to the hype.
  3. Washington Post: Virginia Tech took a couple of steps back last season, finishing a disappointing 4-12 in conference play. The Hokies have a bona fide star in Erick Green, but he will need his teammates to step up their offensive production if Virginia Tech hopes to improve significantly this season. Mark Giannotto points to Robert Brown and Jarell Eddie on the perimeter as two players who need to take big steps forward this season. Eddie largely works as a set-shooter, reaping the rewards of Green’s penetration. Brown has the athleticism to take the ball inside, but he needs to improve his halfcourt offensive efficiency.
  4. theACC.com: The ACC got some very good news recently as the NCAA released its graduation success rates (GSR) at the end of last week. The conference is tops of the six power conferences in GSR for football, men’s basketball, and baseball. While it’s not a perfect metric by any means, the GSR is better than the federal graduation rate, which ignores transfers altogether (while the GSR conversely holds schools accountable for transfers leaving in poor academic standing).
  5. Hampton Roads Daily Press: Virginia’s backcourt got a little thinner for the beginning of the season, as freshman Teven Jones has been suspended for the team’s season opener. The Cavaliers have already lost defensive specialist Jontel Evans for a while as he recovers from surgery to heal a stress fracture in his foot. This leaves freshman Taylor Barnette and two-guard Joe Harris to run the point to start the year. Tony Bennett desperately needs someone to take the reins until Evans returns.
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The ACC Argument: SI’s Preseason Conference Rankings

Posted by mpatton on October 25th, 2012

Andy Glockner revealed his preseason conference rankings — quite impressively giving nearly as many words to the SWAC as the Big Ten — with the ACC coming in at fifth behind all of the power conferences except the Pac-12 (#8). Glockner’s top two make sense. The Big Ten and Big East both have fewer questions than the other conferences. Also, it’s a safe bet based on the past couple of seasons that those two will be on top of the college basketball totem poll.

Does the National Media Still Doubt Leonard Hamilton?

However, ranking the Big 12, SEC and ACC raises a few more questions. The first issue is weighting the depth of the conference against the quality of the best teams. Is it better to have a strong top or a decent bottom? Both certainly enhance a conference’s standing, but it says here that a strong top is more important. After Kansas, the Big 12 is a mess. It’s true most of those teams will be good, but does one great team (that’s headlined by Jeff Withey, Elijah Johnson, and some talented freshmen) make for the third best conference in the country? The SEC is a different story. Kentucky, Missouri and Florida have the potential to be great. Tennessee and Alabama should be good. But are those five better than the ACC’s top five? Also can any fan expect consistent results from Frank Haith?

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ACC M5: 10.10.12 Edition

Posted by mpatton on October 10th, 2012

  1. Run The Floor: Michael Rogner got a chance to check in with Florida State alumnus Luke Loucks, who talked about some potential Seminole breakout guys. Loucks especially complimented the incoming guys, and unsurprisingly, Florida State is bringing in some strong defenders on the perimeter and erasers down low. I’m most interested to see how quickly Leonard Hamilton can work up a team with this much youth after having such an experienced squad last season.
  2. Baltimore Sun: Mark Turgeon seems a lot more at ease for his second year in College Park. Some of his relaxation may be because he knows what to expect. It might also be that Terrell Stoglin moved on; as Turgeon cryptically said, “the chemistry right now is great but we haven’t played a game.” Regardless of the origin, Turgeon definitely needs his team to start showing tangible signs of both short-term and long-term commitment.
  3. Greater Wilmington Business Journal (via ESPN.com): Roy Williams wants to coach six to 10 more years depending on his health at North Carolina. That’s longer than most probably would’ve guessed, but he’s only 62 so it’s not inconceivable. However, Williams’ success hinges on his recruiting, which takes a lot of time and energy. Unrelatedly, but also from the article, Williams also was very high on local rivals Duke and NC State, saying they would probably be on top of the national polls.
  4. Washington Post: Alex Len addressed his two biggest criticisms over the summer by putting on some bulk and learning English. The Ukranian seven-footer will anchor a Maryland frontline that has a ton of potential this season. The Terrapins have a combination of talent, youth and experience that should make for a volatile but entertainting set of big men.
  5. Draft Express: Many people know the top players in the ACC, but Draft Express put together scouting reports on the top 25 ACC players. My only major qualm is that Reggie Johnson is so low. Johnson may struggle with weight issues, but he has incredibly soft hands and uses his weight well on offense. He’ll find a spot in the NBA barring a bad physical. The ACC’s undersized combo guards will struggle more.
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ACC Summer Recess: Miami Hurricanes

Posted by mpatton on July 25th, 2012

Over the next four weeks we’ll be taking a step back and looking at each team in the ACC to assess where each program — and the conference as a whole — stands before we totally turn our attention to the 2013-14 season later this fall. Today’s target: Miami.

Where They Stand Now

Jim Larranaga Has Plenty of Talent Back in Coral Gables for his Second Year

Miami comes off of another simultaneously successful and disappointing season after finishing 9-7 in ACC play (as modestly predicted last November) last year. The mediocre season led to a two-seed in the NIT, where the Hurricanes got trounced in the second round by Minnesota thanks to a horrendous defensive effort. Still, for Jim Larranaga‘s first season — especially one damaged by the Nevin Shapiro scandal and numerous injuries — a conference record above .500 shouldn’t be taken for granted. The Hurricanes never made the jump from a good team to a great one, but two high-profile wins at Duke and against Florida State showed the potential hidden in the roster.

Who’s Leaving

Malcolm Grant and Dequan Jones hit the road after finishing their final seasons of eligibility, but don’t overrate Grant’s departure. Last year Grant took major steps backward offensively, never finding his shot. For the first three years of his career, Grant was one of the country’s best shooters. He averaged significantly over 40% from deep those years, taking over 200 threes in 2010-11. Three-point shooting made up for his poor finishing skills and lackluster mid-range game, but Grant went cold from downtown in 2011-12 finishing the year at a tepid 33%.

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ACC Morning Five: 03.20.12 Edition

Posted by mpatton on March 20th, 2012

  1. Miami Herald: In case you missed it, Miami‘s season ended with a bunch of bricks and a quiet crowd of 1,649 people ready to watch in person. The Hurricanes got throttled by Minnesota, giving up easy baskets on one end before settling for low-percentage jumpers on the other. There’s always a danger in the NIT that teams won’t get up for the games, but I thought Miami had something to prove after narrowly missing the Big Dance. Instead, Kenny Kadji played horribly (he’s combined to go 5-27 from the field in the postseason), Reggie Johnson only managed to grab two rebounds, and only Rion Brown provided much energy. Assuming everyone returns and stays eligible, next year is Miami’s year.
  2. Oxford Public-Ledger: This article does a great job capturing the ups and downs of March Madness, juxtaposing the NCAA’s money-maker and its suddenness with the journalists hoping to cover it. Austin Rivers‘ quotes from after Duke’s loss to Lehigh are tough to read. This is a unique article and is worth a read.
  3. Independent Weekly: For a more long-winded take on the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament and media involvement, look no further than Adam Sobsey. He captures the rollercoaster of emotions the North Carolina team rode following its easy win over Creighton. He also rips the NCAA’s media policies and rightly so. After opening the North Carolina locker room to the press, Roy Williams sent the media out to tell the team about Kendall Marshall‘s injury. Needless to say the group was shell-shocked. But because of the NCAA rule, Williams had to re-open the locker room to the “vulturous mob rapacity” (Sobsey’s style is always easy to spot) for another 10 minutes.
  4. TarHeelBlue.com: Speaking of Marshall’s injury this article offers a great tribute to the Tar Heel point guard.

    It’s more than that because it impacts a person we’ve grown to love. It helps that he throws head-shaking passes, but that’s not all of it. He’s someone who occasionally hangs out in the Carolina Basketball Museum, just to soak in some Tar Heel history. He signs every autograph after every game at every hour into the night, and somehow even seems to enjoy it. He came to Carolina basketball camp as a kid and cherished the pictures, just like so many of us have done. We know we can’t pass it like him. But maybe, watching the way he plays, you can believe that we might appreciate it like him, if we were wearing that jersey.

  5. Associated Press (via Washington Post): The news isn’t directly related to the ACC anymore, but former Georgia Tech great Bobby Cremins announced his retirement from the College of Charleston. Earlier this year, he took an indefinite medical leave for exhaustion. Coaching always took a toll on Cremins, which likely led to the six-year hiatus he took between being pushed out at Georgia Tech and returning to the Southern Conference for an encore (he started his coaching career at Appalachian State).

EXTRA: Joe Posnanski took some time to absorb the first weekend of the NCAA tournament from the neutral confines of Las Vegas. He chronicles one of the two biggest events (with the Super Bowl being the other) for most sports books, talking with oddsmakers and bettors alike.

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