Even though this season has been a struggle for the Miami Hurricanes men’s basketball team, there is still technically a chance they could make it to the NCAA Tournament. As unlikely as it is, part of me can still imagine a late run to the tournament.
With an 11-14 record on the season, the only way this team can make it to the NCAA Tournament would be by winning the ACC Tournament and receiving an automatic bid as the conference champion. Since they have only won three of their 13 league games so far, it is unlikely, but I think this team still has what it takes for a huge run.
It has not been a good season, by far the worst under head coach Jim Larrañaga. Though they haven’t bee able to win games consistently, the Hurricanes have shown they can stick with almost anyone and, if they can get hot, they could give teams trouble in the ACC Tournament.
Every season, there seems to be a team no one expected to make a run in the conference tourney, and I think it could be the Hurricanes this season. If a few things go their way and they play some of their best basketball of the season, it could lead to some wins. But what could give someone hope of this?
1. Streaky Shooting
This Miami team has the ability to stretch the floor and knock down shots from deep. Of the seven players who have played over 300 minutes this season, six of them can shoot the ball from 3-point range. If the secondary scorers on the team like Anthony Lawrence, DJ Vasiljevic, and Sam Waardenburg were to get hot, it would bring this team to another level.
The two main pieces on offense, Chris Lykes and Zach Johnson, have played well all season and are definitely important to the team winning, but it is the other players who are needed to push this team over the top. With their ability to not just shoot, but also create shots on the drive and find teammates, they need those open shots to fall when they do create for the other ‘Canes shooters.
In their overtime loss to the eighth-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels, the team was making shots when they were found and that is how they were able to stick with one of the best teams in the country. The defense just couldn’t match the offense on that night. In that game, Miami hit 14 3-pointers. That would get a win on a lot of nights.
For a run in the conference tournament, they would need that kind of shooting in most of their games. Against better teams like Duke, UNC, or Virginia, they would just need a little better defense, too.
2. Larrañaga’s Cinderella Magic
One of the most famous Cinderella stories this century was led by coach Larrañaga. In 2006, he led George Mason to the Final Four as an 11-seed. This is a different scenario, but he has the experience in making tournament runs and getting the best out of his team at the best possible times.
Not many coaches have the experience of leading less to more than he does. If I needed a coach to bring a struggling team on a run, there aren’t too many coaches I would trust more than Larrañaga.
3. Never Bet Against Lykes
When Chris Lykes shows up and is the best player on the floor, you can’t count out the Hurricanes. If he is knocking down shots and killing a defense with his ability to score, it gives his teammates that much more of an opportunity to find openings. For the team to succeed in the ACC Tournament, Lykes must play lights-out like he has for much of this season.
He is averaging 16.8 points per game, which the highest for a Miami player since 2008-09 when Jack McClinton averaged 19.3 points per game. The Hurricanes will need that kind of scoring as well as the rest of the team to step it up as well. The team is averaging 72.2 points per game, which is tied for 195th in the country, and their 44-percent from the field is tied for 206th nationally. To win games, they need to shoot better as a team, but that starts with Lykes.
4. Izundu Must Be on the Floor
With only seven players receiving minutes, it is important that those seven players be available. Ebuka Izundu has hurt the team with his foul trouble all season. When he is on the floor, he gives the team a presence in the middle that they don’t get from any other player, both on offense and defense.
Izundu is by far the best rebounder and shot-blocker on the team, but he consistently finds himself in foul trouble. He has 76 personal fouls on the season, just over three per game on average. As the presence in the middle of the defense and the team consistently playing small with Waardenburg or Lawrence at power forward, he has to play tough, but he also has to be smart.
On offense, Izundu is extremely important, not just on the offensive glass, but scoring as well. He averages 3.4 offensive rebounds per game, a solid part of his team-high 8.8 rebounds per game, and that has helped him double his career-high in scoring average to 10.8 points per game. But he helps driving guards as well, giving Lykes and Johnson an athletic big who can catch a lob when an opponent’s big slides over.