In what feels like the blink of an eye, we went through (technically) three rounds of the NCAA Tournament. Some separated themselves from the rest, like Florida and Arizona. The Miami Hurricanes should also be added to that list.
After an easy 78-49 victory over Pacific in the second round, the Canes were able to hang on in the final moments to beat Illinois, 63-59. Survive and advance is the motto of March Madness and The U is one team that is perfectly suited to do that.
Here are five reasons why Miami will make the Final Four.
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1. GUARD PLAY
While Michigan’s Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. have been acclaimed as the nation’s best backcourt, the Miami Hurricanes’ combo of Shane Larkin and Durand Scott make a close second. Miami had a spectacular season this year, but without healthy contributions from Larkin (14.5 points, 4.6 assists per game) and Scott (13.2 points, 3.9 rebounds per game), the U wouldn’t be where it’s at now.
Coming into the year, everyone knew they would have to slow down Scott. Scott has been a key piece to the ‘Canes success ever since he arrived in Coral Gables. A four-time All-ACC member, Scott proved year in and year out that he brought his New York City game down with him. Larkin, on the other hand, took the country by storm as a sophomore this season. He can get to the rim at will, set up teammates for easy baskets and has one of the sweetest jump shots in all of Florida — just ask Illinois.
As the season went on, the two developed quite the chemistry and cohesion with each other. When these two are at their best, Miami can compete with anyone.
2. THREE-POINT SHOOTING
Miami is no Duke, who shot 40 percent from three, no North Carolina, who averaged 19 three-point attempts per game. But that doesn’t mean they are incapable of using the perimeter to their advantage. Miami shot 35 percent from three for the year and have a number of players that can knock it down from deep: Trey McKinney Jones (39 percent), Kenny Kadji (35), Larkin (40), Rion Brown (30), and Scott (34).
When the Hurricanes are hitting from three it makes their team all the more dangerous; it allows for them to spread the floor and gives big man Reggie Johnson (because of surgery, Johnson will be unavailable for games this weekend) more room to operate in the paint as well as driving lanes for Larkin and Scott. Miami may not rely as heavily on the three as other teams left in the NCAA Tournament, but they are able to use it as a very effective weapon in their offense.
3. JIM LARRANAGA
Jim Larranaga is one of the best coaches in the country. In just two seasons, he turned the Hurricanes from ACC bottom feeders to the regular season and ACC Tournament champions. This year, Miami became the first team outside of the “Big Four” (Duke, North Carolina State, UNC and Wake Forest) to win both the regular season and postseason ACC titles in the same year.
At 63 years old, Larranaga comes equipped with 42 years of college coaching experience. The U might be his first time headlining a big-name program, but he is no stranger to the Big Dance. In 2006, he took the No. 11 seed George Mason Patriots to the Final Four, knocking off heavyweights like Michigan State, North Carolina and Connecticut along the way.
The ’06 George Mason team had considerably less talent than the current Miami roster does and with Larranaga calling the shots, he should definitely lead the Hurricanes to a trip to Atlanta and the 2013 Final Four.
The Hurricanes have big body after big body that they can put out on the floor — when he’s healthy, Johnson (6-10, 292 pounds), Kadji (6-11, 242 pounds), Julian Gamble (6-10, 250 pounds) — but the key defensively starts with the ball pressure they get from their guards. Larkin (2.0 steals per game) and Scott (1.6) battled back and forth against each other all year for ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors (Scott would take home the honor).
Their backcourt has the skill and stamina necessary to pressure an opposing team’s guard the full length of the court for an entire game. On the year, they force 11.8 turnovers per game. The Canes finished the regular season with the 18th-best defensive efficiency rating in the NCAA, and have the capability to hold a team scoreless for long stretches at a time. If the other team is unable to score points, Miami will push the ball right back down the opposing team’s throat.
The Hurricanes like to get up and down the court and turn turnovers into points, however, they are far from a one-trick pony. Larranaga’s squad has the versatility and talent on it’s roster to play at just about any pace it wants to.
Need to space the floor? A lineup of Larkin-Scott-Jones-Brown-Kadji does just that. Need to slow the game down and feed the post? Bring out Larkin-Scott-Jones-Gamble-Johnson. Need a taller lineup? Just put Scott-Jones-Kadji-Gamble-Johnson on the court. Need to create a mismatch in the frontcourt? Go with Larkin-Scott-Jones-Kadji-Johnson.
Miami has the pieces to dictate whatever style of basketball for whomever they are matched up against, something that not many other Sweet 16 teams can say.
What’s the biggest x-factor for Miami?
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