After an impressive win over No. 22 Butler on Sunday night, the Miami Hurricanes earned the Puerto Rico Tip-Off tournament championship. They also cemented their status as the most surprising team to start the season. Coach Jim Larrañaga’s squad is now 5-0 on the season, with wins over Coach Ben Howland’s Mississippi State Bulldogs, Coach Larry Krystkowiak’s No. 15 Utah Utes, and now Butler, coached by Chris Holtmann.
Watching the Hurricanes gives you a sense of entertainment rarely found in today’s college game. They fly around with a controlled chaos on defense, forcing turnovers and erasing shots, putting their opponents back on their heels and throwing them out of rhythm. On offense, Larrañaga has given his team the green light to take three-point attempts and run the fast break.
Miami’s fast-paced style is markedly different from the anemic style that many men’s college basketball teams play with today. Many, including Geno Auriemma, legendary Connecticut women’s coach, have criticized the men’s game for its low-scoring nature and its declining entertainment value. Auriemma has a point, but Miami is an exception to the rule. Its hectic style is painfully reminiscent to Hoya fans of the 2011 VCU Rams and the 2013 Florida Gulf Coast Eagles.
Unlike VCU and FGCU, however, Miami is led by proven talent. At point guard, fifth-year senior and Kansas State transfer Angel Rodriguez leads the attack. He has struggled with his shot somewhat this year, but always seems to show up in big games, scoring 19 for the Hurricanes against Butler and winning the Puerto Rico tournament MVP award.
Another fifth-year senior transfer student, this one from Texas, is Sheldon McClellan. The 6-foot-5 shooting guard is recording astronomical numbers; he averages 20 points per game with a 66 percent field goal percentage and a whopping 56 percent conversion rate from three-point range. His shooting percentages are bound to fall back down to more normal levels, but it is unlikely that McClellan will stop making defenders look silly with his hesitation dribbles and quick releases anytime soon.
On the defensive end, Miami is anchored by 7-foot NBA prospect Tonye Jekiri. Jekiri has put in the work and made himself into an asset for the Hurricanes on both ends of the floor, putting on 20 pounds of muscle in the offseason and developing a nice right-handed jump hook shot. Jekiri is arguably the most irreplaceable player on the team. On the defensive end, his size and length allow guards like Rodriguez and McClellan to play aggressively and look for steals; if they make a mistake, they know they can rely on Jekiri to step up in the paint. His development into a legitimate offensive threat near the rim also provides the guards with vital floor space to shoot three-pointers — of which they shoot over 20 per game — or to slash to the rim and get fouled.
Miami has more than just the three seniors, though; teams this year have been terrorized by Miami’s bench. Four players on its bench average over six points per game, all of whom play significant minutes for the Hurricanes. This doesn’t include 6-foot-8 redshirt junior forward Kamari Murphy, who was suspended for the first three games of the season and has been a little slow to get back into rhythm for the Canes. If Murphy can get going, the Hurricanes will have a rotation of 10 high-quality players. This is especially significant considering the high-energy style with which they play. By getting so many guys in off the bench, they will be able to keep their stars’ minutes down and keep their legs fresh.
Even considering their impressive depth, one potential weakness for the Hurricanes is the fact that Jekiri is their only true center. The college basketball season is a long one, and Larrañaga will have to keep an eye on Jekiri’s minutes to make sure that he does not get fatigued as the Hurricanes get closer to the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament and the Big Dance.
Another weak spot that opponents may be able to exploit is ball control. Miami’s chaos-causing style could lead them to get sloppy with the ball and allow the other team to turn steals into easy points. In the second half of the Butler game it had this problem, and for a few minutes it looked like Butler was going to make it a close game. Luckily for the Hurricanes, Rodriguez took charge and they maintained their lead into victory.
Miami is not perfect, but you could hardly ask for a better start to the season. We will see how things go when it faces the dreaded gauntlet of ACC play, but the Hurricanes are a team to look out for.
Hugh Ramlow is a sophomore in the College. The Zone appears every other Tuesday.
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