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Miami can score all it Lykes but can’t turn a corner without better defense

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It’s a new year with the same old problems for the Hurricanes.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 12 Pitt at Miami Photo by Samuel Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

NC State begins a crucial five-game stretch on Wednesday night against a Miami team that on paper looks quite a bit like it did last season—which is to say, not real good. The Hurricanes have missed the NCAAs in two straight seasons and probably will make it three in a row.

Does this put Jim Larranaga on the hot seat in his ninth season at the U? Who knows! More than 10 people probably would have to notice/care about Miami basketball in order for that to happen. Not that I’m saying he should be on the hot seat, mind you. I don’t think Miami should be so hasty with a pretty good coach.

But Larranaga has had trouble building roster depth lately and has had to plug in multiple transfers to prevent the bottom from falling out, which might not be a tenable approach. The Hurricanes had one of the shortest benches in the country last year, and that remains the case in 2020. And his freshman class has so far been underwhelming.

Miami Offense

2020 Canes Off_Eff (rk) eFG% TO% OR% FTR
2020 Canes Off_Eff (rk) eFG% TO% OR% FTR
Offense 110.2 (24) 51.9 (74) 15.9 (16) 23.4 (303) 25.5 (314)

The Miami offense has improved this season because the Hurricanes are shooting better from three and taking better care of the basketball. If you take steals out of the mix, Miami is turning the ball over on only 8.2% of its possessions, which ranks 27th. So they aren’t prone to shooting themselves in the foot.

They also aren’t quite as three-inclined as they were a season ago and that added selectivity has paid dividends with accuracy. For a team that lacks proven post commodities, they shoot it pretty well inside the arc, too.

On a good day, the Hurricanes are capable of a surprise like the one they pulled at Illinois, which is a top-30 team this year. They have the firepower to hang around better teams for a while, it’s just that their defense fails them more often than not.

Starters

Chris Lykes (5’7, 165) — A hero to waterbugs everywhere, Lykes has been a model of consistency as a skittering pest that opponents never can quite put under foot. Lykes isn’t a great shooter but good enough to blow up for 25 points on any given night, and you can bet he’ll take enough shots to make that possible. He’s putting up career-bests in FT% (83.3), 2G% (49.1), and 3FG% (35.3).

Dejan Vasiljevic (6’3, 190) — Vasiljevic has attempted more than 600 threes in his Miami career and made 38% of ‘em. He’s been exceptionally efficient this year thanks to a low turnover rate, 42% three-point shooting, and the fact that he is 28-28 at the free throw line.

Kameron McGusty (6’5, 192) — McGusty and Lykes account for half of Miami’s shots when they’re on the floor together, which is a lot of the time. McGusty spent two seasons at Oklahoma as a solid perimeter scorer and that has not changed; he’s also an effective scorer inside the arc.

Sam Waardenburg (6’10, 215) — Waardenburg is an infrequent shooter but prior to his struggles this year was a decent perimeter scorer. He’s the team’s best overall rebounder and a good shot blocker, and that’s where he brings the most value to this team.

Rodney Miller (7’0, 238) — He’s in his third season with Miami but this is the first year he’s gotten substantial playing time. He’s done well to avoid turnovers and he’s been pretty good in limited paint opportunities (55.6% on twos) but really needs to be stronger on the glass. Also he’s a career 31.6% free throw shooter (eep).

Bench

Harlond Beverly (6’4, 186), Isaiah Wong (6’3, 172), Anthony Walker (6’9, 208). These guys are freshmen, and here we see Miami’s scoring acumen go hurtling into a ravine. Walker has played a grand total of 19 minutes over Miami’s last five games and has scored three points since November. Larranaga clearly doesn’t think he’s ready for this level yet.

Beverly will probably get the most burn of this bunch, but has been inconsistent shooting the ball and is turnover-prone. Wong is 13-38 (34.2%) inside the arc this season.

Miami Defense

2020 Canes Def_Eff (rk) eFG% TO% OR% FTR
2020 Canes Def_Eff (rk) eFG% TO% OR% FTR
Defense 102.0 (199) 50.3 (210) 18.0 (251) 33.0 (327) 21.6 (11)

Miami’s horrible defensive performance in 2020 boils down to its flimsy interior defense, which includes that atrocious defensive rebounding number. Opponents are making 51.2% of their twos against Miami, ranking the Canes defense 247th in that category.

One way you can tell that a team’s interior defense is ripe for the exploiting: opponents aren’t taking a lot of threes. Only a third of the opposition’s shots have been from beyond the arc, which is four percentage points below the national three-point attempt rate. Who needs a bunch of threes when there’s a welcome mat in the lane?

The Pomeroy Predictor likes NC State by seven.