End of the Road

The morning after is always the worst. Last night I convinced myself that I was happy to have just been there.  It was an amazing run that gave me a lifetime of memories, and that I was not sad it ended against such a great team like UCONN. This morning I woke up feeling like my best friend died. This morning I woke up feeling sick like I had mixed white overproof Caribbean made rum fit for Jack Sparrow with aged dark cognac and a couple shots of top shelf tequila for good measure. Bartender, I need another round please. The sensational sentiment of winning and the horrible hangover of losing is one of the cruelest dichotomies in sports. Greater people than I have stated it more eloquently. “There’s winning and there is misery.” Pat Riley. “That’s the difference between winning and losing.” Tony D’Amato via Al Pacino. “The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.” Jim McKay. “Sometimes you have to go through some nightmares to get to your dreams.” LeBron James.

Like Meek Mill, we all saw our dreams unfold and nightmares come true Saturday night in Houston. Frankly, all of those previously quoted clichés are applicable here and credit to the University of Connecticut, they are a great team, and they are likely going to win their fifth national championship on Monday. However, I sincerely believe in my heart that there is no defense on the planet good enough to hold the Miami Hurricanes to 25% shooting, 9 made field goals, and only 2 assists in an entire half of basketball when the Canes play like they normally play. We are tough to beat when we share the responsibility of diffusing the magnitude of the moment, when we share and move the ball, when we move the defense to exploit the open spaces that we want to create, when we attack the paint without over penetrating, when we gang rebound, and when we are connected on defense.

Connecticut guard Jordan Hawkins, right, pressures Miami guard Isaiah Wong during the second half of a Final Four college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament on Saturday, April 1, 2023, in Houston. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vasquez)

UConn is a great team. The Huskies are likely going to win their fifth national championship because San Diego State is about as offensively challenged as they come, but UCONN’s defense is not what caused us to miss many of the wide-open looks that we did get and normally make. UCONN’s defense is not what made us not share the ball in transition when we had forced a turnover and had a numbers advantage in a clear fast break opportunity for an easy relief bucket. Instead of making the right pass to get the right shot, we tried to go it alone and ended up fumbling it out of bounds, or getting our shot blocked, or creating a live ball turnover for UCONN going the other way. UCONN has tremendous size but so does Duke and Virginia. Duke has a frontline that boasts two 7 footers and Miami ran circles around them with their pace, quickness, their ingenuity, and their ball sharing. Virginia is a stout defensive team with size as well. We beat them.

Miami has dealt with size before. Miami runs a modern offense and knows how to neutralize size, but they did not show it under the bright lights on Saturday night. You can’t over penetrate in the paint against size. When you dribble right into the chest of a shot blocker and look up, it will feel like you’re looking up at the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. The Canes know that, but they kept doing it anyway. To nullify size, you have to do what we did against Texas and Indiana, which was to take a lot of midrange pull ups out of the pick and roll and then start running back door cuts when the shot blocker inevitably starts moving up to take away those midrange baskets. Miami knows how to do that; they just did not do it on Saturday night. Truthfully, Adama Sanogo is only two inches taller than Omier and no bigger than Trace Jackson-Davis or Jarace Walker. Sure, Klingan is a 7-foot goliath, but he does not have the athleticism to deal with our quickness if we used it against him. We have a game plan for defeating size, but like Coach Larrañaga said in the post-game press conference we just didn’t execute the game plan or play like ourselves because of the magnitude of the moment and the pressure of the venue.

Miami head coach Jim Larranaga reacts during the second half of a Final Four college basketball game against Connecticut in the NCAA Tournament on Saturday, April 1, 2023, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

In basketball, you can’t defend the post by fronting a big man and sagging off the entry passer. You must put pressure on the passer to make it a difficult over the top pass or else it’s an easy layup for the big man down low and it makes us look like we were outmatched when really, we were outplayed. You’re better off just staying on the post player’s back and defending them straight up then fronting if you are going to allow the entry passer to throw the ball in without any ball pressure. When you play a pack the paint defensive philosophy, you must help the helper, and trust that your teammate will have your back and cover you with timely rotations. When you don’t play with that trust and you’re afraid to leave your man, it puts all of your teammates on an island and allows the opponent to exploit their predetermined beneficial matchups. When you don’t properly switch on the ball screens it leaves wide open threes that you can’t close out to, especially when you’re late with help so now you’re inevitably late with recovering back to the shooter as a result. These are all things that we saw Miami do effectively throughout the season and throughout the tournament that they did not do Saturday night for one reason or another.

I don’t want to sound overly critical of the team and like I don’t appreciate their effort. I know some people will take it that way, but I want to be unequivocally clear that I absolutely appreciate the effort and heart of this team. They played hard and they fought until the end. They made history. We will forever celebrate this team for that, and I personally will be writing another piece specifically dedicated to giving them nothing but roses. However, I do also have the duty of deconstructing what went wrong and critically explaining the thorns present on those roses, in this forum, which is what I am doing now. Coach L loves this team more than any of us can understand, and he was also quite critical of them in the press conference after the game. UCONN is a great team, but the fact of the matter is we made it easier for them by not executing our game plan and not playing like ourselves. I think the players will be the first to tell you that.

Miami forward Norchad Omier drives to the basket past Connecticut center Donovan Clingan during the second half of a Final Four college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament on Saturday, April 1, 2023, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Basketball is a pretty simple game. When you’re not sharing the ball, and everyone is trying to win it by themselves, you become very easy to defend. Those were Coach L’s words, not mine. At halftime an unnamed Hurricane player wrote the words “SHARE THE BALL” in bold all capitalized letters on the dry erase board and then as soon as the second half began we came out making the same mistakes Coach L thought he went over and corrected at halftime. The fact that the Canes were able to cut the lead to 8 and only lose by 13 with how far away we were from playing like ourselves and how dominant UCONN has been in this tournament was a minor miracle in itself and a testament to how much fight this team possesses.

Connecticut guard Jordan Hawkins shoots over Miami guard Jordan Miller during the first half of a Final Four college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament on Saturday, April 1, 2023, in Houston. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

The morning after is always the worst. This morning I woke up singing “although we’ve come to the end of the road, still I can’t let go,” on a repeating loop in my head. My harmonizing with Wanyá Morris and Shawn Stockman was imaginably Grammy level, but in reality, my voice was admittedly cracking like I was singing at a funeral.  The last two years have been a whirl wind.  Let’s recap: Elite Eight last year, Final Four this year, upsetting the elite programs, proving prediction experts wrong, and witnessing rallies at Watsco.  What a fun ride it has been! I love this team so much and I was not ready to see it end. They brought the school together. They brought the alumni together. They brought the community together. They brought the South Florida region together. They put Canes basketball on the map as a legit program that deserves respect. The highs that Jordan Miller, Isaiah Wong, Kam McGusty, Charlie Moore, and Sam Waardenburg took us on last year and this year has been a magic carpet ride that we will never forget. Nor should we. They showed us a whole new world of basketball from a new fantastic four point of view that many of us thought possible, but none were sure we could predict. So, as I loiter around my home in my black Akatsuki robe with my dark shades on, five o’clock shadow on my face, and an intolerable disposition that my family won’t understand, I just want to thank Coach L and this squad for the inspirational performances they gave us. This is the end of the road for this legendary Miami team, but they have laid the foundation for all our teams in the future to stand on their shoulders and dream of surpassing them. Bravo!


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