Miami Hurricanes K.O.

Miami Hurricanes

Before the game tipped off, Charles Barkley told us that he was “nervous.” He looked visibly concerned about the matchup problems the Miami Hurricanes presented for his beloved Auburn Tigers. At halftime he looked even more shook though his alma mater had rallied back from being down by 9 to make it a 1 point game at halftime. Now we know why. Although curiously unranked all season, this 2021-2022 Canes team is for real. Chuck also stated that if Auburn won, he might take his shirt off. I want to personally thank Coach Larrañaga and the boys for making sure there was no chance any of us would be forced to witness that visual.

Auburn at one point was the #1 ranked team in the country and could have been the #1 overall seed in this tournament based on their early season trajectory. We were told by the experts and pundits that the SEC was an amazingly tough conference. Meanwhile, also in their estimation, the ACC was down and weak. Looks like they lied to us about that one champ! The ACC is 9-2 in the tournament so far and have 3 teams (North Carolina, Duke, and Miami) through to the Sweet 16 round. Miami has shocked the world with two upsets in their first two rounds and are still dancing.

Bruce Pearl arrogantly stated in a video clip of an off-day practice with his team, “if we don’t turn the ball over, Miami can’t beat us.” He then repeated that line and added “that’s a big statement, because Miami’s a really good team.” Then he repeated it again, “if we don’t turn the ball over, Miami can’t beat us.” Was he trying to imbue his team with confidence or convince himself of what he was saying? However, that line of thinking only addressed his team’s focus in keeping possession of the ball and ignored the fact that the Canes are active participants in their own success who have made a living forcing turnovers.

Miami Hurricanes K.O.

Miami doesn’t passively stand around waiting for teams to get sloppy, commit unforced errors, and turn the ball over. Miami applies a tremendous amount of pressure on whoever has the ball while fronting the big men in the post to dissuade their opponents from throwing it in the post down low. The Hurricanes sent timely double teams to blitz and trap the ball-on-ball screens while pre-rotating to assist the helper on the backside. This gives their opponents the feeling and look of playing against a team that has more than 5 guys on the court defensively.

The Hurricanes also mixed it up by switching a lot on pick & rolls and giving the Tigers different looks to contend with. They sent body after body, including occasional triple teams, to disrupt Jabari Smith’s rhythm and confidence. It worked to perfection. This defensive pressure forced the Tigers into a lot of turnovers. The same turnovers Bruce Pearl warned his team to not commit. Conversely, Miami is very good at taking care of the ball with all their players being good ball handlers. This explains why Miami had a 30-1 advantage in fast break points. A deficit like that is hard to overcome, especially in a one and done scenario.

Isaiah Wong, Kam McGusty, and Charlie Moore were all brilliant throughout the game. They created shots for themselves and others while being the chief thieves responsible for pick pocketing the Tigers 10 times. Jordan Miller and Sam Waardenburg were brilliant when they were asked to hard show, blitz, trap, or switch on the pick & rolls. Auburn was unable to consistently use their size advantage on Miami, and our quick footed bigs were able to slide their feet laterally to stay in front of the Auburn guards. This meant that on many possessions when Auburn was able to get off a shot attempt because they didn’t turn the ball over, they ended up settling for a deep low percentage jump shot.

Larrañaga referred to his team’s defensive philosophy as “the scramble.” It’s a defensive concept that he has taught since 1990 but has rarely been able to use because it requires a unique team that is comprised of mostly small quick guards causing havoc with their frenetic pace and active hands defensively. Because these Canes are a small position-less team that will rarely win a rebounding battle, they rely on this scramble defense to force turnovers and get transition buckets off them in the ensuing fast breaks. This style of play suits this roster well and is stylistically reminiscent of the way the Miami Heat played small ball during the Big 3 era. The Miami Hurricanes are still dancing and on to Chicago with a Sweet 16 date against the Iowa State Cyclones set for Friday night.

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