A roller-coaster season is the best way to describe the year for Jim Larranaga’s squad. The Hurricanes looked like world-beaters at times (wins over UNC, Duke and Virginia) and struggled mightily at others (losing four of six to begin ACC play). The team was built on a top-20 defense, with an offense that could be explosive when hitting shots, but that shooting was inconsistent throughout the year.
Preseason expectation: Six ACC teams were ranked ahead of Miami in both of the major polls heading into the season. (Miami was 31st in the AP poll and 29th in the Coaches poll.) The expectations for the ‘Canes were even lower from media members within their own conference, who pegged them in preseason voting as the ninth-best team in the ACC. However, there were reasons to believe that Miami would outperform the expectations, even in a loaded conference. Miami lost seniors Angel Rodriguez, Sheldon McClellan and Tonye Jekiri from last year’s team that lost to eventual national champion Villanova in the Sweet 16, but returned seniors Kamari Murphy and Davon Reed. Add in junior guard Ja’Quan Newton and a pair of four-star freshman recruits in guard Bruce Brown and forward Dewan Huell, and there looked to be plenty of weapons available.
November 24-27: Miami travels to Orlando, Florida for the AdvoCare Invitational where they square off with Stanford, Iowa State and in-state rival Florida. After beating Stanford 67-53, the ‘Canes drop the next two match-ups against fellow tournament teams, scoring just 56 points in each outing. Miami shoots just 6-30 combined from three in the two games, showing signs of the inconsistent shooting that would plague them all season.
Key Dates: After the AdvoCare Invitational, Miami’s non-conference schedule lightens considerably. The toughest match-up prior to ACC play comes when 2016 NIT champion George Washington calls on December 22nd. The ‘Canes dispatch the Colonials 72-64 behind the trio of Reed, Newton and Brown and proceed to beat Columbia to wrap up the out-of-conference slate on a six-game winning streak.
January 4: The Hurricanes travel to the Carrier Dome for an ACC match-up with Jim Boeheim’s Syracuse team. Facing the Orange’s vaunted 2-3 zone, the ‘Canes shoot a respectable 11/26 (42.3%) from three but manage to shoot just 10/28 (35.7%) from inside the arc. The bright spot in the loss is freshman guard Dejan Vasiljevic, who hits six of his 12 three-point attempts and makes his case for more regular playing time. The loss starts a stretch of four losses in five games, leaving Miami in a 2-4 hole in conference.
January 28: Following a win against Boston College, Miami stares down its biggest test of the season thus far when the sixth-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels descend upon the Watsco Center, bringing with them one of the best offenses in the country. The Hurricanes shut down the vaunted Heels attack, holding Roy Williams’ team to just 62 points on 35% shooting. Meanwhile, Bruce Brown explodes for 30 points on 8-of-11 shooting from the field, including 4-of-6 from three-point range, showcasing the potential that had Miami fans so excited about the freshman heading into the year.
February 11: The Hurricanes follow up the North Carolina win with a loss to in-state rival Florida State in their next game before recording a pair of victories against North Carolina State and Virginia Tech. That sets up a showdown with fourth-ranked Louisville on the road. The ‘Canes are in the game, tied at 61 with 1:56 left, before recording a turnover, missed layup, and a missed free throw on their next three possessions. That allows Louisville to take a 66-62 lead from which Miami couldn’t recover.
February 20 and 25: Miami rebounds nicely from the loss to Louisville with a pair of wins against Georgia Tech and Clemson. Awaiting the ‘Canes are dates with Virginia on the road (Feb. 20) and Duke at home (Feb. 25). To solidify their tournament resume, these two games are likely crucial. Miami enters the two-game stretch at 8-6 in conference, but getting to 10 wins would likely put them over the top. They do just that. In a pair of defensive slugfests, the Hurricanes hold their opponents to an average of 49 points, allowing each team to shoot just 31% from the field and 24% from three. In fact, over the last six games of the regular season, Miami holds their opponents to no more than 66 points.
March 8-9: Miami travels to Brooklyn for the ACC Tournament after dropping their final two conference games to Virginia Tech and Florida State. They draw Syracuse in the second round their bye by finishing eighth in the conference. The Hurricanes avenge the January 4 loss to ‘Cuse with a 62-57 win, shooting much better and continuing their run of strong defensive play. This sets up a quarterfinal date with North Carolina. Continuing the season’s theme, Miami’s shooting deserts them, and the Tar Heels run away for an easy 78-53 win. The Hurricanes end the season with a 21-11 record (10-8 in ACC play).
The road ahead: The Hurricanes drew an eight-seed in the Midwest region, and their first-round opponent is the Big Ten’s Michigan State Spartans, another team that’s been up and down this season. The showdown is set for a 9:20 p.m. ET tip on Friday, March 17. If the Hurricanes advance, they would likely face number one-seed Kansas in the Round of 32 on Sunday.