Miami made the Final Four as a 5-seed after upsetting top seeds Houston and Texas in the Midwest Regional. Can the ‘Canes continue their run?
The Miami Hurricanes built off last season’s surprise Elite Eight run the way any program would’ve wanted to in today’s era. Jim Larrañaga returned a handful of key starters and role players, headlined by Isaiah Wong and Jordan Miller, and then landed two of the best available players in the transfer portal in Norchad Omier and Nijel Pack.
The microscope was on this program from the beginning of the offseason, not for high expectations, but for the public role NIL had in building the roster. Omier and Pack both signed lucrative deals with LifeWallet, a company founded by Miami booster John Ruiz, that the company announced almost immediately after both committed to the ‘Canes. With it known just how much that duo was being compensated, reports soon came out that Wong was threatening to enter the transfer portal if his compensation didn’t improve.
Fast forward a few months and all that is a relative afterthought. Any potential chemistry issues never materialized, and this group — save for a rocky January — has looked the part of a Final Four contender. Miami is a flawed team, yet in a season in which every team is flawed, its strengths have been on full display during this run to Houston.
READ HEAT CHECK
how they got here
Miami’s path to the Final Four may have been the most difficult of any of the four teams remaining — and the ‘Canes needed to pull off some second-half comebacks to stay alive.
It started in the first round, when Miami trailed 12-seed Drake by eight with just over four and a half minutes to play. However, the ‘Canes close that game on a 16-1 run to get the victory. They trailed 4-seed Indiana for a portion of the second half of their second round matchup, too, before pulling away in the final 10 minutes for a 16-point victory.
Miami is the only team that beat both a 1- and 2-seed during the second weekend. Its 89-75 victory over Houston in the Sweet 16 was the team’s “easiest” victory, leading for the final 25 minutes of that game. It seemed like Miami’s run would end there, but the Hurricanes erased a 13-point second half deficit against Texas. They outscored the Longhorns 37-17 over the final 12:43.
HOW THEY BEAT YOU
Perimeter offense, plain and simple. Miami always has at least four players on the court that can shoot threes at a high clip or attack the basket depending on what the defense does. The gameplan is to space the defense as much as possible. Wong and Pack are two of the nation’s best shot-creators, and their ability to create offense for themselves in a pinch puts such pressure on opposing defenses.
The ‘Canes boast the fifth-most efficient offense in the country because of it.
HOW YOU BEAT THEM
The recipe for beating Miami isn’t a secret: Teams beat them down low because the Hurricanes really lack size. No one in the starting lineup is over 6-7 and no regular rotation player is over 6-9. They’ve been able to hold their own on the glass with a collective effort, and Omier is a solid rim protector and an elite rebounder, but it’s still a massive vulnerability. Even smaller Final Four teams like SDSU and FAU have one huge body in the starting lineup.
Miami is just 5-7 on the season when it doesn’t win the rebounding battle. When the ‘Canes have managed to outrebound their opponents, they are a perfect 24-0.
player TO WATCH: JORDAN MILLER
Miller is not Miami’s headliner — that would be either Wong, the ACC Player of the Year, or Pack, the MOP of the Midwest Regional — but he is arguably the team’s most important player. His versatility at the 4 spot is what allows Larrañaga’s perimeter-centric attack to be successful. Miller gives Miami a boost on the glass (6.2 rebounds per game) and knows how to score both inside (60.7 percent shooting on 2-pointers) and from the perimeter (32 made 3-pointers). The fifth-year senior handles the ball well enough to attack bigger defenders off the bounce, and he is good enough to either shoot over smaller defenders or bury them in the post.
“I’ve said it all season long, he’s the most underrated player in the country because he’s good at everything,” Larrañaga told reporters after beating Texas. “He can rebound. He defends all different-sized guys. He can shoot the three. He’s great at driving. Straight line drive, dribble drives. He makes all of his free throws. He is a great, great player. Simple.”
In that game against the Longhorns, Miller went a perfect 7-for-7 from the field and 13-for-13 from the free throw line, becoming the first player to shoot 100 percent on that many attempts in an NCAA Tournament game since Christian Laettner in 1992. He’s the guy who takes the ‘Canes from being a good team to being a great team.
CAN THEY WIN IT ALL?
Yes. Obviously, facing UConn in the Final Four is going to be a major challenge. The Huskies are the top-ranked team in KenPom and have been elite on both ends of the court all season long. But we’ve also seen how much guard play (still) matters in the NCAA Tournament and Miami has the best backcourt left. We’ve seen that group be extremely productive against better defenses, too, in Houston and Texas. Their perimeter-centric style could pose issues for UConn’s bigger lineup the same way it did for them against Indiana.
Miami will need to bring it’s A-plus game to claim the program’s first national championship, but these Hurricanes have the talent and ability to beat anyone when they’re at their best.