Tag Archives: Miami Hurricanes

Takeaways and observations from the opening weekend of March Madness

The madness is under way and it is as awesome as ever. Nine lower seeded teams won in the first (technically the second) round. Four more upsets occurred en route to the Sweet Sixteen. Here are some takeaways, observations, facts, and figures about the first three rounds of the 2013 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament:

  • A No. 12 seed has defeated a No. 5 seed in 11 of the past 12 seasons and in 22 of the past 24 years. 2013 was no exception; in fact, it was even more extreme than normal. Three No. 12 seeds (Oregon, California, and Ole Miss) pulled off an upset against a No. 5 seed (Oklahoma State, UNLV, and Wisconsin).
  • For the first time ever, a No. 3, No. 4, and No. 5 seed in the same region lost in the round of 64. New Mexico, Kansas State, and Wisconsin were defeated in the West Region.
  • The Mountain West, which was the toughest conference in the country in the regular season according to RPI, has been completely eliminated from the tournament after a 2-5 showing for its five teams that made the tourney.
  • The Pac-12 may have been under-seeded and is getting hot at the right time. Two Pac-12 teams with No. 12 seeds (California and Oregon) defeated No. 5 seeds and the conference put two teams (Arizona and Oregon) in the Sweet Sixteen. Arizona defeated No. 11 seed Belmont by 17 points and No. 14 seed Harvard by 23. Oregon topped No. 5 seed Oklahoma State by 13 points and No. 4 seed Saint Louis by 17.
  • Teams from the state of Florida are 6-0 and all three (No. 2 seed Miami, No. 3 seed Florida, and No. 15 seed Florida Gulf Coast) are in the Sweet Sixteen. Florida and Florida Gulf Coast will face each other on Friday.
  • Big Ten Tournament Champion Wisconsin is the only Big Ten team that did not win a game in the tournament. The conference is 10-3 and has a team in the Sweet Sixteen in each region.
  • For the third year in a row, there was a matchup between a No. 12 seed and No. 13 seed in the round of 32. No. 12 seed Ole Miss and No. 13 seed La Salle faced off in the West Region. Last year it was No. 12 South Florida and No. 13 Ohio that matched up in the Midwest Region and two years ago No. 12 seed Richmond and No. 13 seed Morehead State played in the Southwest Region.
  • No. 13 seed La Salle is doing its best to model itself after 2011 Virginia Commonwealth, who was a No. 11 seed. The Rams played in the First Four before making a Final Four run, where they lost to No. 8 seed Butler. The La Salle Explorers finished tied for third in the A-10, then defeated No. 13 seed Boise State, No. 4 seed Kansas State, and No. 12 seed Ole Miss to reach the Sweet Sixteen. They will face No. 9 seed Wichita State on Thursday.
No. 13 seed La Salle will attempt to follow Virginia Commonwealth's footsteps as a First Four team to make the Final Four. (Image courtesy of www.usatoday.com)
No. 13 seed La Salle will attempt to follow Virginia Commonwealth’s footsteps as a First Four team to make the Final Four. (Image courtesy of http://www.usatoday.com)
  • Only two of the four Naismith Award finalists remain in the tournament–Indiana’s Victor Oladipo and Michigan’s Trey Burke. Georgetown’s Otto Porter Jr. and Creighton’s Doug McDermott did not make it out of the first weekend.
  • The main color of the past nine NCAA Champions was blue. Eight (Duke, La Salle, Arizona, Marquette, Florida Gulf Coast, Florida, Michigan, and Kansas) of the remaining schools have blue as their main color.

Reactions to college basketball conference awards

Where I agree:

  • ACC Coach of the Year-Jim Larrañaga-University of Miami: The U was projected fourth in the ACC preseason coaches poll and the Hurricanes did not receive a single first place vote. Larrañaga led a Miami team with four fifth-year seniors and a flashy sophomore point guard to the school’s first ACC Championship. The Hurricanes were ranked as high as second in the country and will likely be a No. 2 or No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament. 
  • Big Ten Player of the Year-Trey Burke-University of Michigan: The Big Ten POY race came down to two players–Burke and Indiana guard Victor Oladipo. There wasn’t a wrong choice but I think that the Michigan sophomore was more deserving. Trey Burke averaged 19.2 points, 3.2 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game this season and had a strong finish to Michigan’s Big Ten schedule by scoring at least 20 points in five of the team’s final six games. He won the game against Michigan State by picking Keith Appling’s pocket in the final 30 seconds and giving Michigan a two-point advantage with a dunk at the other end; he makes Michigan go. While Burke’s efficiency isn’t ideal (20 points on 20 shots and 25 points on 24 shots against Indiana, 19 points on 21 shots against Wisconsin, 19 points on 19 shots against Illinois, etc.), he gets the job done. Both Oladipo and Burke have talented running mates but Indiana has more depth and offensive weapons, including the preseason national player of the year in sophomore center Cody Zeller.
Michigan sophomore point guard Trey Burke sealed a victory for the Wolverines when he stole the ball from Keith Appling on March 3. (Image courtesy of www.freep.com)
Michigan sophomore point guard Trey Burke sealed a victory for the Wolverines when he stole the ball from Keith Appling on March 3. (Image courtesy of http://www.freep.com)
  • Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year-Victor Oladipo-Indiana University: Ohio State point guard Aaron Craft is probably the best on-the-ball defender in the country and he showed the Hoosiers his peskiness on March 5 when he led the Buckeye defensive effort that resulted in 12 Indiana turnovers. However, Oladipo is a more versatile defender. Oladipo can lock down almost any player from a point guard to a power forward. He has had multiple 20+ deflection games this season and has 69 steals (Craft has 60, for a point of comparison). There was no way that Victor Oladipo was going to go home empty handed on both the Big Ten POY and DPOY awards.

Where I disagree:

  • ACC Player of the Year-Erick Green-Virginia Technical Institute: It’s time to dust off the files containing the arguments about whether or not Alex Rodriguez should have won A.L. MVP in 2003 when the Texas Rangers finished 71-91 and were 25 games out of first place in the A.L. West. This is a similar situation in a different sport but this time there is no discussion. This is blatantly wrong. Green’s Hokies finished dead last in the ACC with a 13-18 (4-14) record. Three of Virginia Tech’s conference wins came against the three teams that are immediately ahead of them in the league’s standings–Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and Clemson, whose cumulative record is six games below .500. Yes, Green leads the country in scoring at 25.4 points per game but  VT hasn’t accomplished much this season besides knocking off then-No. 15 Oklahoma State on Dec. 1. What’s wrong with Miami’s Shane Larkin, who led the ACC Champion Hurricanes in points, assists, steals and three-point percentage? What’s wrong with Mason Plumlee, who averaged 17 points and 10 rebounds per game for the No. 2 Blue Devils? The ACC voters were way off in their POY vote. 
  • SEC Player of the Year-Kentavious Caldwell-Pope-University of Georgia: I have a similar beef with the SEC voters that I do with the ACC voters. The Georgia Bulldogs finished 9-9 in the SEC. They tied for eighth place in a power 6 conference that barely has three teams in the current projection of the 68-team NCAA Tournament field that will be released on Sunday. There’s no doubt that Caldwell-Pope is a good player–he is in the top 10 in the SEC in nine of the 13 statistical categories. Plus, he is projected to be a future first round draft pick in the NBA. However, the combination of his occasional struggles with inefficiency and inability to excel against ranked opponents do not make him deserving of the honor. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had difficulties with inefficiency in the beginning (17 points on 21 shots against Souther Mississippi on 11/15), the middle (16 points on 18 shots against Georgia Tech on 12/4 and 19 points on 19 shots against Ole Miss on 2/16) and the end (14 points on 15 shots against Alabama on 3/9) of the season. Coincidentally, Georgia lost all of those games. Also, Caldwell-Pope scored below his 18 ppg average in all five of UGA’s games against ranked opponents. In fact, he averaged nearly four fewer points. Star players step up in big games instead of backing down. Maybe I should just accept the SEC’s POY award as a sign of how bad the conference is this season but I think that Tennessee’s Jordan McRae was robbed. The Vols tied for fifth in the SEC and are only a win or two from making the tournament. McRae led UT in scoring with a 16.2 points per game average but he averaged over 24 in the team’s final seven games. In that stretch, Tennessee went 6-1, demolished No. 25 Kentucky by 30 points, defeated No. 8 Florida and McRae scored over 34 points on two occasions.

College basketball stock report for week 16

After five consecutive weeks of teams moving up to the No. 1 spot one week and then back down the next as if there was a revolving door for the top spot, Indiana has held on to the No. 1 rank for the past three weeks. Miami (FL) has continued its ascent up in the polls from No. 25, No. 14, No. 8, and No. 3 to No. 2 and 23 first place votes behind the Hoosiers.

The Big East leads all conferences with six ranked teams, followed by the Big Ten with five and Big 12 with three.

With three weeks left of regular season conference play, here is my college basketball stock report:

BUY

Michigan State Spartans-(22-4, 11-2)-Ever since losing by five on the road to No. 7 Indiana, the Spartans have rattled off five wins in a row, including a 23-point drubbing of No. 4 Michigan. Michigan State is tied for first in the Big Ten with the opportunity to have sole possession of first place with a game against No. 1 Indiana tonight in East Lansing, Mich.

Adreian Payne and Michigan State are heating up as March approaches. The Spartans are tied with No. 1 Indiana for first place in the Big Ten entering their game on Tuesday.(Image courtesy of buckey extra.dispatch.com)
Adreian Payne and Michigan State are heating up as March approaches. The Spartans are tied with No. 1 Indiana for first place in the Big Ten entering their game on Tuesday.
(Image courtesy of buckey extra.dispatch.com)

Georgetown Hoyas-(19-4, 9-3)-The Hoyas have taken advantage of Syracuse’s three losses in the Orange’s last six games; Georgetown has won seven straight games, including three against ranked Big East opponents, and is in a three-way tie for first place.

Gonzaga Bulldogs-(25-2, 12-0)-Gonzaga has won 16 of its last 17 games and the Bulldogs’ only loss in the new year was a one-point defeat at the hands of Roosevelt Jones and the Butler Bulldogs on the road. Gonzaga played and defeated the four teams remaining on its schedule by an average of nearly 13 points this season. It would be no surprise if the Bulldogs do not lose until the NCAA Tournament.

SELL

Butler Bulldogs-(21-5, 8-3)-Butler has proven that its best is very good after the Bulldogs defeated No. 1 Indiana in December. However, Butler has lost three of its past eight games. Even though the Bulldogs play in an improved A-10, they have gradually fallen from their top 10 ranking.

Michigan Wolverines-(22-4, 9-4)-There is no doubt that the Wolverines have a roster that has the ability to play in Atlanta for the Final Four but Michigan has slipped up several times lately. The Wolverines lost three of their past five games. All four of Michigan’s losses this season have come on the road and the No. 7 team in the country will have to be able to play away from Ann Arbor, Mich. in order to go deep in the tournament.

Cincinnati Bearcats-(19-7, 7-6)-Cincinnati has been ranked for most of the season but fell out of the top 25 this week after losing three of their past four games and four of seven. All of the Bearcats’ losses have been by ten points or fewer, with four of them being by less than five points, UC has struggled to emerge as one of the best teams in the Big East. Cincinnati is tied for ninth in the conference with games against Connecticut, Notre Dame and Louisville remaining on its schedule. The Bearcats were projected to be a No. 3 seed in ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi’s projected NCAA Tournament but they are falling quickly.

HOLD

Notre Dame Fighting Irish-(21-6, 9-5)-In the past two weeks, Notre Dame defeated No. 11 Louisville in five overtimes and No. 20 Pittsburgh on the road. However, the Fighting Irish also lost to No. 9 Syracuse by 16 and unranked Providence by 17. Notre Dame has a lot of potential but the team has been too inconsistent.

Marquette Golden Eagles-(18-6, 9-3)-With the exception of a loss at Green Bay in December, Marquette does not have any horrible losses this season. The Golden Eagles were routed by Florida and Louisville, two teams that have been at the top of the polls for most of the season, but they have faired well in their conference schedule. Marquette hasn’t proven that it’s a great team but has exceeded expectations in one of college basketball’s toughest conferences. With four road games and two matchups against ranked opponents remaining on their schedule, the Golden Eagles have a challenging home stretch before the Big East Tournament.

Week 15 NCAA men’s basketball power rankings

During Week 15 of last year’s college basketball season, it was evident that the Kentucky Wildcats were the premier team in college basketball and UK’s freshman center Anthony Davis was the best player in the country. The Wildcats had  a 25-1 record, with their only slip up being a 73-72 loss at Indiana early in December that will forever be remembered for the “Wat Shot.” Kentucky lost only one more game, the SEC Championship, the rest of the season and lived up to expectations by winning last year’s NCAA Tournament.

There is no Kentucky this year. In the past six weeks, the No. 1 team has changed five teams. No one has separated from the pack and any team that enters the top five seems to play hot potato with the No. 1 spot by losing. Last week, four of the top five teams–Indiana, Florida, Michigan and Kansas–in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll lost at least once. Kansas dropped consecutive games for the first time since November 21-22, 2005. Every team in the latest AP Poll has at least two losses, the average number of losses per top 25 team is slightly over four and No. 20 Wisconsin has seven.

So what does it all mean?

A) The NCAA Tournament Selection Committee are going to have a difficult time determining the field of the 68 teams that make it to the Big Dance.

and

B) Once the teams and seeds are finalized, the national championship is truly up for grabs.

Without further adieu, here are my NCAA men’s basketball power rankings for Week 15:

1. Miami Hurricanes (19-3, 10-0)-Miami is the only team in one of the power six conferences to have a perfect conference record. The Hurricanes’ 10-0 record in ACC play has given Miami a two-game cushion over Duke. The Hurricanes have proven that they can run traditional college basketball powerhouses out of the gym as seen by their 27-point win against Duke and 26-point victory over North Carolina.

The Miami Hurricanes are the only team in a power six conference that is undefeated in conference play. (Image courtesy of http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/11/29/3118194/win-signals-progress-for-miami.html)
The Miami Hurricanes are the only team in a power six conference that is undefeated in conference play. (Image courtesy of http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/11/29/3118194/win-signals-progress-for-miami.html)

2. Indiana Hoosiers (21-3, 9-2)-Indiana let an 11-point lead with seven minutes remaining against Illinois slip away, which could been a major concern for the Hoosiers if it wasn’t for IU’s bounce back win at No. 10 Ohio State. The 81-68 victory was Indiana’s first road win over a ranked opponent since 2002 and kept the Hoosiers atop the AP Poll.

3. Michigan Wolverines (21-3, 8-3)-If Ben Brust’s half-court prayer didn’t force overtime in Madison, Wisc. and eventually lead to a Badgers victory, Michigan would likely be No. 1 team in the country. The Big Ten’s abundance of tournament-bound teams has taken its toll on the Wolverines, who are tied for third in the conference with Wisconsin.

4. Duke Blue Devils (21-2, 8-2)-The Blue Devils have finally gotten their feet under them after losing senior forward Ryan Kelly to a foot injury. Duke lost two of its first three games without Kelly but have rattled off five straight wins as the team sits in second place in the ACC.

5. Michigan State (20-4, 9-2)-Don’t look now but the Spartans are tied for first in the Big Ten with Indiana. The Spartans still have to play Michigan twice as well as Indiana, Ohio State and Wisconsin a second time; if Sparty can survive the gauntlet, they have a shot at a No. 1 seed in March.

6. Florida Gators (19-3, 9-1)-The Gators should not be judged too harshly for their 80-69 loss to Arkansas. Every team has off nights and Florida showed that their lone conference loss was a fluke. They returned to their prior form by beating Mississippi State by 25 on Saturday.

7. Gonzaga Bulldogs (23-2, 10-0)-Barring a horrible loss or two, Gonzaga seems destined for a No. 2 seed with an outside chance to be a No. 1 if the teams in front of them don’t finish the regular season on high notes. The Bulldogs are a major question mark because of their weak conference schedule. They aren’t tested on a nightly basis the way that ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12 or Pac-12 teams are. Gonzaga played against three ranked opponents and lost two of those matchups, which could hint at an early exit in the tournament.

8. Syracuse Orange (20-3, 8-2)-If Syracuse can settle senior forward James Southerland’s eligibility issue, then the Orange may be the favorite to win the Big East and ‘Cuse could match last year’s Elite Eight appearance.

9. Kansas Jayhawks (20-4, 8-3)-Last week may have been the darkest period in the history of Kansas basketball with three losses. Texas Christian University’s first Big 12 win, an unexpected 62-55 upset of the Jayhawks, was sandwiched by Kansas losses to unranked Oklahoma State and Oklahoma. With four teams within one game of the conference lead, Kansas doesn’t have any more room for error in a wide open Big 12.

10. Arizona Wildcats (20-3, 8-3)-Arizona was one of the hottest teams in the country and arguably the best team out West early in the season with wins against No. 5 Florida, Miami (Fla.) and No. 17 San Diego State during its 14-0 start. However, the Wildcats have started to show their true colors and fade from the spotlight with losses to unranked Oregon, UCLA and California.

Making cases for Kansas, Michigan and Florida to be ranked No. 1

Last week was a bloodbath for the AP Top 25. No. 1 Duke lost at Miami (FL) by 27. Louisville lost three consecutive games in the Big East to No. 6 Syracuse, Villanova and Georgetown. Minnesota lost four straight games in the Big Ten. With all of the losses by ranked teams, the No. 1 position is up for grabs and three teams have cases to claim the top spot in this week’s updated polls.

Kansas’ case to be ranked No. 1

The Kansas Jayhawks have won 33 straight games at Allen Fieldhouse and are one of the hottest teams in college basketball. (Image courtesy of http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1501647-kansas-basketball-jayhawks-lack-of-offense-isnt-a-big-concern)
The Kansas Jayhawks have won 33 straight games at Allen Fieldhouse and are one of the hottest teams in college basketball. (Image courtesy of http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1501647-kansas-basketball-jayhawks-lack-of-offense-isnt-a-big-concern)

The Jayhawks are 18-1 and their only loss was by three points to then-No. 21 Michigan State in the second game of the season. Since its only blemish on its 18-1 record, Kansas beat No. 7 Ohio State in Columbus, Ohio and topped No. 11 Kansas State on the road. Bill Self’s squad is off to a 6-0 start in the Big 12 and the team has won 33 consecutive games at Allen Fieldhouse. Kansas is nearly unbeatable at home and its two victories against ranked opponents were on the road, which proves that the Jayhawks can win anywhere they play. They also beat Ohio State, who gave Michigan its only loss of the season, by eight points.

Michigan’s case to be ranked No. 1

Similarly to Kansas, Michigan only has one loss this season and it was also by three points when the Ohio State Buckeyes defeated the Wolverines on Jan. 13. Michigan has two wins against ranked opponents. The Wolverines defeated then-No. 18 North Carolina State at home and then-No. 9 Minnesota on the road. The co-leaders of the Big Ten are 19-1 (6-1) and have 15 double-digit wins this season. Michigan’s resume also includes wins over Pittsburgh, Kansas State and Illinois, who are all teams that have been ranked at some point during the season but weren’t when they lost to the Wolverines.

Florida’s case to be ranked No. 1

The Florida Gators are 16-2 (6-0) and tied with Ole Miss for the SEC lead. Their only two losses are a 65-64 loss at Arizona, a competitive game in which Wildcats guard Mark Lyons hit the game-winning jumper with seven seconds left, and a six-point loss to Kansas State. The Gators have rattled off eight straight wins and have dominated their SEC opponents in conference play. The most points that Florida has allowed in an SEC game is 52 and four of the Gators’ opponents have scored in the forties. Florida’s average margin of victory in conference play is over 26 points and earlier this month they defeated then-No. 17 Missouri 83-52. Granted, the SEC lacks proven teams and depth outside of Florida, Ole Miss and Missouri but the Gators are the team to beat down South.

Kansas has the strongest case because they beat the Ohio State Buckeyes, who later handed Michigan its only loss, on the road by eight. Of the three teams, Florida’s case is the weakest because the Gators have two losses and play in arguably the weakest of the power 6 conferences.

Indiana’s non-conference schedule raises questions

The Indiana Hoosiers sat comfortably atop the preseason college basketball rankings with over double the number of first place votes than No. 2 Louisville in the AP ballot. Even though the 12-1 Hoosiers rank in the top eleven teams in the country in terms of points, rebounds and assists per game as well as field goal percentage, Indiana’s non-conference schedule raises questions about how the preseason No. 1 team will fare in the long run this season.

Indiana lacks a true road test and wins against high caliber opponents in its non-conference schedule.
Indiana lacks a true road test and wins against high caliber opponents in its non-conference schedule.

Through 13 games, Indiana’s best wins are a 24-point blowout victory against North Carolina, who is now unranked despite being ranked fourteenth at the time of the matchup, and a nail-biter against Georgetown in the Progressive Legends Classic Championship in which IU needed an overtime period to pull out the win.

Indiana’s lone loss was in an in-state matchup against Butler, who was unranked at the time but is now ranked eighteenth.

The Hoosiers have yet to compete in a true road test—their non-conference schedule was composed of 10 home games and three matchups on neutral courts. In those games on neutral courts, Indiana did not play like the best team in the country, as its rank indicated. IU was only winning by five points with nine minutes remaining in the second half against Georgia before winning by 13. In the game against Georgetown, there were nine lead changes and the Hoosiers’ largest lead of eight points was short-lived. Not much needs to be said about Indiana’s performance against Butler other than that the Hoosiers let a winnable game slip from their grasp in overtime.

The majority of IU’s home schedule was filled with “cupcake” teams that are incredibly unlikely to win their conference tournaments and make the NCAA Tournament because receiving at-large bids are probably out of the question. It is no surprise that Indiana University and Athletic Director Fred Glass scheduled games against opponents that the Hoosiers could score at least 100 points against in guaranteed blowout wins but Indiana had nine of those games instead of challenging itself against more formidable opponents.

Opponent

Opponent’s RPI (as of 12/30/12)

Score

Bryant

201

97-54

North Dakota State

345

87-61

Sam Houston State

227

99-45

Ball State

252

101-53

Coppin State

280

87-51

Central Connecticut State

133

100-69

Mount St. Mary’s

97

93-54

Florida Atlantic

232

88-52

Jacksonville

294

93-59

A few of these games may have been necessary in order to boost the team’s confidence and to give some of the guys towards the end of the bench in-game action but how much will nearly a dozen thirty-point blowouts help the development of a team with its sights on a national championship?

Indiana’s Big Ten schedule, which includes nine games against teams currently ranked, will certainly challenge the Hoosiers but they haven’t been tested enough to appropriately prepare for the difficult conference schedule that awaits them, beginning with a road game against Iowa on Monday, December 31st.

_______________________________

Duke and Michigan State are two schools that Indiana, and the rest of the country for that matter, should look to model themselves after in terms of the difficulty of their non-conference schedules. The Blue Devils have faced No. 3 Kentucky, Minnesota, VCU, No. 2 Louisville, No. 4 Ohio State and Temple. While Duke lacks an away game on its résumé, the Blue Devils have half a dozen wins against tournament bound teams.

Michigan State is known for playing top-ranked competition and scheduling road games that most programs of its caliber would not. The Spartans kicked off their 2012 campaign with games against No. 23 Connecticut and No. 7 Kansas. Tom Izzo’s team then went on the road to play Miami (FL) and Bowling Green. It is no coincidence that since 1995 when Izzo became the Spartans’ head coach, Michigan State has won a national championship and has six Final Four appearances.

Arizona vs. Miami (FL): A Matchup between Point Guards with Ties to Cincinnati

Christmas break in college is the ultimate vacation. There is no school work for which one is responsible and there are few responsibilities or expectations. My family spent the day before Christmas Eve at my grandparents’ house, which meant that I was given the choice between sleeping on a couch in the family room and the floor of a bedroom. Naturally, I took the couch but that meant that I had to listen to the incessant drone on my grandpa listening to Storage Wars. The sound of the auctioneer rattling off steadily increasing prices and featured buyer Dave Hester’s constant shouts of “YUPPP” had virtually the same effect as Chinese water torture and falling asleep while the TV was on quickly became out of the question.

I checked my phone one last time before bed to see if the Seattle Seahawks managed to drop fifty points on the San Francisco 49’ers and saw that there was one featured game on ESPN’s ScoreCenter mobile app that hadn’t started: No. 4 Arizona v. Miami (FL) in the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic. I grabbed my Skullcandy noise-cancelling headphones, an early Christmas present that I had received just hours earlier, and said goodbye to the obnoxious catch phrases of Storage Wars and hello to late night hoops on WatchESPN that carried me into the early hours of Christmas Eve.

Sean Miller's Arizona Wildcats are ranked fourth in the country and their 11-0 start is the best since the 1987-88 season. (Image courtesy of http://espn.go.com/watchespn/index/_/id/688594/arizona-vs-miami-fl-semifinal-2)
Sean Miller’s Arizona Wildcats are ranked fourth in the country and their 11-0 start is the best since the 1987-88 season. (Image courtesy of http://espn.go.com/watchespn/index/_/id/688594/arizona-vs-miami-fl-semifinal-2)

It has been a lot of fun watching the Arizona Wildcats play this season because of thier coach, Sean Miller, and senior point guard Mark Lyons. Miller and Lyons are one of my favorite coaches and players, respectively, in college basketball after following them for years at Xavier University. Miller was at Xavier from 2004 until 2009 and took the Musketeers to the Elite Eight in 2008. Lyons was on two Sweet Sixteen teams in 2010 and 2012.

The Miami Hurricanes entered the matchup against Arizona with an 8-1 record. It was the ‘Canes’ second game in a 24-hour period after defeating Hawaii, the host school, in a matchup that tipped off at 12:30 A.M. ET on Sunday. Miami’s starting point guard is Shane Larkin, son of Major League Baseball Hall of Fame and lifelong Cincinnati Reds shortstop (Class of 2012) Barry Larkin. The younger Larkin is the Hurricanes’ second leading scorer with an average of 14.4 points per game in addition to being the team’s leader in assists and steals.

Miami was voted fifth in the ACC in the preseason and earned more respect from the rest of the conference by defeating No. 13 Michigan State. While the Hurricanes were upset-minded entering the matchup, Arizona proved to have too much talent and depth for Miami to overcome.

While Arizona pulled away in the second half, the Mark Lyons-Shane Larkin matchup was very exciting to watch as both point guards were on the floor for the majority of the game and facilitated their teams’ offenses.

Mark Lyons

Senior-6’1″ 200 lbs.

University of Arizona starting point guard Mark Lyons. (Image courtesy of http://uanews.org/story/cats-ranked-no-12-preseason-ap-poll)
University of Arizona starting point guard Mark Lyons. (Image courtesy of http://uanews.org/story/cats-ranked-no-12-preseason-ap-poll)

Throughout the game, Mark Lyons showed his versatility at the guard position. At Xavier, Lyons typically played off the ball as the shooting guard because Tu Holloway was a better fit at point guard. Since transferring to the University of Arizona, Sean Miller has converted the senior to a point guard but the Wildcats’ offense allows Lyons to be the team’s leading scorer.

Lyons led the Wildcats with 19 points and got off to a hot start early in the game. Two minutes into the first half, the Xavier transfer dribbled down the court in transition, beat Larkin at the top of the key and drove to the rim for an easy layup before Miami’s defense was set. On Arizona’s next possession, he made a spot-up NBA three-pointer to give the Wildcats their first lead of the game.

Lyons did not score again in the first half until there was 4:49 remaining on the clock when he pulled up a few feet behind the three-point line a knocked down a shot in Larkin’s face. On Arizona’s next possession, their point guard used a screen set by Angelo Chol to drive to the basket, where he was fouled and made both free throws.

Mark Lyons’ first points in the second half came at the 17:59 mark after Miami made a layup. Lyons received the inbounds pass and jogged towards the other end of the floor. Then he sped up, crossed over Shane Larkin at the three-point line and scored an uncontested layup. The Hurricanes were still running back on defense and weren’t fast enough to contain him after he blew past Larkin.

Lyons hit his third three-pointer of the game halfway through the second half to give Arizona a 56-37 lead, which was the team’s largest up to that point in the game. It was actually his second three-point attempt in the possession–his first rimmed out but the Wildcats grabbed the offensive rebound and kicked it back out to him for a straightaway three.

With six minutes left in the game, Mark Lyons went into takeover mode. He drove down the court after Larkin forced a three-point shot, completed a beautiful spin move in the lane to get by three Hurricanes defenders and laid the ball off the glass for two points. The next time down the court for Arizona, the Wildcats made three passes as Mark Lyons rotated down to the block before receiving the ball near the half-court line. He split two Miami defenders, attacked the lane, used a ball fake and head fake to get them leaning and finally scored on a finger roll after going through all five Hurricanes players. He stared down the camera before Miller replaced him with Nick Johnson, ending his night with 19 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 turnovers. Three of his assists were to a teammate on three-point field goals and the fourth was good look to an open Kaleb Tarczewski for a dunk.

Shane Larkin

Sophomore-5’11” 176 lbs.

University of Miami starting point guard Shane Larkin. (Image courtesy of http://www.zimbio.com/pictures/rmGH0_mrF2p/Clemson+v+Miami/1YxX9TBqKcT/Shane+Larkin)
University of Miami starting point guard Shane Larkin. (Image courtesy of http://www.zimbio.com/pictures/rmGH0_mrF2p/Clemson+v+Miami/1YxX9TBqKcT/Shane+Larkin)

Larkin’s athleticism and quickness showed that he won the lottery of the gene pool by having a Major League Baseball Hall of Famer as a father. The University of Miami point guard needed to have an excellent game if the Hurricanes were to have any chance of winning because they were without Reggie Johnson, a 6’10” 292 lb. forward who is the team’s third-leading scorer and leading rebounder, due to a thumb injury.

The weight on Larkin’s shoulders got a little bit heavier when starter Durand Scott injured his ankle early in the game. Scott remained in the game and managed to score 15 points but he was visibly not at full strength as he was often limping or hobbling on the court.

Miami’s offense typically consisted of four players around the three-point line and one player, usually forward-center Kenny Kadji, in the interior. Larkin was at his best when he penetrated Arizona’s defense and fed the ball to Kadji. Kadji, a 6’11” senior who transferred from the University of Florida after two seasons, was the only Miami player who was having a good shooting night. He was 9-15 from the field and the rest of the Hurricanes were collectively 10-37. Shane Larkin assisted two of Kadji’s nine field goals–an open three followed by a dunk after a slashing dribble drive from Larkin.

Shane Larkin finished with 10 points on 4-9 shooting to go along with his 3 assists and 6 steals. Where Mark Lyons stepped up for Arizona on offense to give them momentum in the game, Larkin came up just short or was countered by the Wildcats.

In the first half, Kevin Parrom made a three-pointer for Arizona to take a 12-11 lead. Immediately after surrendering the lead, Larkin tried to cross over Lyons but lost the ball, Parrom came up with it and went coast to coast for the layup, which shifted the momentum in favor of Arizona. The Wildcats then jumped ahead 17-11.

With seven minutes left in the first half, injured guard Durand Scott was running point with Shane Larkin in the corner. Arizona’s Parrom pressured Scott, forced the turnover and assisted his teammate Nick Johnson on a highlight reel worthy dunk. Larkin should have recognized the danger of having a limping Durand Scott running point and taken control of the offense.

With 1:21 remaining in the first half, Shane Larkin drove to the basket and tried to kick the ball out to a wide open Kenny Kadji for three but sailed the ball over Kadji’s head. Miami was down 37-25 at the time of the turnover and that shot could have cut Arizona’s lead to single digits heading into halftime. With less than one minute on the clock, Larkin missed an open spot-up three-point attempt.

In the second half, Parrom knocked down a three-pointer to extend Arizona’s lead to 16 points. On Miami’s next possession, Larkin missed a three and a jump shot in the span of seconds, which were critical shots in keeping the game from getting out of hand.

By no means did Shane Larkin have a bad game. However, he failed to make the shots to keep Miami in the game and his two first half turnovers came at points in the game when Arizona was going on runs. Miami took advantage of turnover-prone Arizona by stealing the ball 14 times, led by Larkin with 6 steals, but the Hurricanes could not turn forced turnovers into points. Miami shot poorly in every phase of the game with a shooting percentage of 36.5, three-point percentage of 26.3 and a lowly 50 percent completion rate from the free throw line.

Final Takeaways

Miami was going to need to have a historic shooting performance in order to beat No. 4 Arizona. The Miami Hurricanes were not at full strength and they played one of the best teams in the country in the Arizona Wildcats. The Wildcats have premier talent at every position and Sean Miller’s squad goes nine players deep. The absence of Reggie Johnson took the life out of the Hurricanes in terms of their rebounding, especially since they were playing against a 7-footer in Kaleb Tarczewski. Arizona had 44 rebounds to Miami’s 19. Kenny Kadji had 19 points and gave Miami an inside scoring option but he only grabbed four rebounds. Miami was playing with only three and a half starters since Durand Scott was operating on a bad ankle.

Mark Lyons outplayed Shane Larkin in Sunday night’s matchup in Hawaii. Even though Lyons plays point guard, he has three years of experience as a shooting guard and has a killer mentality with which Larkin could not compete. Lyons is an incredibly versatile player. He can knock down three-pointers from NBA range, drive to the basket, run his defender into screens and has a repertoire of lethal dribbling moves that makes him capable to score 20 points on any given night. Lyons also benefitted from having great shooters around him–a luxury that Larkin was largely lacking against Arizona. Nick Johnson, Brandon Ashley, Kevin Parrom and Kaleb Tarczewski shoot at least 51 percent from the field and average 6.5 or more points per game. Shane Larkin could not stay in front of Lyons and was embarrassed several times on defense when his opponent decided to take over on offense for Arizona.

I have no doubt that Miami can be a threat in the ACC this season when the team is completely healthy. They can wreak havoc on defense but need Reggie Johnson and Durand Scott to be at full strength in order to competitive on the boards and on offense. Plus, Shane Larkin’s best games are still in front of him. He is only a sophomore and has two years to improve at the most important position in basketball.

The Arizona Wildcats are no longer a secret as they are off to their best start in almost two decades at 11-0. They are playing like the best team out west and have Final Four potential thanks to the addition of Mark Lyons in the offseason.