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March Madness Analysis: How Miami Made the Final Four

Strong Guard Play Lifts Hurricanes to First Final Four

The Miami Hurricanes look very much like a team that has been there and done that, especially on the offensive end of the court. Isaiah Wong, Jordan Miller and Nijel Pack have started a combined total of 330 games so the stage should not be too big for them.

The Hurricanes led the Atlantic Coast Conference in scoring offense, field goal percentage, 3-point percentage and free throw percentage. Miami is fifth nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency according to the Pomeroy college basketball ratings database.

Head coach Jim Larrañaga of the Miami Hurricanes celebrates with players after defeating the Texas Longhorns 88-81 in the Elite Eight round
Head coach Jim Larrañaga of the Miami Hurricanes celebrates with players after defeating the Texas Longhorns 88-81 in the Elite Eight round | Gregory shamus/getty images/afp

If there has been an issue with this Miami team, it is that the Hurricanes tend to play down to the competition level. That resulted in losses to Florida State and Georgia Tech, two teams that finished in the bottom four in the ACC standings. That almost ended the Hurricanes’ run before it really got started with Miami down seven points to Drake in its March Madness opener.

When considering making March Madness predictions, one concern is that Miami can be careless with the ball. The Hurricanes had 18 turnovers in a loss to Duke in the ACC title game. However, Miami has just 39 turnovers in four NCAA Tournament games.

All five starters are averaging more than 10 points per game during the NCAA Tournament. Pack leads the way at 20.8 points per game with returning starters Wong and Miller both at 16.5.

According to the March Madness expert picks, Miami (+450) is third among the four remaining teams in the odds to win NCAA Tournament.

When looking at the March Madness picks, Miami is listed as a 5½-point underdog in the second of Saturday’s national semifinals at NRG Stadium in Houston.

Here’s a look at how the Hurricanes got this far.

How They Got into March Madness Bracket

When the ACC tournament got underway, it wasn’t so much about if Miami would be among the 68 teams in the NCAA Tournament field. The Hurricanes earned a share of the regular-season ACC title with Virginia. However, the seed for Miami was still up in the air.

Normally a team finishing at the top of the ACC standings would be in contention for a No. 1 or 2 seed. However, this was not the best of seasons in the ACC so when Miami stumbled against Duke in the conference title game, the Hurricanes had to settle for a No. 5 seed.

The non-conference schedule didn’t help Miami. There was a win over Providence, but not much else that would jump out when the selection committee was putting the brackets together.

Road to the Final Four

Things didn’t get off to a resounding start for Miami as 12th-seeded Drake led by five points at halftime and held a seven-point lead with 12 minutes to play. In a tournament when ACC powers Virginia and Duke didn’t make it to the regionals, another of the conference heavyweights was in serious danger. Pack had eight points as Miami rallied for the seven-point win.

Wong, Pack and Miller combined for 58 points as the Hurricanes had no trouble dispatching Indiana in the second round. It was more of the same against top-seeded Houston in the Sweet 16 as all five starters scored in double figures while Houston’s best offensive players struggled to get going. Miami was listed by the Las Vegas odds as a 7½-point underdog in that game.

Miami, which fell to eventual national champion Kansas in the Elite Eight last season, was facing a Texas team playing without injured starting forward Dylan Disu.

Miller had a game for the ages as he was 7 of 7 from the field and 13 of 13 from the foul line in the 88-81 win.

The starters shot 64% from the field and were 25 of 26 from the foul line as Miami secured the program’s first Final Four appearance.

Looking at the Staff

UConn fans certainly remember the name of Miami head coach Jim Larranaga, whose George Mason team topped a star-studded Huskies squad to reach 2006 Final Four. It was one of his five NCAA appearances at George Mason.

Since arriving at Miami, the Hurricanes have played in six NCAA Tournaments and reached the regionals four times. There was also a run to the 2015 NIT title game.

Larranaga has a familiar face on the sidelines in Bill Courtney, in his fourth season as an assistant at Miami after working on his staffs at Bowling Green and George Mason.

Larranaga ranks in the top 10 among Division I men’s active coaches in wins and, after three straight losing seasons, he has led Miami to 55 wins over the last two seasons.

A Look at the Roster

Wong, in his fourth season at Miami and third as a full-time starter, has more than 1,800 career points. He has two 20-point games in the NCAA Tournament and has proven more than willing to take and make tough shots.

Jordan Miller spent three seasons at George Mason before arriving at Miami last season, and the turnaround within the Hurricanes program coincided with Miller’s arrival. He has started 67 of 72 games over the last two seasons and, after a tough outing against Drake, he has been ligh’s out in the NCAA Tournament.

Miller is priced at +1400 in the odds to be the Most Outstanding Player in the NCAA Tournament and, among the Miami players, only Wong (+1200) is ahead of him.

Pack and Norchad Omier transferred in from Kansas State and Arkansas State. Omier isn’t asked to score as much as some of his teammates, but he is a huge presence in the paint and probably the one player who can’t afford to get into foul trouble against UConn. He has 42 points and 53 rebounds in the four tournament games.

Pack had 26 points in the win over Houston and the Hurricanes are 8-0 when he scores at least 20 points this season.

Sophomore Wooga Poplar is contributing 12 points per game in the tournament as he has been coming on strong in his first season as a starter.

Miami doesn’t get much production off the bench. Sophomore guard Bensley Joseph and Harlond Beverly average double digits in minutes. A.J. Casey, a 6-foot-9 freshman, might get some more time if Miami struggles to slow down UConn’s post players. Anthony Walker is another frontcourt player to keep an eye on.

Spreading The Wealth

Miami doesn’t have a dominant playmaker this season following the graduation of Charlie Moore. Wong, Pack, Miller and Poplar can all set up their teammates so that could make it hard for UConn to try to disrupt the Miami offense since it can be run through multiple spots on the floor.

Miller has been the most reliable player with the ball in his hands in the NCAA tournament with nine assists and three turnovers.

Miami is second among ACC teams with a 22-14 record against the college basketball odds.

Miami will be the underdog according to the sportsbook for the fourth straight tournament game.

After heading into the NCAA Tournament having failed to cover in each of its last four games, the Hurricanes have covered in each tournament contest, with the last three finishing over the total.

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