For the first time in their ACC history the Miami Hurricanes have won 5 straight conference games. And at 6-3 they're well poised to have their first ever winning conference record. First year coach Jim Larranaga has them focused on defense (4th in ACC games), but it's their offense that is becoming the difference. They've scored more than a point per possession in all five of their recent wins, and in 6 of the past 7 games. This is significant because of the roster limitations this team faced early in the season. Reggie Johnson missed the first nine games due to his off season knee surgery. DeQuan Jones missed the first ten games due to the investigation into recruiting allegations. And several other players have missed time due to various minor issues.
But now players are back. Players are working themselves into shape. And Miami is suddenly a very dangerous team.
The reason is their hard nosed defense and offensive versatility. Hurricane fans haven't been accustomed to watching defense from the Frank Haith era, but this team gets after it. I'll get to that in another video review, but for now I'm going to focus on the weapons they have on offense.
This first play is a simple isolation play. Macolm Grant (circled) has Reggie Johnson in the post. Johnson doesn't have deep position, but it doesn't matter because he's Reggie Johnson and can back any big man in the ACC down one he has the ball.
Johnson (circled, right) gets the ball and immediately backs into the low post, forcing Virginia Tech to double. When the double happens the Miami guards immediately sprint to the corners. This opens up potential 3-point shots, but more importantly creates a huge space (circled, left) for Kenny Kadji to step into. Which he does.
Here's the video:
Here Reggie Johnson (circled, left) has just done what Reggie Johnson does - grab a rebound. Virginia Tech has three players crashing the boards, and the two guards (arrows) responsible for rotating back have failed to do so quickly enough. Often this isn't a problem, but Reggie Johnson is an elite passer for a big man, and he sees that Trey McKinney Jones is going to beat them down the floor. Dunk.
Here's the video:
At the end of the first half (arrow) Shane Larkin (circled) has the ball just past the timeline. DeQuan Jones is screening for him, and the rest of the Canes are in a baseline stack. Larkin, a freshman (and son of Hall of Famer Barry Larkin), spent his final high school years battling Austin Rivers as the best point guards in Florida (both played in Orlando). Rivers was the better player, but Larkin's speed makes him special. Here they clear out for Larkin and no one can guard him for 40 feet. Jones (screening) and McKinney Jones (right corner) rotate to the top once Larkin starts his drive. If Tech cuts him off then they'll get an open three. If not, this happens.
This final play shows how Miami has been able to make better use of Kenny Kadji since Reggie Johnson returned. Kadji is averaging 12.5 ppg (just behind team leader Durand Scott at 12.6) but has averaged over 16 since Johnson returned. Kadji, a transfer from the University of Florida, is a highly skilled big man who can score in a number of ways.
The set starts with the ball in Durand Scott's hands (circled) and Miami runs Shane Larkin on a simple curl move to get him the ball. Reggie Johnson is at the top of arc to screen, and Kadji begins in the low post.
Larkin (circled) delays through the Johnson screen to allow him to establish post position, then Kadji (arrow) sprints from the post to set the screen. And this is where he becomes very dangerous.
The freshman guarding him (#15, Dorian Finney-Smith) sags to far off him on the screen, which allows a simple pick-and-pop for Kadji (circled). Had Finney-Smith been playing better defense Kadji would have had an easy post entry over Reggie Johnson's (arrow) left shoulder. This would have caused Virginia Tech to double on Johnson, leaving Durand Scott wide open in the left corner.
Here's the video: