The No. 19 Hurricanes’ season ended Saturday with a disappointing 74-71 loss to South Dakota State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Although their early-round tournament loss to the 12th-seeded Jack Rabbits was an upset, the fifth-seeded Canes’ season still had several positive takeaways that the team can carry into next year.
In the 2014-15 season, Miami’s offense was single-headed. Then-sophomore guard Adrienne Motley was Miami’s only viable offensive threat, as she averaged 16.9 points per game and no other Cane even reached double digits. This season, Motley was helped by junior guard Jessica Thomas, who averaged more than 11 points per game, and redshirt junior forward Keyona Hayes, who poured in just under 10 points per game.
The Canes also received legitimate bench scoring from the freshman duo of center Emese Hof and guard Laura Cornelius. This season’s balanced scoring helped to overcome deficits when one player was struggling to score. Miami should be able to continue its balanced scoring next season, as the team is returning all four of its top scorers next season.
The Canes (24-9, 10-6), who finished fifth in a loaded ACC, were led all season by the backcourt of Motley and Thomas. The duo started in all 33 games for the Canes, and Thomas facilitated the offense while also being a pit bull on defense, averaging 3.7 assists per game and forcing more than 1.5 steals per game.
Hayes, who missed her sophomore season with a leg injury, turned in a strong 2015-16 campaign. She was one of the Canes’ most dominating post presences, often bullying her way to score and snagging a high percentage of rebounds.
Although the Canes had a strong season, they still have some faults to address if they want to go further in the tournament next year. Miami struggled to defend the three-point shot when facing teams that played with a four-guard set. The additional speed and quickness is hard to defend for the Canes, who often play with two or even three forwards on the court. This was evident in the team’s final loss of the season.
Against more elite, more athletic competition, the Canes struggled to take care of the ball. When the Canes played the Syracuse Orange, who finished third in the ACC, Miami turned the ball over 26 times.
The Canes are only graduating one senior, guard Michelle Woods. She was a team captain and leaves as the only player in program history to play in four NCAA Tournaments.
“I’m going to miss her like I can’t even tell you,” Miami Head Coach Katie Meier said of Woods to HurricaneSports. “We’re only losing one but she counts for about five.”
With only one player leaving the program, the Canes should be able to build the success they had this year into a prosperous 2016-17 season.