Basketball, Commentary, Sports

Miami basketball: A season in review

Chris Lykes

Freshman guard Chris Lykes (2) puts a move on Virginia Tech's Justin Bibbs (10) in Miami's season finale March 3 at the Watsco Center. Lykes scored 15 points and dished out seven assists in a 69-68 Canes victory. Photo credit: Josh White

The 2017-2018 Miami Hurricanes’ basketball season will largely be remembered as a rather disappointing one. While the team and coaching staff fought valiantly through distractions and injuries to finish third in the ACC, Elite Eight and Final Four aspirations turned into a first-round NCAA Tournament exit.

If there is one overarching positive that came from the season, it is the fact that it is viewed as a disappointment. Simply getting to the NCAA Tournament no longer qualifies as a success for Miami, and that is a testament to how head coach Jim Larrañaga and his staff have built a winning program from the ground up in the nation’s best basketball conference.

TAKEAWAYS

Positives

1. Another solid group of newcomers Last season, Miami got major contributions from the freshman group of Bruce Brown Jr., DJ Vasiljevic and Dewan Huell, helping to push the team to a surprising NCAA Tournament berth.

This year, freshmen again played major roles, as Lonnie Walker IV and Chris Lykes were among the most important players on the team since day one. Both battled bouts of inconsistency, but that’s par for the course with players their age.

Walker took some time to get going following an offseason knee surgery, but once conference play hit, he was the team’s best player. He posted 13 double-digit scoring efforts and became the Canes’ go-to option in the clutch.

2. Chris Lykes UM’s point guard was one of the most exciting elements of the season, and he represents the biggest hope for success next year with Ja’Quan Newton graduating and the likely departures of Brown and Walker IV to the NBA.

Everyone loves rooting for the little guy, and Lykes’ electrifying style of play makes it easy to do just that. He’s excellent at changing speeds to get where he wants to on the floor, and there are few who can keep up with him when he chooses to attack the basket. It was his ability to draw defenses in the paint that allowed him to find open teammates for 3-pointers, an area the Hurricanes relied on heavily to win games.

He shot just 40 percent from the field and 35 percent from 3-point range, but he’s a confident shooter with a good form, so expect those numbers to rise as he continues to gain experience.

Every time Lykes entered a game, he provided a jolt to both sides of the court, and all signs point up to what he will do with added responsibility next season.

3. Resiliency After Brown went down with a foot injury in January, Miami sat at a 4-4 record in the ACC. The team easily could have crumbled and missed the NCAA Tournament, but the Canes refused to let that happen.

Every player stepped up at one point or another, whether it be Anthony Lawrence II’s 25-point outburst at Virginia Tech or Dewan Huell’s 16-point, nine-rebound effort against Boston College. It all culminated with what had to be Miami’s finest performance of the season, a 91-88 win at No. 9 North Carolina.

Six Hurricanes scored in double figures, and Newton’s ridiculous buzzer-beater not only capped off a thrilling win but also showed how UM could defy the odds.

Negatives

1. Miami underperformed the majority of the season With seven ESPN-100 recruits on the roster, many predicted that coach Jim Larrañaga would reach his second Final Four and produce Miami’s best basketball season in program history.

The Canes finished with a solid 22-10 record but lost both of their postseason games. Expectations were high, and Miami simply could not reach them.

2. Injuries Injuries wreaked havoc on the Hurricanes’ season well before it even started. Just days after Walker arrived on campus, he suffered a torn meniscus that required surgery and kept him out until after official practices began.

Walker then struggled with ankle injuries when games began in November, which decreased his minutes when he could’ve gained more experience playing alongside his teammates. These injuries contributed to his relatively slow start and adjustment to college-level play.

The injury bug bit the Canes once again when Brown suffered a foot injury that kept him out for the remainder of the season. Larrañaga often referenced the challenge of playing without Brown during the closing stretch of the season.

3. Inconsistent shooting The shooting percentages for the season – 46 percent from the field and 36 percent from 3-point range – aren’t terrible, but the game-by-game inconsistency hurt Miami during several stretches. The Canes often were either on fire or couldn’t buy a shot – rarely in between.

For example, they shot 55 percent and 51 percent, respectively, in wins against ranked North Carolina and Florida State, but then shot a combined 35 percent from the field and 25 percent from three during back-to-back losses to Virginia and Syracuse in February.

Miami also only shot 66 percent from the free-throw line for the season, which was a huge issue in nearly all its losses.

4. Recruiting Despite going through a two-year period of the program’s best overall recruiting ever, Larrañaga and his coaching staff struck out on the nation’s prospects this year – in large part because of the FBI investigation of bribery that implicated Miami in September 2017.

As of now, the Hurricanes have zero incoming commits and will most likely have to rely on graduate transfers and walk-ons to fill out a roster that could lose as many as five players.

March 26, 2018

Reporters

Cody Brown

Justin Sobelman


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