The men’s basketball team has perplexed Hurricanes fans for the last two weeks. One week, they play poorly and drop consecutive games against Virginia and perpetual ACC bottom-dweller Clemson. The next week, they’re a juggernaut that steamrolls through three straight opponents, including securing a double-digit win over Duke.
So what happened? Should we trust the team that plays well and provides its fan base with Final Four aspirations, or do we need to pump the brakes and brace ourselves for a disappointing loss when the team steps onto the floor any given night? While there may be no definitive answer to these questions, there are a few indicators of success to watch for as the home stretch of the regular season approaches.
The Canes focused heavily on improving their defense throughout the off-season and continue to strive for improvement as the season moves along. They have reason to put a strong emphasis on competing at that end of the court. The Canes have headed to the locker room at halftime locked up in a tight battle each of the last five games. The difference between wins and losses in those games is how they’ve defended in the second half.
The Canes gave up an average of 41.5 points in the second halves of their two losses to Virginia and Clemson while only allowing a stingier average of 31 points in the second halves of their three wins. Subtract that 10-to-11-point difference in the losses, and all of a sudden, that’s two extra wins tacked onto the team’s resume.
Defense plays a pivotal role in creating offense for the Canes as well. As an electrified BankUnited Center crowd saw on Monday night, nothing pumps up the squad quite like a fast-break dunk or an alley-oop. Running off of missed shots allows the Canes’ athletic guards to exploit open lanes to the basket before the opposing defense has a chance to get set and their penetration creates kick-outs to wide-open three-point shooters.
“Our entire team is much better when we’re able to get into the open court and make plays,” Miami Head Coach Jim Larrañaga said after the Duke game. “When we opened up conference play, we played against teams that are a little more conservative. The games were a little slower.”
We’ve heard the motto “defense wins championships” plenty of times, and it certainly rings true with the Hurricanes. They’ve proven that they can play with any team in the nation, but they must continue to play at a high level on the defensive end if they want any championship dreams to become reality.