There are only eight teams left in the NCAA Tournament and the Miami Hurricanes are one of them, despite being projected to finish 12th in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
For such an occurrence, key takeaways exist from Miami’s third Sweet 16 appearance under 11th-year coach Jim Larrañaga, as the team moves into its first-ever Elite Eight:
1. Miami’s age may be the key ingredient to its success in the tournament.
Many of the top teams in college basketball see things change dramatically every year as the one-and-done philosophy has become very common in the game. Players come and go in just one season, and chemistry is often an issue. Miami’s lineup, however, is deep with experienced players. Guards Kameron McGusty, Charlie Moore and forward Sam Waardenburg are all seniors and have been leaders in the starting lineup in points, assists and rebounds, respectively. Such was the case on Friday night, too, as McGusty scored 27 points, Moore added nine assists, and Waardenburg collected eight rebounds.
2. The Hurricanes have an important blueprint for victories, even against the best teams.
The Hurricanes have created turnovers all year long and kept their own low, forcing 504 turnovers while only giving away 338. Only three times the entire season has Miami lost the turnover battle. This huge margin has allowed Miami to pick up extra possessions which has kept games close and put the team over the top against some of their toughest opponents.
In their most recent win, the Canes forced Iowa State to turn it over 18 times.
“We have done a great job all season long of making sure that we are prepared for any opponent that we have,” said Waardenburg after the Canes’ victory Friday. “We forced 18 turnovers as well, and we did a great job executing that game plan.”
In the matchup against No. 2 seed Auburn, Miami outscored its competitor 17-2 in points off turnovers, a 15-point advantage in the statistic, representing almost the entire margin of victory, as well.
3. Defensively, Miami has shown an ability to slow down the right players
Iowa State’s Izaiah Brockington entered Friday night’s game a First Team All-Big 12 member and the leading scorer and rebounder for the Cyclones. Brockington wouldn’t be the leader in points nor rebounds in his matchup with the Hurricanes, however. He finished the night with only 11 points on 33% shooting, losing four turnovers to the defense.
Miami’s scramble defense was also able to disrupt projected top pick Jabari Smith of Auburn last Sunday. Though he had an impressive 15 rebounds, Smith could only add 10 points on 3-of-16 shooting, despite a season average of 16.9 points per game.
4. Hurricanes fans should enjoy the moment
Miami has never had reached this platform, and there is no telling when it could come back.
“At the beginning of the season, if we would have told you we were going to an Elite Eight everybody would laugh at us and look at us crazy,” McGusty said.
Without even considering the fact that the program has never before played in the elite eight, it should be noted that only two teams from last year’s group have returned. It is tough to advance this far in the tournament, even for the best teams.
After this season, the Canes will lose three seniors in the starting lineup in McGusty, Moore, and Waardenburg. The three alone make up much of the production, and it is unlikely they will be successfully replaced next season to match what this year’s team has done.
The Hurricanes will face the top-seeded team in the Midwest region on Sunday when they compete with the Kansas Jayhawks. Tip-off is scheduled for 2:20 p.m. at the United Center in Chicago.