Miami becoming an ACC force

Does Canes' elite D give them a shot at an ACC title and deep tourney run?

Originally Published: January 23, 2013
By John Gasaway | Basketball Prospectus
KadjiScott Cunningham/Getty ImagesKenny Kadji's interior defense has played a key role in Miami's success this season.

As a rule, it's best to be suspicious of familiar sports narratives, the kind you hear imposed without any alteration on very different situations. Take the one about the new coaching staff. Tell me if you've heard this one before ...

The new staff arrives and implements its new scheme on offense, defense or both. Not only that, but the incoming coaches instill a new attitude in the program. (Often it is said this new attitude revolves around "accountability.") On-court improvement isn't immediate, but in the head coach's second season, the players "buy in" to the system and the team goes on a tear.

Certainly there's no shortage of second-year head coaches in the ACC. Brian Gregory (Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets), Mark Gottfried (NC State Wolfpack) and Mark Turgeon (Maryland Terrapins) are all entering their second seasons in their current positions. But if you had to pick one ACC coach who exemplifies this standard "Year 2" narrative, I nominate Miami Hurricanes coach Jim Larranaga.

Keep in mind the Hurricanes have won just four NCAA tournament games in the program's entire history, or one fewer than Kansas won in the span of a few weeks last spring. Indeed Miami hasn't even appeared in the NCAA tournament since 2008. So it's not as if Larranaga was inheriting a ready-made contender when he took the job in April 2011. But if current performance is any indication, the program's numbers for NCAA tournament appearances and wins may be improving in a few weeks. (Miami gets a good chance to prove itself at home tonight against Duke -- 7 ET, ESPN.)

Here's why the conventional second-year narrative describes Miami very well and, more importantly, what that will mean for the Hurricanes in the ACC race and NCAA tournament.

Outside Durham and Chapel Hill, winning in the ACC is exceptionally difficult
It's still early in the season, but to this point Miami is outscoring its ACC opponents by a healthy 0.12 points per possession. If the Canes are able to sustain that level of performance, it should mark them as not only a team that will receive an at-large bid for the tournament but also one with serious second-weekend potential.


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