Just two weeks after ACC Player of the Year Shane Larkin committed for the NBA, Miami Hurricanes basketball welcomes two new members: former Arizona St. point guard Angel Rodriguez and Belgian point guard Emmanuel Lecomte. Angel Rodriguez was the starting point guard for the Wildcats this past season, averaging 12 points and five assists. He stands as 5’11, similar to Larkin’s height. He only shot 37 percent from the field but shot a solid 35 percent from the three-point line and 83 percent from the free throw line. Rodriguez could be a solid replacement for Larkin, provided that he improves his field goal percentage.
In addition to Rodriguez, Belgian point guard Emmanuel Lecomte (or Manu) will also help the Canes replace Larkin’s production. Lecomte currently plays on a reserve team in the Ethias League in Belgium, where he averages 20 points and five assists. Also 5’11, Lecomte’s strengths include his court vision and his ability to shoot well from long range, both much-needed qualities for any solid point guard. However, Manu is only 165 pounds and acknowledges that he needs to bulk up in order to be a successful point guard in the ACC.
Although the Canes will certainly miss Larkin, Coach Jim Larranaga has two solid options at the point guard position, both of whom have a bright future in orange and green. The only problem with these two players is that they are both around the same size (and are undersized), meaning that it will be difficult for Larranaga to play them both at the same time, they way he did with Durand Scott and Shane Larkin. Although Scott played the two-guard last season for Miami, he originally had played the one with former Miami guard Malcolm Grant playing the two. Scott was able to transition to the shooting guard position because he is around 6’4 and is able to defend multiple positions.
Together, Durand Scott and Shane Larkin were the best defensive backcourt in the ACC, finishing first and second, respectively, in ACC Defensive Player of the Year voting. Although Angel Rodriguez made the all Big-12 Second Team, he isn’t exactly known for being a lockdown defender. Lecomte also isn’t known for being a defensive stopper and it is also unclear how his game will transition to Division 1 college basketball. Both players will have to work on their game defensively to adequately fill the void that Larkin’s departure has created.
Provided that Rodriguez can be cleared to play his first season, look for him to be the starting point guard for Miami with the young Lecomte initially playing a back up role.
It was a disappointing night for the Miami Hurricanes. The Canes shot an abysmal 35 percent including 8-26 from the three-point line en route to 71-61 loss to Marquette. The score does not justify how badly the Canes played and how well the Golden Eagles played. After being down 4-2 in the first couple of minutes, Marquette never looked back, getting to the basket at will and stifling the Canes on defense. Marquette looked especially prepared for Miami’s high-ball screen, showing high on Shane Larkin to ensure he did not gain momentum heading towards the basket and running three-point shooters off the line to keep them off balance. It also did not help Miami’s cause that they shot one for twelve in the first half from the three-point line, some of which were good looks and had fell all season for the Canes. Meanwhile, on the other end, Miami had no answer for Marquette’s big men. Davante Gardner, Jamil Wilson, and Chris Otule all scored in double figures, giving the Golden Eagles a huge advantage for points in the paint. In addition to the paint play, Marquette also hit three of six from the three-point line, including two in the first half. Vander Blue’s jump shot with three seconds left gave Marquette a thirteen-point lead at the break.
The Canes shooting percentage could only go up in the second half considering that they shot less than 30 percent in the first twenty minutes. Unfortunately for Miami, Marquette started the second half on fire, making eight of their first nine shots. Every time it looked that the Canes were gaining some momentum, Marquette would answer with a lay up on the other end or the Canes would shoot themselves in the foot with a turnover. The Canes never got closer than 14 for most of the second half. Marquette did a phenomenal job breaking down the Canes’ pressure by passing over the top and getting lay-ups for Gardner or Otule. By the time the Canes were able cut the lead under 14, it was too little too late.
Almost everyone underperformed for Miami, starting with Durand Scott who had his second poor shooting performance, making only three out of his thirteen shot attempts. Trey McKinney Jones and Rion Brown, normally known as sharpshooters, missed seven and ten shots respectively. On paper, Shane Larkin had a decent game with fourteen points and four assists. However, anyone who watched the game knows that Larkin did not have the type of impact that he normally does. Marquette did a great job containing him, which prevented Larkin from penetrating and setting up himself or his teammates with good looks. In terms of the big men, Kenny Kadji was the most effective for the Canes tonight, scoring six out Miami’s first seven points. The Canes needed much more from him as well as from Julian Gamble considering that the perimeter players were playing so poorly.
Despite how tonight ended, these Miami Hurricanes have plenty to be proud of this season, as does their head coach Jim Larranaga. Though he fell short of reaching the Final Four, as he did with his 2006 George Mason team, Larranaga still led Miami to arguably its best college basketball season ever. With Jim Larranaga as head coach and Shane Larkin leading on the court, the Canes have plenty to look forward to next season.
Miami Hurricanes’ head coach Jim Larranaga refers to shooting guard Durand Scott as the “heart and soul” of the team. Scott displayed his leadership again today, this time by scoring a career high 32 points against a normally stingy Wolfpack defense. The Canes needed every one of his baskets prevent the predicted ACC champion in the preseason from upsetting the number one seed. The Canes came storming out of the gate, jumping out to a quick 16-5 lead in the first ten minutes of the game. Scott helped Miami extend its lead to nineteen with three minutes left in the first half by scoring nineteen first-half points. The Wolfpack rallied back with a run of their own at the end of the first half, led by senior Scott Wood. Wood hit two threes at the end of the first half and shifted momentum towards the Wolfpack as the two teams headed towards the locker room for halftime.
The second half began with the two teams exchanging blows. The Canes had trouble pulling away while the Wolfpack had trouble making a game-changing run. North Carolina State was able to end the stalemate by cutting the Canes’ lead to six. Once again, Scott Wood inspired the Wolfpack run with his pinpoint three-point shooting. It also did not help the Canes’ cause that they were being careless with the basketball and not getting back in transition. Durand Scott came to the rescue again by hitting a big three that shifted momentum back towards the Canes. Backcourt teammate Shane Larkin followed Scott’s lead and scored critical baskets for Miami when they needed it the most. Together, Scott and Larkin combined for 55 of Miami’s 81 points, accounting for 68 percent of the total offense. Not only did Miami’s backcourt get it done on offense, but the two best perimeter defenders in the ACC also led the way on defense, creating five steals between them. Scott and Larkin also forced Scott Wood and Lorenzo Brown into tough shots, making it difficult for NC State to stay in the game.
With less than three minutes left in the game, Durand Scott fouled out. He received a standing ovation from the limited Miami supporters at Greensboro Coliseum. The Wolfpack looked to make another run, cutting the lead to eight with less than two minutes to go. This time, Shane Larkin silenced the crowd with his lightning quick handles, smart decision-making, and clutch free throws. Larkin dribbled the ball at the end of the game, as the Canes celebrated making their first ever ACC Championship game. The Hurricanes will play the North Carolina Tar Heels tomorrow, whom they have already defeated twice this season. They will be favored to win again and take home their first ever ACC Championship.
Winning at Cameron Indoor is always a near-impossible task considering the Blue Devils had won 92 of their previous 97 home games prior to Saturday night. The Blue Devils were especially motivated for the Hurricanes this time around, as the 27-point shellacking they experienced at the Bank United Center earlier in the year was fresh on their minds. Despite the hostility they knew they were about to face in Durham, the Canes went into the game confident in their own ability as one of Duke’s previous five home losses had come at the hands of this very same Canes team last season. Sports analysts everywhere hyped this game as easily the biggest in the ACC and arguably the biggest in all of college basketball thus far. This game featured another prominent storyline prior to tipoff: the return of Ryan Kelly. Most people predicted that Kelly would play ten to fifteen minutes at the most and would have a minimal impact on the outcome.
As it turned out, Kelly torched Miami for 36 points as he led the Blue Devils to a 79-76 win over the Miami Hurricanes. The Canes had no answer for Kelly’s outside shooting as he alone hit seven of the Blue Devils’ eleven three pointers compared to six threes combined for Miami. Despite Kelly’s historic night, the Canes were able to stay in the game by exploiting Duke’s poor penetration defense. Shane Larkin led the way for the Canes with twenty-five points and four assists followed by Kenny Kadji’s seventeen points and ten rebounds. The difference in the game last year for the Canes was Reggie Johnson’s impact in the paint. He dominated Duke inside for twenty-seven points. This time around, Mason Plumlee and the rest of the Blue Devils held Johnson scoreless, as he missed all five of his shot attempts and failed to force Duke to double-team him down low. The two teams remained within striking distance of each other for most of the night before Duke finally got the first double-digit lead for either team after Quinn Cook’s three pointer with 1:56 left. The Canes rallied back, and had a chance to tie the game at the buzzer before Rion Brown’s three-pointer rattled out.
The Canes have plenty of positives to take away from the game despite the loss. The Canes being able to stay in the game shows that the win earlier in the year was no fluke. The Canes are able to match up well with the Blue Devils and have a legitimate chance to beat them in the ACC tournament if the two teams meet again. Once again, Miami shut down Seth Curry by holding him to seven points on two of eight shooting. In fact, if it were not for Ryan Kelly, the Canes would have handily beat Duke again. Of course, the Blue Devils will have Kelly at their disposal the rest of the season but it is highly unlikely that he will score 36 points again on ten of fourteen shooting from the field. Jim Larranaga will have his defense prepared next time around to better handle Kelly’s perimeter play. Shane Larkin had his way with the Blue Devils again, and Duke could not stop the Canes from penetrating and getting to the basket. The Canes also had a rare poor shooting night from the three-point line.
With the Canes already having clinched the one-seed in the ACC and with limited competition in the ACC this season, it is highly probable that these two teams meet again in the ACC Championship game in Greensboro. This time, it will be the Canes who look for revenge.