Miami Scouting Report: Hurricanes have NBA size, skill

Buzz Williams has been quite complimentary of the Miami Hurricanes. And he's right. (USA Today)

Buzz Williams has been quite complimentary of the Miami Hurricanes. And he’s right. (USA Today)

For all the gratuitous hyperbole Buzz Williams tends to give to opposing teams, coaches and players, he wasn’t joking around or exaggerating when he said the Miami Hurricanes have a roster that looks more like an NBA team than a collegiate one.

The outright ACC champions–both in the regular season and the conference tournament–were one of the more impressive teams this season, and they had a legitimate case to be the fourth No. 1 seed instead of the Gonzaga Bulldogs, which lost to Wichita State in the third round.

Jim Larranaga’s group has wins over Michigan State, Duke, North Carolina State and three wins over the North Carolina Tar Heels. On the flip side they also have losses against Wake Forest, Georgia Tech and the now-famous Florida Gulf Coast Eagles in November.

ACC Player of the Year Shane Larkin leads the way for the 27-6 Hurricanes. He led the team in scoring, assists, steals, 3-point percentage and 3-point makes. We profiled yesterday how he uses pick-and-rolls to dominate on the offensive end, and his pesky defense makes him a fantastic all-around performer.

Larkin wasn’t the only impressive performer in the backcourt, as Durand Scott’s 13.2 points per game ranked second on the team. He has been great in transition and excels when the tempo picks up, but he’s also very patient getting to the basket. He has great athleticism and, at 6-foot-5, solid size on defense.

Both Larkin and Scott will top the scouting report, but forward Kenny Kadji has the tools of a perfect switchable that will be tough to counter. At 13 points and 6.9 rebounds per game, he’s also made 46 3-pointers at a 35.4 percent clip and gets to the basket as the Hurricanes’ leading free-throw shooter. He’s an aggressive defender and, um, is quite athletic.

Without sixth man Reggie Johnson–the 300-pound center did not travel with the team to Washington, D.C.–center Julius Gamble will see an increased role. His minutes (and production) went up during the nine-game stretch Johnson missed earlier this year, and he’s a potential X-factor tonight.

Milwaukee native Trey McKinney Jones worked out with a handful of Marquette’s players this offseason, and the versatile wing does a bit of everything for the Hurricanes, much like Trent Lockett.

Backing up McKinney Jones is Rion Brown, who exploded for 21 points in Miami’s third-round win over Illinois on Sunday. He’s streaky from beyond the arc, takes care of the ball but leaves some to be desired defensively.

What the Hurricanes do well

— In case you haven’t checked this website all week, the Hurricanes run pick-and-roll action as often and as successful as any team in the country. Larkin and, to a degree, Scott are stellar initiating Larranaga’s offense, and the Hurricanes will give Marquette a heavy dose of this all night.

— Larkin is effective not only in his shooting and passing, but he also leads the Hurricanes to one of the best turnover percentage rates in the country–18th best (16.8) to be exact. Marquette was able to turn over Butler in Saturday’s win, and the Hurricanes’ turnover numbers will go a long way toward deciding tonight’s outcome.

— The Hurricanes tout the 18th best defensive efficiency in the country, led by the ACC defensive player of the year, Scott. Not having Johnson on the interior will change the defense, but overall the Hurricanes have been aggressive and hold opponents to 45.4 percent shooting effectively, 49th best in the country.

Where the Hurricanes can be beat

— The Hurricanes have a solid defense, but they rarely turn over teams. Larkin and Scott are pesky defenders but they are better in containing teams and forcing bad shots than they are taking away possessions. Still, be on the lookout for Larkin and Scott looking to swipe Cadougan and Blue at a moment’s notice.

— Davidson and Butler were two of the best free throw shooting teams in the country, but the Hurricanes shoot just 68.3 percent as a team. Larkin (77.6 percent) and Scott (75.2) are solid, but Kadji shoots just 66.1 percent from the stripe on 124 attempts. Not having Johnson (67.8 percent) should help causes, but not entirely.

— All teams have bad losses on their resumes, but Miami’s loss at Wake Forest on Feb. 23 was unacceptable. The Demon Deacons won just five games in conference. Miami also fell at home to Georgia Tech, a six-game winner in conference, showing they are prone to a letdown.

Three keys to the game

1. Limit Larkin going to the basket

We previously noted how Larkin is one of the best jump shooters in the country, and Marquette’s best bet on pick-and-roll action is to deny him those outside shots and force him inside. Chris Otule has turned the corner as an interior defender, and Jamil Wilson’s help defense should limit Larkin, should he get to the paint. It’s a pick your poison scenario, but Marquette should pick this way.

2. Find ways to let Vander Blue work

The ACC defensive player of the year Scott will be matched up on Blue tonight. As we saw against Butler, Blue’s scoring is going to be the determining factor in a Marquette win. Simply put, if Scott locks down Blue, Marquette loses. Buzz Williams must find creative ways to get Blue open. The Madison native can score in a variety of ways, and now’s the time to unleash the full arsenal.

3. Take advantage of a Reggie Johnson-less frontcourt

The matchup everyone wanted to see involved the 300-pound Reggie Johnson against the 290-pound Gardner, but now that Miami’s literal big is out, Marquette’s own must take advantage of it. Gamble is susceptible to foul trouble, and few players are better at getting defenders into it than Gardner. Even Chris Otule is getting better on the offensive end.

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