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ACC Preview #8 - Miami

The Hurricanes could be poised for another Final Four run

Miami v Duke
: DURHAM, NC - JANUARY 21: Norchad Omier #15 of the Miami Hurricanes moves the ball against Ryan Young #15 of the Duke Blue Devils during the first half of their game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on January 21, 2023 in Durham, North Carolina.
Photo by Lance King/Getty Images

Not all that many coaches have made it to more than one Final Four and far fewer have made it with different schools. Now you can add Miami’s Jim Larrañaga to that list.

His first trip was with George Mason in 2006, and that was before less highly regarded programs started showing up somewhat regularly.

No one like Mason got there again until Butler made it in 2010 and 2011. VCU also made it in 2011. Wichita State got there in 2013, Loyola Chicago in 2018 and San Diego State and FAU both made it this past spring.

It’s not common, basically. Larrañaga is not in the Hall of Fame, but he will be. Aside from the rare feat of taking two different schools to the Final Four, he has 725 career wins. And keep in mind that all of his stops prior to Miami have been at schools with minimal history (American International, Bowling Green, George Mason) that he made much, much better.

We’re used to thinking of Miami as a solid basketball school now but that’s really pretty recent. Leonard Hamilton was there for a while and did reasonably well, but keep in mind that Miami actually dropped the sport from 1971 to 1985.

The truth is that Larrañaga is a brilliant coach. Like Mike Krzyzewski, Larrañaga seems to have gotten better as he ages. That’s in contrast to Jim Boeheim (78), who really slid at the end and Leonard Hamilton, who has seen a decline since Covid (in fairness, Florida State’s recent records were aggravated by injuries).

In the last two years, Miami has been to the Elite Eight and the Final Four as well and, as of now anyway, Larrañaga looks like he’s still got a lot left in the tank. This year, the ‘Canes should be imposing again.

Miami does lose a lot: Isaiah Wong, Jordan Miller, Anthony Walker, Harlond Beverly, Favour Aire and Danilo Jovanovich are all gone. The last three you may have never heard of and probably don’t much matter. The first three certainly do.

Wong was drafted in the second round by the Indiana Pacers. Walker is in the Hoosier state too but in his case, he is taking his final year at IU. Miller went to the Clippers in the second round. Beverly is at Wichita State. Aire is now a Nittany Lion (if you feel a bit unsettled that you don’t know what Nittany means, don’t worry: no one really knows). As for Jovanovich, he’s off to Louisville. He only got in one game last season after falling behind due to an ankle injury but he still has potential.

Wooga Poplar, Bensley Joseph, AJ Casey, Christian Watson, Nijel Pack, Norchad Omier and 6-5 Jakai Robinson who redshirted, are all back.

Of those, Omier, Pack, Poplar and Joseph had solid to outstanding years and Omier was a real revelation. He had great reviews coming out of Arkansas State, but we were skeptical that a 6-7 guy from a minor school could be an effective post player at this level. His strength helped a lot though - at 248, Omier is a very powerful guy. He averaged 13.1 points and 10 rebounds per game and was a real pain in the ass. He doesn’t have his outlet pass, but his profile reminds one of Wes Unseld, who battled Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Willis Reed and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on relatively even terms despite being just 6-7.

He’s also, we’re pretty sure, the only Nicaraguan to ever play D-1 basketball. His NBA future is probably limited, but he could have a very long career overseas.

For his part, Pack came to Miami from Kansas State and immediately sparked a controversy, as his NIL deal was bigger than Wong’s. Wong’s agent said he would transfer if he didn’t get a better deal, which lasted about a day before Wong shut it down. It was quickly defused, but it was definitely an interesting insight into how this Brave New World works.

The 6-0 Pack turned out to be a great addition for Miami. He was a three point shooter as advertised, hitting 40.4 percent from deep and 44.1 percent overall. He really benefited from Wong’s presence though and it’s not clear how things will work this year. Not that we think he’ll be bad, but that he and Wong worked very well together.

Poplar, now a 6-5 junior, really came on last year and we would expect him to grow, well, more popular this year. We would expect his defense to continue to be solid and his offense to keep improving. Poplar hit 37.5 percent of his three point attempts and 47 percent overall for 8.4 ppg. He also pulls down 3.3 boards and racked up 1.5 apg. He’s got the potential to be a much more valuable player for the ‘Canes and to take on some of the load that Wong carried over the last couple of years.

Joseph was a rotation player as a freshman, getting 19.9 mpg. His stats were minimal but Larrañaga is really good at developing talent and we would expect Joseph to be improved.

Miami lists him as a sophomore but he has two years of experience and played in 37 and 26 games over the last two seasons, so presumably he should be listed as a junior.

AJ Casey came to Miami regarded as a versatile front court talent. At 6-9, Miami could obviously use his help and he could take some of the burden off of Omier, who had no way to compete against UConn’s size in the Final Four. Miller got about 35 minutes a game last year and that didn’t leave a lot of room for Casey. Larrañaga should be able to find a use for him this year.

Watson and Robinson will have to make their cases. Watson played in 11 games last season and Robinson just seven before taking a redshirt.

There was a time when the ACC just didn’t do intra-conference transfers, but that time is long gone. So now we see Matthew Cleveland transferring from gray, dull Florida State to vibrant Miami. He was very good at FSU, but Leonard Hamilton’s system doesn't really allow for individual stardom. Cleveland could be a massive breakout star at Miami and he should be able to pick up a lot of Wong’s responsibilities. Pack and Cleveland should be an outstanding ACC backcourt.

Miami also brings in four freshmen: 6-11 Michael Nwoko, 6-8 Kyshawn George, 6-7 Paul Djobet and 6-7 Nick Cassano.

Nwoko is from Burlington, NC, which of course is quite close to the Triangle, but played for Prolific Prep out in California. Among other talents, former Duke star Gary Trent spent time at Prolific Prep.

Nwoko is mobile and athletic and has good defensive instincts (Miami could have used him against UConn last year). He’ll also fit in well since he can really run the floor and Larrañaga loves running teams.

All he really needs to do this year is to help inside and defensively. We could imagine a scenario where his development is ahead of expectations and that would allow Larrañaga to move Omier over at least defensively and let Nwoko push the defensive pressure away from the basket. You might want to keep an eye on him.

George is a versatile guard from Switzerland so let’s get this out of the way now: he’s going to be called a Swiss Army knife for Larrañaga. And while we’re on the subject, not that we mind - it’s not like we copywrited it or anything - but DBR started the All Coast Conference gag as soon as SMU became a candidate for expansion. Just for the record.

Here’s what Larrañaga said about George when he signed:

“We are delighted to welcome Kyshawn to the Miami basketball program. In addition to being a tremendous player with significant upside, he is an excellent young man who comes from a great family. Kyshawn is a versatile guard who can play multiple positions and is a terrific shooter with unlimited range.

“A cerebral player, he is a true student of the game and has a strong basketball IQ. Kyshawn has competed at a high level in France, both with and against older players, which will help him adjust to the physicality of college basketball.”

That sounds like a guy who is going to fit right in with what Larrañaga likes. We haven’t really mentioned this yet, but look at how much versatility is on this roster. That doesn't apply to Omier as much, and probably not Nwoko and Pack, but look down the roster: virtually all the mid-sized guys are hailed as versatile: Poplar, George, Djobet, Cassano, Cleveland, Watson and Casey are all between 6-5 and 6-9 and they can all do anything other than consistently play in the post or at point guard.

Djobet is also an international prospect, in his case from France. He’s athletic and bouncy and has range. At 193, he probably needs to put on some weight. He went to high school in Florida. Djobet is said to be a high energy player as well. Again, the versatility and the legs will fit right into what Larrañaga is after.

Cassano comes to Miami as a preferred walk-on. He probably won’t contribute too much this year and possibly never. However, remember that Stephen Curry wanted to walk on at Duke and how would history have changed if he had?

You just don’t know until you do.

When you look at this roster, Miami could be pretty loaded but a lot depends on what veterans step up and which freshmen are ready. And sometimes that’s luck. Jovanovich barely played last year after an injury.

But the depth and versatility here, along with Larrañaga’s continued brilliance, suggests that Miami has the potential for another really, really good year.