If you take a look at the top five offenses in the country by adjusted efficiency, you won’t be surprised to find four teams considered by many to be top national title contenders. Duke, Wisconsin, Kentucky, and Gonzaga all came into the season with high expectations and have lived up to them thus far. The other top five offense in the country, however, comes at a bit of surprise. Jim Larranaga’s Miami Hurricanes are currently fourth in the country on the offensive end despite finishing just 93rd last season.
Miami features a very strong three guard lineup of Angel Rodriguez (Kansas State transfer), Manu Lecomte, and Sheldon McClellan (Texas transfer). The Hurricanes are running the same ball screen offense as last season, but with some significantly better pieces.
Larranaga’s offense is hardly complicated. Miami does most of their damage on pick and rolls to the center of the court. The Hurricanes spread you out, get a ball handler into the middle of the defense via a screen, and react to the defense’s rotations.
Take a look at Miami’s shot selection and efficiency compared to last season:
Miami has cut out some mid-range attempts this season in favor of shots at the rim and threes. However, Miami obviously has yet to go through the ACC schedule. I think it’s reasonable to think that the stronger defenses in the ACC will bring the Miami shot selection closer in line with 2013-14. The key for Miami’s new high-powered offense has really been three-point accuracy. The Hurricanes won’t shoot 46% from three for the rest of the season, but will still likely be one of the best teams in the NCAA from deep even with some regression.
The ability to hit threes also stretches the defense and is certainly an important factor in Miami’s 70% shooting percentage at the rim. Opponents can’t afford to help off of Miami’s guards, which has opened up the lane for ball handlers and for 7’0″ center Tony Jekiri.
What I Like: Counters
A simple ball screen with the court properly spread is hard to defend. However, a set defense will be able to take away the best options with proper defensive fundamentals and scouting. With that in mind, Miami has different set plays they will run prior to getting into their ball screen. These quick hitting sets are filled with player movement and are designed to almost “distract” the defense from keying in on the eventual ball screen.
Here is a quick look at a scissor play Miami likes to run a lot:
Most of the time when Miami runs this play it is simply going to flow into a sideline pick and roll. The initial action puts enough pressure on the defense to open up the court for the secondary ball screen.
One thing I noticed about these plays is that Miami will often run the same one multiple times in a row. I think the idea behind this is to catch the defense sleeping with a counter. After running the scissor play three or four times in a row watch Rodriguez read the defense:
In the particular instance above, Rodriguez’s read isn’t quite effective because Jekiri fails to see Rodriguez making the counter cut and set a screen. Regardless, it’s a solid example of Miami letting the defense believe they know the play before countering. Miami loves to run the same set for multiple minutes at a time for this very reason.
What I Dislike: Isolation
A fairly common way coaches decide to defend Miami is by switching most screens. While switching is an effective way to limit the effects of ball screens, it leaves mismatches all over the court. However, Miami does have a tendency to waste these mismatches on isolations leading to long two-pointers. Here’s an example below:
Rodriguez gets the switch off the pick and roll and clears everyone out to take a pull jumper. Of course this isn’t always the case on switches. The Hurricanes do look to get the ball inside if a big man is being covered by a small guard. But the tendency for the guards to feel like they must take a shot when a big man switches onto them is something to watch for as the season progresses. Miami should instead use these mismatches to their advantage by forcing the defense to over help (either in the post or on a drive) and finding the open man.
The Miami offense will get a strong test tomorrow against Illinois. The Illini currently rank 21st in defense.