With Miami set to make its second appearance in an NCAA regional in the last four tournaments, comparisons with the current Hurricanes and the team that got to the Sweet 16 in 2013 are pretty much inevitable.
The subject came up again when coach Jim Larranaga met with the media the day before departing for Louisville to get ready for Thursday night’s game against Villanova (7:10 p.m. ET, CBS).
“I think both teams had great senior leadership,” said Larranaga, who was in just his second season in Coral Gables when the Hurricanes won both the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season and tournament titles before winning their first two games in the NCAA tourney. “Both teams had just a terrific backcourt and a very productive bench, just key guys who can come in and help you with whatever you might need — scoring or defense or rebounding.
“There are similarities for sure.”
And differences as well.
With Kenny Kadji, Julian Gamble, and Reggie Johnson combing for about 26 points and 19 rebounds a game, the 2013 Hurricanes were a bit stronger and deeper up front than this 2016 team.
“You kind of had a three-headed monster there,” Larranaga said, referring to the 2013 team. “We do it much more with perimeter play, but I think also the difference in our front court is that Kamari Murphy and Tonye Jekiri are outstanding defenders and rebounders whereas we had to do it with kind of team effort that year.”
Operating on the perimeter three years ago were guards Shane Larkin (14.5 ppg) and Durand Scott (13.1) along with wingman Trey McKinney Jones (9.2).
Bearing that responsibility this time around are guards Sheldon McClelland (16.0), Angel Rodriguez (12.6), and Davon Reed (11.2) with a fourth guard, Ja’Quan Newton, bringing a 10.8 average off the bench.
The current Hurricanes shoot a little better with a 47.7 percentage overall to the 2013 team’s 45.5, but they are virtually the same from 3-point range. This team has shot 36.9 percent from behind the arc, the 2013 club 36.2.
The current ’Canes are better free throw shooters (75.0 percent for the season to 68.4) with the resulting advantage in number of makes (569-465) giving the 2016 team a scoring average of 75.4 points per game, about six more than their predecessors.
“I think both teams had that grit, that toughness,” Larranaga said when asked about intangibles. “This is the time thought that that 2013 team ran into health issues — Reggie Johnson had knee surgery, Durand Scott caught an elbow in the mouth and had to have his teeth wired together just before we left, and then Shane Larkin came down with food poisoning the night before we played Marquette.
“Hopefully, we can avoid that.”
Three years ago the second-seeded Hurricanes had little trouble disposing of Pacific 78-49 in their NCAA tourney opener but had a tough, 63-59 win over Illinois in their second game. Marquette sped off to a 71-61 win in the Sweet 16.
This group of third-seeded Hurricanes has posted a couple of hard-fought wins, 79-72 over Buffalo and 65-57 over Wichita State to get to the regional semis against Villanova.
This team also has one other edge over the 2013 group.
Both teams had appearances in the NIT the year before making their NCAA runs, but in 2012 Miami played both of its games at home and lost by 18 points to Minnesota in the second. Last year the Hurricanes made a run to the NIT championship game, winning a quarterfinal game at Richmond and a semifinal in New York over Temple before losing the final to Stanford by two points.
That experience has been a help this time around.
“For sure, postseason play,” Larranaga said. “We had some very tough games last year in the NIT. We went to Richmond and were down by 18 and fought our way back and won that game. We were in a last-second game with Stanford for the championship.
“All of those experiences help you. They make your players realize that they have to have respect for every opponent and have got to get ready for every game, and the team that plays with greater energy, greater effort, greater execution, those are the teams that are going to win.”
Miami will be looking for a program first in this tourney. The Hurricanes have never made it to a regional final with their only other appearance coming in a regional semifinal in 2000, when they lost to Tulsa.