Sims: Nijel Pack is worth the price of admission for ‘Canes MBB

Third-year sophomore guard Nijel Pack drives to the basket during Miami's win over Syracuse University on Monday, Jan. 16 at the Watsco Center. Photo credit: Alexandra Carnochan

Over Miami men’s basketball’s past few games, Nijel Pack has been on fire. The six-foot guard has gone on ridiculous scoring streaks that have left fans’ jaws dropped, led the Hurricanes’ backcourt and made head coach Jim Larrañaga’s aggressive pursuit of the Kansas State transfer last offseason well worth it.

Pack leads an offense that is top 40 in the country and first in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) in points per game (PPG) with 78.4. Miami is top 10 in Division 1 adjusted offensive efficiency with him on the court.

Pack has put up at least 15 points in five of the last seven games, shooting over 50% in four of those contests. He leads the team in relative shooting percentage from behind the arc. His individual performance from 3-point land on Jan. 31, when Pack hit five triples in five minutes, secured a victory over Virginia Tech in a game Miami needed to win to stay in the race for the top spot in the ACC.

Miami was looking for an impact point guard to better fit with returning guards Isaiah Wong and Jordan Miller last offseason. The ‘Canes also needed to replace the production of leading scorer Kameron McGusty and guard Charlie Moore, so Larrañaga turned to the heartland to knab the undersized guard. The Indianapolis native played two seasons at Kansas State before becoming a ‘Cane.

Despite Kansas State’s dreadful records in 2020 and 2021, Pack still played well. He averaged over 12 points per game as a freshman and over 17 points per game as a sophomore, which earned him a First Team All-Big 12 distinction. Thus, he was one of the most coveted athletes in the transfer portal this past offseason.

The hype surrounding the Miami basketball team was high after a surprise trip to the Elite Eight last year. The Hurricanes had two of the most anticipated transfers for the 2022 season – the other being Sun Belt Player of the Year Norchad Omier – and were bringing back two of their top five leading scorers, including leading rebounder Miller. There was certainly pressure, as the lights shine a little brighter in the 305 than in Manhattan, Kansas.

Nijel Pack started the season off hot, scoring 16 and 14 points, respectively, in Miami’s first two wins. The ‘Canes ripped off nine straight victories before the new year, which began when Pack put up 23 points against St. Francis Brooklyn on Nov. 23.

After a demoralizing loss against Pittsburgh on Jan. 28, the ‘Canes had lost four of their past seven games. But then Pack decided to turn it on.

A must-win game against Virginia Tech coming off an embarrassing loss? No problem. Pack scored all 17 of his points in a five-minute span in the second half to deliver the Hurricanes a crucial victory at home.

After the game, he summed up his performance with one word — “Insane.”

As a leader on the team, Pack recognized Miami needed a boost against the Hokies, but how would he handle a massive test against No. 20 Clemson on the road in a hostile environment? Well, Pack led the ‘Canes with 20 points and three assists to secure an upset in front of a sold-out crowd. Pack made a layup and 4 straight free throws to ice the game.

Next up, Miami faced a Duke Blue Devils squad at the Watsco Center on Feb. 6 that bested them in Durham, North Carolina, by one basket earlier in the season.

Pack played all right with five points, but Miami did not need saving against the Blue Devils, as it came away with a 22-point victory. Pack still led the team in minutes and played a responsible role in ball handling against Duke’s press in the second half.

Oh, and he dunked — despite his small stature. Pack put back a one-handed slam off a miss from Miller and left Duke big man Kyle Filipowski stunned. He proceeded to flex for the Miami bench, sending the Watsco Center into a frenzy.

Who would not want to see that again?

Looking to avoid an upset at home against a hungry Louisville team this past Saturday, Miami turned to Pack once again. He paced the ‘Canes with 22 points and was spectacular from behind the arc.

Pack was part of a group that each scored 20 or more points for the ‘Canes on Saturday night at the Watsco Center. Wong and Omier also had 20 plus. Pack was also part of defending Louisville’s El Ellis, who torched Miami for 33 points. Coach Larrañaga spoke highly of the effort Pack displayed on both sides of the ball.

Now, with only five regular season games remaining, the Hurricanes look to finish the year strong and win the ACC title.

While losing three leaders from last year’s squad hurt, Pack is giving Miami a real chance to do just that. He has opened up the full potential of the Miami offense and has the ability to draw crowds in a way not many Miami players have before. Look for Pack to continue his dominance as the ‘Canes continue their journey through ACC play with hopes of securing the ACC title on their way to Selection Sunday.