Miami went on the road for the first time this season and proved successful with two wins over Georgia and Kansas State to take home the hardware at the Baha Mar Hoops Bahamas Championship. Game one against the Bulldogs was dominated by the ‘Canes on defense, holding Georgia to only 67 points, while game two against the Wildcats was led by the Hurricanes’ offense, putting up 91 points against a Kansas State team fresh off an Elite Eight appearance.
Dominant Starting Five
To begin the season, and especially in Baha Mar, the Hurricanes’ starting lineup has looked unstoppable from an offensive standpoint. Each starter is averaging over 10 points, and four out of the five starters are averaging over 15 points.
“We got so many guys on this team that stepped up and that are scoring … pretty much every night we have a different leading scorer,” guard Nijel Pack said to reporters.
The main jump in these scoring numbers can be attributed to the offensive emergence of guard Wooga Poplar, who jumped from only eight points per game last season all the way up to 18 to begin this year’s campaign. Poplar is unconscious from deep to start the year, shooting just under 60% from beyond the arc, a main factor in his scoring increase.
Florida State transfer Matthew Cleveland has been paramount on offense and has seemed to be the perfect fit to replace Jordan Miller and bring together this year’s starting five. Cleveland has shown he can do it all, finding open spaces down low and hitting timely threes at an impressive clip.
There is no weak link in this unit right now. The Hurricanes are taking turns getting buckets on opposing defenses.
Bench Unit Stepping Up When Needed
While the starting five has gotten off to an impressive start, Miami’s 5-0 record is in large part due to the bench unit stepping up.
“Even off the bench, we had guys that contributed big minutes and those are what’s helping us get over that hump … everybody’s playing to their roles,” Pack said.
One of the few issues so far for UM has been its foul issues early in games. This particularly pertains to Norchad Omier and Cleveland.
Fortunately for Miami, the bench unit has stepped up, with players like Kyshawn George, AJ Casey and Christian Watson all logging valuable minutes in the absence of the starters, even though their impact may not be seen on the stat sheet.
“AJ Casey has come off the bench in this tournament and really provided some really good minutes … how about our boy Kyshawn George hitting a three, getting a dunk, getting a traffic rebound … the bench is going to be vital to us,” Miami coach Jim Larrañaga said.
Bensley Joseph’s Defensive Impact is Vital
Joseph has been a menace on defense this season, suffocating opposing point guards by making them work for each dribble they take.
The most recent example came against Kansas State, where Joseph locked down the Wildcats’ star guard, Tylor Perry, holding him to just 10 points on 4-of-13 shooting from the field.
“I thought Bensley Joseph’s defense on Tylor Perry throughout the game was the whole key to our victory. He did a great job of controlling him because [Perry] is their catalyst,” Larrañaga said.
Joseph’s defensive intensity is apparent from the opening tip of each game and is making countless positive impacts. The guard will full-court press every possession and wear out the opposition, resulting in poor shooting and transition opportunities for the ‘Canes offense to do what they do best: run the floor and score in transition.
After a long break, Miami will head to the notorious Rupp Arena to play its first true road game of the season against the No. 16 Kentucky Wildcats on Tuesday in what will be the Hurricanes’ first major test of the season.