From the Final Four to the bottom of the ACC: An analysis of the downfall of Miami men’s basketball

After missing a three-point attempt and committing a shooting foul, fourth-year junior Nijel Pack gazes at the scoreboard as the Hurricanes call a timeout in the first half of the loss against Louisville. Photo credit: Charisma Jones

*Luke Sims also contributed to this report

At this time last year, the Miami Hurricanes were in the midst of a historic run in the NCAA Tournament, capping off the greatest season in program history with their first trip to the Final Four.

The ‘Canes ultimately fell short in Houston to UConn, but heading into the next season, the future looked bright for Miami basketball. Star players such as Norchad Omier, Nijel Pack and Wooga Poplar all returned to Coral Gables with the hopes of leading Miami to another deep run in March.

However, the Hurricanes’ season ended much earlier than most anticipated, as they ended the regular season near the bottom of the ACC and bowed out in the first round of the ACC Tournament.

With their hopes of getting a bid in the NCAA Tournament officially dashed, the Hurricanes look onto next season and their 12th-ranked recruiting class, according to 247Sports, but how did Miami fall from grace so far and so quickly?


All season long, the Hurricanes battled injuries, with at least one key player seemingly out every game. With the likes of Pack and Poplar, along with newcomer Matthew Cleveland, in and out of the lineup at all times, Miami was never able to gel as a cohesive unit and build up chemistry as the season progressed.

“I think when we were 100% healthy, we were a very good basketball team,” head coach Jim Larrañaga said. “It’s hard enough to be successful missing one of your key players, but it’s almost impossible to be successful when you have a different guy injured almost every game and you can’t develop the kind of chemistry and bond.”

Another reason why injuries caused Miami’s season to spiral downward is due to the lack of depth on the bench. The Hurricanes ran eight-man rotations for the majority of the year and relied heavily on their starting five to produce.

Whenever a member of the starting five was out, Miami often did not have the capability to replace their production, putting even more pressure on the rest of the starters.

This made Miami dependent on excellent shooting nights from all its stars to win games – an unsustainable formula for winning in the long-term and a catalyst for why the ‘Canes ended the season on a 10-game skid.

Lack of Leadership

While Miami returned the likes of Omier, Pack and Poplar, the team lost its two best players and leaders in Jordan Miller and Isaiah Wong.

Miller exemplified exactly what Larrañaga wanted in a player. Miller was strong defensively, had a smart basketball mind and always gave 100% effort. As a leader on the floor and in the locker room, Miller’s energy was infectious and a big reason the ‘Canes were able to go as far as they did last season.

The quiet confidence of Wong was another huge factor, as he was a perfect role model for other players on the team.

Losing those two role models to the NBA and not having another leader step into those massive shoes made Larrañaga’s job very difficult. This team was weak when faced with challenges and often found itself unable to get back up after taking a hit.

The lack of team chemistry and locker room cohesion is also evident in the number of players in the transfer portal. So far, Miami has five players in the transfer portal, including almost all of its bench.

While on paper this Miami team looked similar, the problems in the locker room cannot be overstated. This team was a ship without a sail, and it did not survive the storm.

Lack of Consistency

Poplar started the season on fire, shooting the ball excellently, particularly from behind the arc, and Cleveland seamlessly fit into the Miami offense early on as the Hurricanes reached as high as the eighth-ranked team in the nation in the fourth week.

However, as the season carried on, Poplar and Cleveland cooled off, whether due to injuries hampering their abilities, playing better competition or a combination of both. While they still both showed flashes of their immense talent and elite play, it was clear that neither of them looked 100% healthy or like the players they were at the start of the season.

Miami’s two most consistent players throughout the season were easily Pack and Omier. Omier was the most healthy out of all of Miami’s stars, putting together a stellar season worthy of his All-ACC Second Team selection. Omier led the team in points, rebounds, steals and blocks per game while averaging a double-double.

Meanwhile, Pack dealt with a lower-body injury all season and was in and out of the lineup. However, when he was in the lineup, he provided the same floor-spacing and shot-making ability that he displayed last year.

Despite Miami’s poor record, it played in many close games with some of the nation’s best teams, such as North Carolina. What kept the ‘Canes in those games was often the play of Pack and Omier, as the two gave opposing teams fits on the offensive end.

Still, two players can only take a team so far, and with the inconsistency everywhere else, the Hurricanes struggled to take down tough opponents, finishing with only a single Quadrant 1 win all season.

Freshman guard Kyshawn George was also on-and-off throughout the season, showing great potential, but also struggling for stretches. This is to be expected from a freshman, especially one that plays guard, but due to Miami’s injuries and lack of depth, George had little time for a learning curve and was thrown into the fire rather quickly.

With massive inconsistency from the majority of Miami’s best players, which can be explained by both injuries and a seeming lack of chemistry due to said injuries, the Hurricanes ended their season in complete opposition to how last season concluded.

The future of Miami basketball is now uncertain, as it is unknown who will remain with the team and who will depart. As an offseason of question marks for the ‘Canes begins, expect them to be active in the transfer portal and recruiting over the next few months.