Picked to finish fifth in the ACC preseason poll, head coach Jim Larrañaga’s Miami Hurricanes were considered by some to be a sleeper in the conference title race. After the Hurricanes’ showing Friday night against No. 16 Utah, it may be time to give them even more credit than that.
Sheldon McClellan scored 27 points and fellow senior Tonye Jekiri was a star in the post, accounting for a career-high 20 points to go along with 12 rebounds, as Miami blew out the Runnin’ Utes by the final score of 90-66. While Utah’s first half foul trouble didn’t help matters, Miami took over from the start and didn’t look back. The Hurricanes were efficient offensively, shooting 53.4 percent from the field, 9-for-17 from three and committing just seven turnovers.
By comparison Utah committed 16 turnovers and Miami made them pay for many of those mistakes, racking up 22 points off of turnovers. Larry Krystkowiak’s team shot the ball well, making half of their shots from the field. But when you lose the turnover battle as decisively as they did, field goal percentage doesn’t matter much at all.
Angel Rodriguez was solid at the point against a team still looking to account for what was lost at the position with Delon Wright’s graduation, scoring 11 points and dishing out four assists with just one turnover. Miami isn’t a team that will post a high assist rate due to their use of the dribble to get things going offensively, and Friday night just 13 of their 31 field goals were assisted.
But when they’re clicking things open up by way of the ball screen, either for the ball-handler, screener or wings, or breaking down their man off the dribble. Utah looked to a zone defense at times to slow down the Hurricanes but they couldn’t find the right answer for either McClellan or Jekiri, with Miami’s two leading scorers combining to shoot 18-for-22 from the field.
Next up for Miami is No. 22 in the title game of the Puerto Rico Tipoff Sunday night, giving them one more chance to make a national statement before returning stateside. Given the expectations surrounding North Carolina, Duke and Virginia, it would be unfair to paint Miami’s placement in the preseason ACC poll as some kind of “disrespect.” If anything, when combined with the Hurricanes’ play in San Juan it simply shows just how deep the conference will be this season.
In two seasons at Oklahoma State, forward Kamari Murphy played a role that didn’t change all that often. Defending, rebounding and being a supplemental figure on the offensive end were his responsibilities, and there didn’t seem to be much room for him to go outside of those roles. After a sophomore season in which he averaged 6.1 points and 6.3 rebounds per game, Murphy decided to transfer and ultimately wound up joining a Miami program that also worked hard to reel him in as a high school prospect but fell short.
Now eligible to compete after sitting out last season, the 6-foot-9 Murphy is eager to take the floor. And with that comes the desire to show that he can do a lot more skill-wise than he was able to do in two seasons in Stillwater, as noted in a story written by Christy Cabrera Chirinos of the Sun Sentinel.
“The two years I was [at Oklahoma State], we had great teams, but I think I was used in the wrong way and the media and press got the wrong perception of me, that I’m just a rebounder or a set screen guy,” Murphy said. “I’m [more] than that. This year, I’m not going to do too much, but I’m going to show people I have the skill work and my IQ is better than just setting screens and running the floor. That’s why I can’t wait to play, to prove people wrong.”
Murphy joins a front court that includes seniors Tonye Jekiri and Ivan Cruz Uceda, and there is room for the New York native to show off a wider array of skills. One of Miami’s personnel losses from last season was forward Omar Sherman, who transferred after averaging 4.8 points and 2.3 rebounds per contest as a freshman. While Sherman didn’t post prolific numbers, he was a face-up four who could step out onto the perimeter and hit shots in pick and pop situations.
Can Murphy fill a similar role for the Hurricanes, who have the pieces needed to return to the NCAA tournament after missing out in each of the last two seasons? Given Miami’s numbers in the front court, with just five scholarship options, head coach Jim Larrañaga and his staff will need Murphy to not only fill that role but be more productive in doing so.
Miami’s added another piece to its front court for the 2015-16 season, as 6-foot-10 center Ebuka Izundu verbally committed to the ACC program Wednesday according to Rivals.com. Izundu played at Victory Christian in Charlotte, North Carolina, and his decision comes after being released from the National Letter of Intent he signed to attend Charlotte.
With the school parting ways with Alan Major, Izundu reopened his recruitment and received increased interest from high major programs as a result. Izundu’s high school coach discussed his player’s decision to attend Miami with the Charlotte Observer.
“It’s the ACC and he felt really comfortable there,” Aureice McCain said. “They have an African on their basketball team who is from his home area (of Nigeria). They have another on the football team. And Miami is a small school, with a student-teacher ratio of 12-to-1. He feels he’ll get the same type of academic support there that he got at Victory. Plus, he’ll get to play five or six games in North Carolina each year, so so he can play in front of family and friends.”
The left-handed Izundu was one of the best prospects in North Carolina this past season, and he picked Miami over Arkansas and Cincinnati. Izundu joins a front court that won’t lack for options as the Hurricanes look to get to the NCAA tournament after reaching the title game of the Postseason NIT.
In addition to seniors Ivan Cruz Uceda and Tonye Jekiri, Miami also returns rising sophomore Omar Sherman and adds Oklahoma State transfer Kamari Murphy to its front court rotation. Those players should help Izundu next season as he get acclimated to the ACC.
While Miami wasn’t the best offensive rebounding team last season, ranking 12th in the ACC in offensive rebounding percentage, they did rebound nearly 71 percent of their opponents’ misses (4th in the ACC).