For the second straight year, one of the hottest teams to start the season is Miami (Fla.). The goal this year for the Hurricanes is to write a new ending to the same beginning script.
No team has been more impressive in the first week of this season than Jim Larranaga’s bunch, which won an eight-team in-season tournament for the second straight season. A year after rolling to the Charleston Classic title, Miami rolled to the Puerto Rico Tip-Off championship with an 85-75 victory over Butler Sunday afternoon.
The Hurricanes added on after a convincing win over Utah in the semifinals, jumping to a big early lead and holding on over the Bulldogs to finish with two top 20 wins in Puerto Rico. Add in early victories over Louisiana-Lafayette and Mississippi State, and few teams have accomplished more through 10 days of the season.
Last year and this year, Miami won tourney titles with red-hot shooting, particularly behind the arc. The Hurricanes shot 41.7% from deep and 50.9% overall in winning Charleston last year, including 19 of 38 (50%) from three in the first two games. This year in Puerto Rico, they hit 27 of 54 from long range, a cool 50%, part of 54.1% shooting overall in three games. No fewer than eight different players scored in double figures, and Angel Rodriguez was named the tourney’s MVP while playing in his native country.
Clearly, Larranaga’s teams these last two years come out of early season practice prepared and ready to go. Now, the challenge is to keep this play up. We all know what happened last year-later in non-conference play, the Hurricanes suffered a pair of puzzling and convincing losses at home to Wisconsin-Green Bay and Eastern Kentucky, and a middling ACC mark destined them to the NIT.
Miami shot just 42.8% as a team last year (210th in the country), and their 35.8% three-point shooting was a respectable-but-fairly-pedestrian 105th. The Hurricanes don’t need to shoot 54.1% overall every game or make half of their triples on the season. But if their numbers this year are closer to those in Puerto Rico than last year’s final totals, look out.
- More tournaments wrapped up Sunday. On paper, the Charleston Classic looked like the Virginia Invitational (or perhaps the old Investors Classic, a UVA four-team event long shuddered). The Cavaliers got a challenge in the final, but in the end went on to an 83-66 victory over state neighbor George Mason. Hopefully by now the ridiculous questions about “what is wrong with Virginia?” after daring to lose one early game can be put to bed.
- Duke had to work for it in both games, but the Blue Devils won the 2K Classic, finishing with an 86-84 win over Georgetown on Sunday. Grayson Allen lit it up again, scoring 32 (while shooting 9 of 12 from the field and 9-for-9 from the free throw stripe) to carry the Blue Devils.
- Purdue is legit. The Boilermakers finished off the Naismith Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic with an 85-70 win over Florida. So stacked inside, this time it was the perimeter making plays-Purdue knocked down 11 three-pointers in the win.
- The Paradise Jam final is set. For the second straight game, Tulsa rallied from a substantial second half deficit, this time coming from nine down to top Indiana State 67-59. The Golden Hurricane will face South Carolina in the final on Monday after the Gamecocks dominated inside in a 94-84 win over Hofstra.
- The non-tournament game of the day turned out to be between SMU and Yale. The Bulldogs built an eight-point halftime lead but the Mustangs rallied and hung on for a 71-69 win.
- A delicious matchup on paper was as advertised, with Oregon at home holding off Valparaiso 73-67. Dillon Brooks was the difference with a career-high 26 points and 13 rebounds for the Ducks,
- Akron is a very solid team, but Villanova still made the Zips look ordinary in the Wildcats’ 75-56 win. We continue to be reminded just how good Villanova can look in the regular season, which makes it all the more perplexing how they’ve had bad nights early in the NCAA Tournament the last two years.
- Setting the stage for the upset of the day: East Tennessee State was hammered at Villanova on Friday. Georgia Tech averaged 97.3 points in winning its first three games. ETSU won at Tech 69-68, though, as Ge’Lawn Guyn hit the winning three-pointer with three seconds left.
- St. Mary’s has five new starters this year, but the beat goes on in Moraga. Early in the morning in the eastern half of the country, the Gaels pulled away and finished off a 78-61 drilling of Stanford, as Joe Rahon scored 24.
- Boston College scored 16 in the first half against Harvard-and 53 in the second half. The Eagles won 69-56.
- Colorado State is now 3-0 and has two wins that may look mighty good come March. The Rams earlier did something on the road that North Carolina couldn’t do-beat Northern Iowa-and last night CSU held off Oakland 95-89.
- Finally, a mild surprise as Montana State edged Wyoming 83-82. Marcus Colbert is a veteran and one of the better players in the Big Sky Conference, and he scored 29, his second straight game with a career high. MSU also has a good-looking freshman in Tyler Hall who added 25, and they offset 36 points by Josh Adams.
- The 32nd annual Maui Invitational gets underway. Quarterfinal games include St. John’s against Vanderbilt, Wake Forest vs. Indiana, Kansas against host Chaminade and UCLA taking on UNLV. The first three games have obvious favorites, while the last one is a classic west coast matchup.
- The Gulf Coast Showcase opens in Florida with a field of eight mid-level programs but quite a few interesting matchups. Quarterfinals on Monday include Murray State against Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Duquesne-recent blowout winner over Penn State-against Pepperdine, Drake against Western Kentucky in a contest recalling one of the very best games of the 2008 NCAA Tournament and Central Michigan vs. Weber State.
- The Legends Classic pre-selected semifinals include LSU against Marquette and N.C. State against Arizona State.
- The CBE Classic also advanced its semifinalists automatically. The games include Kansas State against Missouri in a renewal between old Big 8/Big 12 foes, plus a second game between North Carolina and Northwestern.
- The MGM Grand Main Event in Las Vegas has semifinals including Massachusetts against Clemson and Creighton vs. Rutgers. Loyola (Ill.) won this event last year, defeating Boise State in the final.
- Fresh off wins at Georgia and now Illinois, Tennessee-Chattanooga gets a shot at top 10 Iowa State on the road Monday. Win that, and the Mocs deserve a spot in the top 25.
- Finally, a terrific off-the-radar game has Mercer at Davidson, a pair of always well-coached teams.
Have a great Monday.