Jim Larranaga is a self-described numbers nerd. Always has been. He loved arithmetic in grade school and majored in math and economics at Providence College, where he was the basketball team’s leading scorer his sophomore and junior years.
If there was a stat or shooting percentage to be calculated, he was all over it. When he and his wife, Liz, go out to dinner with other couples, he figures out the tip.
It’s no wonder, then, that the University of Miami men’s basketball coach is obsessed with kenpom.com, a college basketball statistics website run by Ken Pomoroy, a Salt Lake City meteorologist who compiles a statistical archive that analyzes all 345 Division I teams on a possession-by-possession basis. There isn’t a news conference that goes by in which Larranaga doesn’t refer to kenpom.com. He even has the site’s mobile app on his iPhone for whenever he gets the urge to check his favorite stat: points per possession.
Larranaga, 63, also was one of the first college coaches to use Synergy Sports, an Internet-based video-scouting index that logs every possession of every game, allowing coaches to zero in on team and player tendencies. You want to compare a player’s spot-up shooting percentage with a dribble and without a dribble? No problem. Percentages going left? Going right? It’s all there.
The coach leaves nothing to chance. He writes everything down. His entire life over the past 20 years — every appointment, practice, personal goal — is chronicled in his Franklin-Covey daily planners. His bible is Stephen R. Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
Larranaga’s organizational skills, which he also requires from his staff, helped the Hurricanes (24-6, 15-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) go from afterthought to major player this season.
They were No. 2 in The Associated Press poll, the highest ranking in school history. They knocked off then-No. 1 Duke by 27 points, the first time a UM team had beaten a No. 1. They became the first team since the ACC’s inception in 1953 to beat Duke and North Carolina by 25 points in the same season. They drew a record five sellout home crowds. And, they are the No. 1 seed in the ACC tournament after winning the regular-season conference title Saturday with a 62-49 win over Clemson.
Larranaga’s staff is atypical. Most teams have an assistant who coaches guards, an assistant who coaches big men, and they rotate the scouting duties. Larranaga takes a page from football. Eric Konkol is his offensive coordinator. Michael Huger is the defensive coordinator. Chris Caputo is the master scout, fully responsible for the scouting reports for every game.
The idea, according to all three assistants, is uniformity in terminology and message. They have found that players like routine and familiarity. Rather than have every third scouting report written by a different coach, they are all in Caputo’s language.
All three coaches followed Larranaga to UM from George Mason. “We moved the store south,” Konkol said.
The Miami Herald took a peek at how Larranaga’s staff prepares for a game. Answer: Details, details, details.
Practice makes perfect
It is Tuesday afternoon, March 5, and the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets are coming to town to play the Hurricanes the next day. The team has gathered at BankUnited Center for a 3 p.m. practice.