University of Miami

The Miami Hurricanes plan to follow basketball trends: faster pace, more three-pointers

Miami coach Larranaga dances with team after beating No. 18 Virginia

Miami head coach Jim Larranaga busts some moves in the locker room with his team after beating No. 18 Virginia on Monday.
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Miami head coach Jim Larranaga busts some moves in the locker room with his team after beating No. 18 Virginia on Monday.

Dewan Hernandez insisted all offseason he could shoot three-pointers now. The star center went through the NBA Draft process in the spring and the one most persistent bit of feedback from scouts and executives was about Hernandez’s ability to shoot from the perimeter. If he wanted to become a first-round pick, Hernandez would have to stretch out to the three-point line.

With 14 minutes left in the Miami Hurricanes’ preseason exhibition against Barry University on Tuesday, the new-and-improved Hernandez lined up his first three-point attempt of the new season. He squared up his feet, tucked in his elbow and, with surprisingly graceful form, splashed in a three-pointer.

“Oh, it was going in,” guard Dejan Vasiljevic said recalling the jumper at Miami’s basketball media day Thursday in Coral Gables. “He set his feet, didn’t think about it twice and just went straight up with it. Every time he does that, it’s going in.”

This added confidence could unlock an identity for the Hurricanes this coming season. Miami plans to open the season with a seven-man rotation — Vasiljevic, Anthony Lawrence, Zach Johnson and Chris Lykes in the backcourt, and Hernandez, Ebuka Izundu and Sam Waardenburg in the front line — and, if Hernandez’s shooting ability is real, only one nonshooter in the group. Miami could follow the growing trend in basketball this year: faster pace and more three-pointers.

“We’re probably going to shoot more threes this year than in any other season,” Jim Larranaga told reporters at his media day news conference inside the Watsco Center Fieldhouse.

Five of the seven members of this expected rotation shot at least 34.5 percent from three-point range last season. Waardenburg, who saw sporadic playing time as a freshman, led the way at 43.8 percent on 32 attempts. Lawrence, who primarily worked as a stretch four, shot 43.2 percent. Vasiljevic, the closest thing on the roster to a three-point specialist, hit 41.1 percent while attempting more than five per game.

On Tuesday at Watsco Center, the Hurricanes started Lykes, Vasiljevic, Lawrence, Waardenburg and Hernandez. All but Waardenburg hit a three, and the three guards all made at least two despite playing limited minutes in a 91-61 win against a Division II program. Miami attempted 21 total threes and made 10 of them.

These numbers are more or less in line with Larranaga’s expectations for the coming year. In the past, the coach has wanted his Hurricanes teams to attempt about 18 threes per game and make around eight of them. Those numbers should increase for Larranaga’s eighth season in South Florida.

“We’ll be shooting a good number of three-pointers this season,” Larranaga said. “Our normal goal is to make about 8 out of 18, but I’m guessing we’ll probably attempt more between 20 and 25 per game this year.”

Obviously, this appeals to spot-up shooters like Vasiljevic and Waardenburg, but it should also maximize Lykes’ ability.

A 5-foot-7 guard, Lykes electrified the Atlantic Coast Conference as a freshman, making the most of his 20 minutes per game with highlight-reel plays and game-changing scoring bursts. Size will always be a limitation for Lykes, so he has had to become a good pull-up shooter. The added spacing also means Lykes won’t have as many players clogging the paint on the way to one of his circus layups.

Basketball has been trending in a direction to favor players such as Lykes for years now. Since Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors won the 2015 NBA Finals, basketball has tried to keep up with the Warriors’ pace and space. Last season, the NBA set the league record for three-pointers made for the sixth season in a row.

The 2018 NCAA champions were the most clear evidence the three-point craze is making its way to the college ranks. The Villanova Wildcats made 73 more threes than any other team on their way to a second championship in three years.

“I think [it’s] just the way basketball is going right now,” Lykes said Thursday. “NBA likes to replicate who wins, so you see the Warriors shooting a lot of threes and then college tends to do the same thing, so it’s going to be a real up-and-down pace this year for us. I know I’m going to push the pace a lot and get guys open shots on threes.”

This season, the Hurricanes have the personnel to play this style. Last year, Miami typically started three unreliable with guards Ja’Quan Newton and Bruce Brown, and Hernandez — then Dewan Huell. The Hurricanes had to get into the paint to score reliably and defenses could easily sag off a backcourt with Newton and Brown.

Now center Ebuka Izundu is the only player defenses can totally ignore when he’s 25 feet from the hoop. Everyone wants to chuck and it should make the Hurricanes’ offense even more dynamic than it was when Miami reached its third consecutive NCAA Tournament last season.

“It’s definitely up my alley, for sure, but I think everybody else wants to shoot the three,” Vasiljevic said. “It’s going to work for us really well and open up the floor.”

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