CORAL GABLES — His team is considered to be the most talented in program history, and owns its highest-ever December ranking, but Jim Larranaga doesn’t know how good his team really is.
“Ask me that question on Jan. 16,” he said.
That’ll be a day after the sixth-ranked Hurricanes (8-0) face Duke, three days after Clemson, and about a week after UM’s next home game, Jan. 7 against Florida State. Miami has a lot to learn about itself in the next month, in which it’ll play mostly away from home.
On the surface, Saturday’s game at George Washington (5-5 overall and ranked 158th in KenPom’s efficiency ratings) shouldn’t be a tough test for Miami (15th overall, including the fourth-best defense). But Larranaga sees plenty of improvement.
“I think we need to improve dramatically at the defensive end of the floor, and we need to develop a far greater appreciation of each other’s talents at the offensive end of the floor,” he said. “Meaning, guys really need to play good together. They’ve got to find the right guy at the right time within our offensive schemes. We’re working on it, but we certainly have a lot of work to do.”
The numbers say they’re doing well. UM ranks second nationally in effective field goal percentage defense (39.7) and fifth in 3-point percentage defense (25.7). Opponents are shooting 35.3 percent and scoring 57.1 points per game. Both totals rank second nationally.
“I love the numbers,” Larranaga said. “But we study video. If you do something correctly seven times, and you do it poorly three times, you’re not so much focused on the seven times you did it correct, you’re focused on the three times and wondering why we didn’t do it correctly every time.”
In Washington, D.C. (noon Saturday, CBS Sports Network), UM will be without sophomore guard Bruce Brown, who is one of four Miami starters who average in double figures. Brown (11.7 points) leads UM in minutes (32.3), rebounds (8.6) and assists (5.0), but missed last Tuesday’s win over Boston University with a hand injury. He will sit until Dec. 23, when UM opens play at the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii (1 a.m. vs. Hawaii, ESPNU).
At Tuesday’s practice, Brown, wearing tape on his left hand, was participating in drills but not scrimmaging.
“Bruce wants to practice and play,” Larranaga said. “He doesn’t want to be sitting out. He asked if he could play yesterday in practice. We’ve told him it’s up to our trainers and doctors to make that decision, and he’ll get the green light when they say so.”
One positive: Brown’s injury opened the door for another former five-star recruit, freshman Lonnie Walker, to start for the first time. Walker dropped a career-best 26 points and earned ACC rookie of the week honors.
“It helped his confidence and earned a lot of respect from his teammates and coaches,” Larranaga said. “You score 26 points in a college basketball game, that says a lot. There are a lot of guys who go through their entire career and will never score 26 points in a game.”
Colonial talk: Larranaga spotlighted George Washington’s good home environment, veteran presence and three players: 6-foot-9 Yuta Watanbe (15.1 points, 6.9 rebounds, 2.3 blocks per game), who guarded UM’s 6-2 Ja’Quan Newton in last year’s game; and the inside-outside combo of Arnaldo Toro (9.8 points, 6.4 rebounds) and Patrick Steeves, a stretch four. “They’re similar to a lot of teams we’ve seen,” Larranaga said, “just better.”
He likes him: Larranaga on Chris Lykes, the 5-6 freshman who has been lighting it up as a backup:
“A dynamic game. His speed, quickness, jumping ability — if he were 6-5 or 6-6, he’d be Michael Jordan, that’s how dynamic he is.”
In lauding Lykes, Larranaga referenced former NBA players Calvin Murphy (5-9), Earl Boykins (5-5) and Muggsy Bogues (5-3). High praise, so to speak.
Dropping the ball: Larranaga was asked for his thoughts on outspoken celebrity basketball dad LaVar Ball shipping his two youngest sons to Lithuania’s second division.
“What do I think? I think they’ll be back before the end of the year,” Larranaga said.
“I’ve had players who played in Lithuania, it’s a phenomenal league – not the one they’re playing in — the highest level is incredible basketball, some of the best players in the world. The league they’re playing in is several steps below. Knowing what coaching is like in those countries, it’ll be a dramatic difference from what those young men are used to. The lifestyle will be so different than what they’re used to. My only hope and thought would be, their dad needs to go with them. I don’t know if he will, but you can’t send them over there and have them live in that environment. It just would not be healthy for them.”