There are only so many opportunities to play marquee non-conference opponents. Even for a team like Kentucky that consistently plays a loaded schedule, it may only happen four or five times a season. Now, with the popularization of neutral site games, very few of those matchups take place at Rupp Arena. That is what makes Tuesday night’s contest against the Miami Hurricanes extra special.
In the inaugural year of the ACC/SEC Challenge, the Wildcats get the opportunity to host the Hurricanes who are 5-0, ranked #8 in the country, and fresh off of a trip to the Final Four. Unfortunately, in recent years, games such as this one have not been kind to the ‘Cats. Since the NCAA Tournament was canceled in 2020, Kentucky is just 4-12 against power conference opponents outside of SEC play.
No game played on November 28th will ever be a must-win. To overhype the importance of this game would do a disservice to the young Wildcats and put unnecessary pressure on a game that won’t determine the fate of the season. However, for Big Blue Nation, it is understandable why more weight would be placed on Tuesday’s contest. It is time to get back to winning marquee games. It is time to get back to being “Kentucky good.” There are no moral victories for this program. Even losing to, at the time, #1 Kansas two weeks ago left some with a “here we go again” attitude. That all needs to change starting with this matchup against the Hurricanes. It is time to protect the Rupp Arena floor. It is time to announce to the country that Kentucky is a force to be reckoned with.
As always, we have prepared a full, in-depth scouting report for Kentucky’s latest opponent. We will take a deep dive into the Hurricanes’ personnel, break down their offensive and defensive schemes, and highlight the keys to the game for the ‘Cats. Let’s dive in and get to know more about the Miami Hurricanes.
Miami Hurricanes Personnel
#24 Nijel Pack: 6’0″ 185 lbs, Fourth-Year Junior Guard
16.0 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 4.0 apg
Primary ball handler. SHOOTER!!! NO 3s!!! 11-28 from 3 in 5 games. You have to pick him up when he crosses halfcourt. DEEP range. Can’t let him dribble into a pull-up before you start guarding him. Get OVER the ballscreens and handoffs. CHASE off of downscreens and get OVER the flares. SWITCH anytime there is too much space to get OUT and take him away from 3. When you switch you need to switch out aggressively to take him away from 3. Get up into his body and break his rhythm when he is bouncing it. Will shoot out to 30 feet. Can’t leave him unguarded or he will make them. Make him drive it. We want to make him finish contested 2s. Don’t over-help when he drives it. Make him finish. Absolutely no help off of him. Find him in transition! No 3s!
#4 Bensley Joseph: 6’2″ 196 lbs, Junior Guard
11.6 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 4.2 apg
Lefty. Very quick and athletic. Shooter! No 3s! Half of his shots have been 3s. Shooting the same percentage from 3 as he is from 2. Get OVER the ballscreens and handoffs. CHASE off of downscreens and get OVER the flares. Need to play him as straight up as possible. Be there to take away the initial catch-and-shoot. Then, bounce back and guard against the left-hand drive. Very effective left-hand driver. No left-hand drives! He is always coming back left to finish at the rim. Likes to shot fake and pivot around at the end of his drives. Stay down, wall up, and make him score over you. They will throw the ball ahead to him in transition. More of a driver than a shooter in transition. Need to cut off the left-hand drive. Do not over-help when he drives it. Very good passer.
#5 Wooga Poplar: 6’5″ 197 lbs, Junior Guard
18.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 1.6 apg
SHOOTER!!! NO 3s!!! 19-32 from 3. Shooting a much better percentage from 3 than he is from 2. Excellent jump shooter. Have to give a hard contest to everything. Pressure him and make him uncomfortable. 8 assists to 15 turnovers. You need to get up into him and make him turn it over. You can help some when he drives, especially when he is driving it right. Go take it off of him. If he isn’t dribbling you aren’t close enough. Get OVER the ballscreens and handoffs. CHASE off of downscreens and get OVER the flares. SWITCH anytime there is too much space to get out and take him away from 3. When you switch you need to switch out aggressively to take him away from 3. Get up into his body and break his rhythm when he is bouncing it. No 3s!
#0 Matthew Cleveland: 6’7″ 208 lbs, Junior Guard
16.8 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 2.4 apg
Long and athletic. Will play the “4” for them. Very capable shooter, 7-14 from 3, but much more aggressive as a slasher and right-hand driver. No right-hand drives! Need to be there to take away the obvious catch-and-shoot and then bounce back to guard against the right-hand drive. More worried about staying between him and the basket. Be very willing to switch if he ballscreens or is involved in handoff action on the perimeter. You are switching to keep a guy on a guy and stay in front of the ball. Be physical with him at the end of his drives. Stay down, wall up, and make him score over you. Excellent offensive rebounder. Will crash the glass from the perimeter. He is the guy you can help off of the most, but still be cautious. Don’t get back cut. No right-hand drives!
#15 Norchad Omier: 6’7″ 240 lbs, Fourth-Year Junior Forward
15.8 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 2.0 apg
Strong, physical, undersized 5-man. Excellent right-hand driver. NO RIGHT-HAND DRIVES!!! He is going to play out on the perimeter a lot and look for opportunities to drive it right. You have to get over and cut him off. If you are switched onto him you have to immediately be thinking about him driving it right. Be physical at the end of his drives. He is going to shot fake, spin, and step through to come back and finish with his right hand. Stay down, wall up, and make him score over you. Right hand, left shoulder in the post. No quick drop steps. He is looking to face up out of the post and drive it right. Be ready for him to drive it into your chest. Force him into the help. Be physical. Excellent offensive rebounder. Have to get him boxed out. Absolutely no right-hand drives!!!
#23 AJ Casey: 6’9″ 221 lbs, Sophomore Forward
3.2 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 0.4 apg
Backup forward. Typically will come in to play the “5.” Looking to score at the rim. Primarily in there to ballscreen and roll to the basket. They will throw it to him in the post some. Right hand, left shoulder. Be physical and get him off of the block. His percentages will go down the further off of the block you make him catch it. Be physical, wall up, and make him score over you. No quick drop steps. Just throw a hand up if he shoots from the perimeter. Shouldn’t need to help when the ball goes to him in the post. Make him score with you between him and the basket. Don’t help up off of him and the rim and give up a dunk. Just stunt and fake. Make the guards finish at the rim. Box him out. No deep left-shoulder baskets.
#3 Christian Watson: 6’7″ 211 lbs, Sophomore Guard
2.8 ppg, 1.0 rpg, 0.2 apg
Bigger, athletic, backup guard. Play him straight up. Be there on the catch to guard against the obvious catch-and-shoot 3s and then bounce back to guard against the right-hand drives. Likes to use the shot fake on the perimeter to drive it right. Be physical at the end of his drives. He will look to turn them into post moves to utilize his size. Stay down, wall up, and make him score over you. Contest if he shoots the turnaround jumper. We want to stay between him and the basket. No uncontested catch-and-shoot 3s. No straight-line, right-hand drives.
#1 Michael Nwoko: 6’10” 245 lbs, Freshman Center
2.2 ppg, 0.8 rpg, 0.0 apg
Backup 5-man. Big and physical. He is in there to ballscreen and roll to the basket. Looking for deep post catches. Right hand, left shoulder in the post. Be physical and get him off of the block. His percentages will go down the further off of the block you make him catch it. No quick drop steps. Stay down, wall up, and make him score over you. Good offensive rebounder. Box out! Don’t help up off of him at the rim and give up a dunk. Just stunt and fake at the driver. Make them finish. No deep left-shoulder baskets.
#7 Kyshawn George: 6’8″ 205 lbs, Freshman Guard
2.0 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 1.2 apg
Bigger backup wing. Very willing shooter 8 of his 12 shots have been 3s. Play him straight up. Be there on the catch to guard against the obvious catch-and-shoot 3 and then bounce back to guard against the right-hand drive. Likes to use the shot fake on the perimeter to drive it right. Be physical at the end of his drives. He will look to turn them into post moves to utilize his size. Stay down, wall up, and make him score over you. Contest if he shoots the turnaround jumper. We want to stay between him and the basket. No uncontested catch-and-shoot 3s. No straight-line, right-hand drives.
Miami Hurricanes Offense
There is a lot of what the Miami Hurricanes do offensively that will be like looking in a mirror for Kentucky. They are playing very fast, shooting the lights out from three-point range, and getting well-balanced scoring from their primary guys. Each of Miami’s starting five averages at least 11.6 points per game. In terms of three-point shooting, they are the best in the country at 45.8%. The overall competition level has been good, not great, for the Hurricanes so far but there is no denying what they’ve done offensively.
Schematically, first and foremost, they are going to look to score in transition. They generally play four guards at a time and all of them are capable of bringing it on the break. Miami is very aggressive looking to score in transition and has found a lot of success in that area. Per Synergy, the Hurricanes score 1.306 points per position in transition. Additionally, they are making 59.3% of their three-point attempts in transition. Slowing the Hurricanes down in the open court will be paramount to finding success on Tuesday night. In the halfcourt, they are going to spread you out with a 5-out offense and a lot of ballscreen/handoff continuity. Be willing to switch and be prepared for a lot of one-on-one defense.
We can’t let the Miami Hurricanes run us out of the gym. Keeping that from happening will require a lot of concentration and discipline in transition. Protect the basket, stop the ball, and matchup beginning with the next most dangerous guy. That is the mantra for transition defense. We can’t afford to have possessions where we have two guys guarding one like you see in this clip here. Remember, you do NOT have a matchup in transition. It is basket, ball, next most dangerous. Therefore, we shouldn’t have two guys running at #4 Joseph in the corner leaving #5 Poplar wide open on the wing. That is a 59.4% three-point shooter getting a wide-open look five seconds into the shot clock.
#24 Pack might be fourth currently in the three-point percentage of the Hurricanes’ primary guys, but he is absolutely the most dangerous of the bunch. You simply cannot lose him in transition. Similar to the first clip, Kansas State has three guys guarding two on the far side of the floor. That obviously is no good. Our communication has to be on point so that we can start to get matched up out of transition and not leave this level of a shooter wide open for 3.
This is a good example of how spread out the Hurricanes will be offensively. Look at all of the space inside to being the possession as they have all five players well above the three-point line. An early miscommunicated switch by Kansas State, followed by too much tag on the roll, leads to them losing #24 Pack completely. That cannot happen. Your only responsibility when guarding #24 is taking him away from 3. When he makes this against us we can’t say, “Wow, that was deep!” It isn’t deep for Nijel Pack. That is a high-percentage shot when he is wide open.
More from the Miami Hurricanes 5-out offense. Obviously, there is a ton of space to back-cut into and defenses usually are hugged up on their man due to the shooting threat. You have to concentrate and not get back-cut. If you are guarding #15 Omier on the perimeter you can give him a step while constantly thinking about him driving it right. He is so physical that once he gets going downhill it is hard to stop. You need to cut him off in the first one or two dribbles. If he drives it from the perimeter like that you can bring some help and try to make him a passer. This is too easy for him.
The Miami guards get a lot of the press clippings, but #15 Omier might be the most difficult matchup on their team. This is more of a 4-around-1 look at Omier rolls into the post after the initial handoff. He faces up on the catch, as he will typically do, and drives it right along the baseline. In this situation not only do you want to take away the right-hand drive, but you also want to force him back into the help towards the middle of the floor. He is too strong and quick inside to let him beat you along the baseline like this.
Miami doesn’t execute this called action well at all, but it still serves the purpose of getting #24 Pack open from three-point range. Again, take a look at how deep this shot is. You HAVE to get all the way out there and guard him or else he will make these consistently. Stay TIGHT to #24 at all times and CHASE him on the perimeter. We do not want to give him clean looks from 3.
Miami Hurricanes Defense
For as good as the Miami Hurricanes have been offensively they’ve faced some early season struggles defensively. Per KenPom, they are ranked just 101st nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency. That is in large part due to getting dominated on the glass and allowing opponents to shoot 51.8% from 2-point range. They will look to switch a lot as they have five pretty interchangeable parts defensively, but they have struggled to stay in front of the ball at times. We must exploit one-on-one matchups and finish at a high level around the basket. Then, if we miss, crash the offensive glass and gain an advantage on the boards. It’ll be man-to-man defense with a lot of switching in this matchup.
Keys to the Game
- Transition defense. The Miami Hurricanes are deadly in transition. Protect the basket, stop the ball, matchup with the next most dangerous. Be tight to #24 Pack and #5 Poplar at all times!
- Win the turnover battle. We need to create turnovers while also limiting our own turnovers. This has been a strength and must continue in this matchup.
- Win the rebounding battle. We must rebound 77% of Miami’s misses.
- Shoot 75% or better from the free throw line. We can’t do anything about their free throw percentage, but we need to be 75% or better.