UM BASKETBALL

Miami Herald (Sunday) - - Sports - BY DAVID WIL­SON db­wil­son@mi­ami­her­ald.com

HUR­RI­CANES COACH JIM LARRAÑAGA WANTS HIS TEAM TO SHOOT MORE THREE-POINT­ERS AND PLAY AT A FASTER PACE THIS SEA­SON,

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-andim­proved 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 three­p­ointer.

“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 back- court, and Hernandez, Ebuka Izundu and Sam Waar­den­burg in the front line — and, if Hernandez’s shoot­ing abil­ity is real, only one non shooter 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,” coach Jim Larrañaga 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 Larrañaga’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 Larrañaga’s eighth sea­son in South Florida.

“We’ll be shoot­ing a good num­ber of three­p­oint­ers this sea­son,” Larrañaga said. “Our nor­mal goal is to make about eight 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 5-7 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.”

AL DIAZ adiaz@mi­ami­her­ald.com

Hur­ri­canes shot­ing guard De­jan Vasil­je­vic made 41.1 per­cent of his three-point at­tempts last sea­son.

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