Steals are by no measure the best metric to use to evaluate the defense of a player. They’re like toppings on a pizza: it’s great if you have them, but they’re also nonessential. It’s early in the 2016-17 season, but so far, the Miami Hurricanes are proving that you can have your pizza with toppings, and eat it, too. Or something like that.
After defeating North Florida 94-56 Wednesday night, the Hurricanes improved to 2-0; their defense has been powerful in both victories. According to Ken Pomeroy, Miami’s allowing less that 93 points per 100 possessions, which ranks 23rd in the nation. We have a ways to go, but if they can keep this up, they’ll become the best defense Jim Larranaga’s had at Miami since his 2012-13 ACC champion squad. When unadjusted for pace, Miami’s giving up just 49.5 points per game (No. 8 nationally). North Florida and Western Carolina will never be confused with the 2005 North Carolina Tar Heels, but it’s impressive to hold opponents to just 33.8 percent shooting on two-point field goals — No. 17 in the nation.
The Hurricanes are turning teams over at a high rate, too. They have a steal rate of 12.7 percent thus far, which is No. 35 in the nation, according to KenPom. This has translated into points on the other end. Miami scored 186 points in their first two games, and defeated their opponents by a combined margin of plus-87; they’ve also scored a combined 35 points off of turnovers. Veterans Ja’Quan Newton, Davon Reed and Anthony Lawrence Jr. are all averaging more than one steal per game. The freshmen have contributed as well: Dejan Vasiljevic and blue chipper Bruce Brown are both averaging one steal per game.
Miami has struck up a nice balance between thievery and not fouling too much, though. Their defense is allowing a free throw rate of just 12.5 percent; this means that the Hurricanes are allowing fewer than 13 free throws for every 100 shots their opponents take. Miami has taken 52 free throws in two games — 36 more than their opponents. Miami’s plus-28 points from the charity stripe to start the season.
For a young Hurricanes club, this is a really nice way launch a new campaign. The schedule looks fairly easy for the Canes for a while, too. As of right now, they have just two teams inside the KenPom 100 — No. 64 Stanford and No. 94 George Washington — on their schedule before conference play. That, however, could change depending on what happens at the AdvoCare Invitational next week, where the competition level could jump, seriously. Miami could potentially play some combination of Iowa State, Gonzaga, Seton Hall or Florida — all of which are inside the top 40 of Pomeroy’s rankings.
Until then, though, continue to enjoy the defensive prowess, and make sure to splurge on some toppings — pepperonis, perhaps — the next time you buy a pizza.