The Miami Hurricanes scored their second win over a Top 25 team on Sunday night, beating Butler 85-75 to win the Puerto Rico Tip-Off Championship.
The Canes used a powerful offensive performance to push them to a victory. Center Tonye Jekiri was the best player for the Canes at the event and he continued that play on Sunday by scoring 12 points, grabbing 12 rebounds and blocking two shots in the final. Angel Rodriguez mostly came to play as well, as the native Puerto Rican scored 19 points in the homecoming event’s final and took home the MVP honors.
Butler made this one pretty interesting late after Miami ran out to a 19-point lead in the first half. With the game sitting at 53-36, Rodriguez turned the ball over on three out of four successive possessions, leading to a 9-0 run to get Butler back into the game. The Bulldogs eventually pushed it to a four-point game, but just couldn’t get enough timely stops on the defensive end to get it within one possession.
With this win, Miami has staked its claim as the most impressive team in America so far this season. The Canes (5-0) defeated Utah and Butler to win this title, and also got a solid win over Sun Belt favorite Louisiana-Lafayette. Simply put, it’s a resume that no other team in the country can match at the moment.
The question now shifts to whether the Hurricanes can be a player in the ACC title race this season, and it’s hard to come away with any other answer than “yes.” Miami is one of the longest, most athletic teams in the country, and that shows up on both ends. Jekiri anchors the defensive side of the ball, as he’s great both at contesting shots around the rim and smothering pick-and-rolls on the perimeter with his foot speed. Two-way wings Davon Reed and Sheldon McClellan cause all sorts of problems for opposing ball-handlers, and create shots for themselves on the offensive end. Ivan Cruz Uceda is a good floor-spacer that also isn’t useless on defense. It’s also an extremely experienced group with four seniors and one junior in the starting lineup.
The only thing that I can come up with as far as a question mark for them comes at point guard. Rodriguez was very good in this tournament, but that hasn’t always been the case. He’s the most mercurial, inconsistent player in all of college hoops: a genuine top-100 talent when his game is rolling, but possibly the most harmful player in the country when he’s off.
If he can continue to play within himself, the Canes could be set up for a similar run to 2013 when they went 29-7 and were ranked No. 2 in the country at one point. If he doesn’t, other experienced teams like Virginia and North Carolina will likely eat them for breakfast in the ACC. It’s been nothing but smooth sailing so far though, and he deserves note as a player who is performing well.
But the fact that we’re talking about them as potentially being in the upper echelon of the ACC is evidence enough that this could be a special season for Miami. It’s a strong start for this group, who could be setting itself up for a good run this year with early marquee wins.