If anybody out there is still worried about Miami being denied a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, save your stress for another day.
Shane Larkin, a guy who worries so little about numbers that he wears a big zero on the back of his jersey, has everything under control.
“Today I may have called one or two offensive plays,” Miami coach Jim Larranaga said after a 78-49 opening win over Pacific that was achieved on total cruise control. “I said to Shane, ‘You run your team and you make the decisions out there as to what you want to run.
“When you have a player of his skill level and basketball IQ, it’s very easy to have confidence and trust that he’ll do the right thing.”
Feeding fellow guard Durand Scott, for instance, that was pretty smart, and goading him to shoot it, with the spectacular yield of five 3-pointers in eight tries, was even better.
Larkin is a sophomore, remember, and Scott is the senior who has started more games (122) than any player in Hurricanes history. Listen, though, to the respect paid to the younger player, who operates at all times with the poise and the power one would expect from the son of baseball Hall of Famer Barry Larkin.
“I know Shane is going to put the ball in the right position and obviously be aggressive himself,” said Scott, whose 21 points led the scoring and whose 3-point success rate was well above his season average of 33 percent. “He did a great job of finding me and I definitely will knock the shot down because I’m pretty sure if I had missed it, he would have been very upset with me.”
Was freshman Tonye Jekiri, a 7-footer who rarely plays, thinking the same thing on the two alley-oop passes that Larkin served up for him in the first half? No, he probably was fixated on the thunderous dunks that followed and the sonic boom of fan reaction they brought him.
Easy to forget Larkin at moments like that. Easy to fall under the delusion that point-blank opportunities like that are simply the benefit of playing on a monster team.
It’s not true. There are plenty of teams in this tournament with stocked rosters and bright coaches and everything else needed to rattle off six quick wins on the way to a national title. Not everyone has Larkin, though. He made sure that this game played out the way a match between the ACC champion and the Big West tournament should play out, like a dress rehearsal for the truly Big Dance to come.
Do the math. Larkin had 10 points and five assists in the first half, an indirect and direct contribution of 20 points. Miami, not coincidentally, led by 21 at halftime and the matter was pretty much settled, even though Larkin never scored another point.
Now we’re not saying that Pacific would have made a tight game of this with anyone other than Larkin playing the point for Miami. It’s because of him, though, that a serious NCAA run is possible.
Illinois can’t expect to have an answer Sunday for Larkin’s blurry bursts to the basket, and double-teaming only multiplies the pain.
“When our guys are in the right spot and we have the correct court spacing, I just get in the lane and somebody has to help,” Larkin said. “I’ve just got to kick it out and they make the shots.”
Next thing you know, an 8-7 Miami lead turns into 22-7. In a flash, Pacific is transformed into something closer to the Dead Sea.
Miami’s opposition will step up in class hereafter, but look for Larkin’s influence to rise as well.
“When I don’t shoot the ball,” said Scott, “Shane will come up to me and tell me I need to shoot the ball. He’s not doing it because he’s upset. He’s doing that because he’s a great leader and he wants this team to be successful.”
Successful enough to spend next weekend in Washington, D.C., smack dab in the land of Baracketology? Sure looks like it, and there sure won’t be anybody grumbling about the seedings then.