“Straight-line driving” propels Miami to 67-63 win over Pitt
By: Ryan Bertonaschi
When a crew of custodians sweeps thousands of confetti bits from the puzzle-piece floor at Lucas Oil Stadium in early April after the 2015 National Championship game is decided, we will have witnessed another season of historically-low scoring in college basketball.
When crews of many fewer custodians sweep much less confetti from Madison Square Garden following the NIT Championship and wherever the CBI Championship is held, we will have seen two tournaments played using experimental 30-second shot clocks, and one tournament (the NIT) played using a wider block/charge circle. Following season’s end, we will eagerly await news regarding the results of these experiments and the fallout, which could be a number of potential rule changes ranging from a more distant 3-point arc to shooter-friendly tweaks in foul-calling.
The game of basketball, as millennials know it, is changing by the week, and many people, in the business of basketball and out, are proposing rule changes that would speed up the game and increase scoring.
Jim Larranaga is not waiting for new rules.
Miami fans have marveled the moderate success that Larranaga, their team’s third-year head coach, has experienced since leaving the same position at George Mason four years ago. The 65-year-old Larranaga is widely known to be an old-school motivator and educator, but he guided his Miami Hurricanes (19-11, 9-8 ACC) to a 67-63 win over Pitt (19-12, 8-9 ACC) Wednesday night with a revolutionary technique that has John Wooden rolling over in his grave.
“All week, we’ve been working on ‘straight-line driving,’” Davon Reed, Larranaga’s sophomore guard said after the game. “Coach ‘L’ had been emphasizing that. We make too many dribble moves to get to the basket, so today we focused on that and got to the foul line.”
The “straight-line drive,” as Larranaga put it, is done when a player catches the ball around the perimeter and, without hesitation, pounds the ball once or twice, blowing by his defender to the rim. Larranaga first began to stress this move to his players back in September, but they were slow to pick up on it. So Larranaga’s assistant coaches pieced together two highlight reels – one of Julius “Dr. J” Erving and another of Kevin Durant – and the coaching staff showed the videos to its players earlier this week.
“I asked them how many dribbles it took for [Erving and Durant] to score at the rim, and it was one,” Larranaga said. “One straight-line drive. Go to your right or go to your left. Don’t fake or anything.”
Larranaga said that too many times this season, he’s caught his players taking indirect paths to the basket and insufficiently dribbling.
“We’ve been trying to tell our guys that players tend to think that moves have to be like ‘dribble’ moves, that you’ve got to dribble right, dribble left, dribble right, dribble left, and dribble about 13 times just before then you go to the basket,” he said.
As the old saying goes: The ballhandler can move faster while moving forward than the defender can while moving laterally.
In the past decade of college basketball, the value of the sharpshooter has been decreased to pave way for the raw, athletic, buffed athlete who is capable of jumping out of gyms. Many coaches, such as Kentucky’s John Calipari, UConn’s ex-coach Jim Calhoun and his replacement Kevin Ollie, Florida State’s Leonard Hamilton and Kansas’ Bill Self have all become known for chasing after and developing sneaky point guards and slashing swingmen. Jamie Dixon even tested this philosophy out a few years back when he mistakenly brought in the likes of JJ Moore, Trey Ziegler and other slashing forwards, but he’s seemingly backed off recruiting these types in recent years.
Coming into the 2013-14 season, several rules in the college game were tweaked. The rules benefitted ballhandlers who, en route to the basket, were out of control. More fouls blocking fouls were called and more foul shots were universally attempted as a result. But the NCAA Rules Committee retracted these rules heading into the 2014-15 season amid damning criticism from coaches, media and fans.
Better foul rules with less gray areas will surely be enacted in the coming years to, again, benefit the ballhandler, and more raw athletes will be recruited to schools as a result, but, for the time being, Larranaga is preaching one futuristic skill to his players that they can use to their advantage.
It killed Pitt Wednesday night.
“The [‘straight-line drive’] is using speed and quickness to get by the guy who is guarding you,” he said. “And I thought that Davon [Reed] and Sheldon [McClellan] both did a good job of that today.”
Reed finished with 19 points and McClellan finished with 20, 14 of which came in the final 12 minutes of the second half. Larranaga also said that the ‘straight-line drive’ helped his players get to the foul line frequently, where the Hurricanes combined to shoot 15 of 18 on the evening.
Dixon noticed a direct correlation between Miami’s driving ability and the amount of fouls that were called, and Cameron Wright concurred.
“I think it [comes] back to our defense,” Dixon said. “Allowing us to get beat on penetration is part of [the reason why Miami attempted 18 free throws while we were] on the defensive end.”
On the flip side, the Panthers attempted just eight free throws, making seven. Larranaga actually said after the game that one of his coaching philosophies is “never to foul,” a novice concept considering his offensive ambition to get to the line.
Both teams were playing for their NCAA Tournament lives, and the ingeniousness of the wise old Larranaga just might’ve given his Miami Hurricanes the sixth and likely final NCAA Tournament bid which will be awarded to an ACC squad.
Dixon said he walked into a “quiet locker room” after the game. His team will travel to Tallahassee to take on Florida State (15-15, 7-10 ACC) Saturday at noon.