Miami does one thing better than any basketball team in the country. Can Kentucky stop it?

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Through six games, this Kentucky men’s basketball team ranks fourth nationally in 3-point shooting at 42.5%.

Guess who ranks No. 1?

That would be the Cats’ ACC/SEC Challenge opponent on Tuesday night at Rupp Arena, none other than the Miami Hurricanes, who through five games have made 45.8% of their 3-point attempts.

“Those 3-point numbers are jarring when they come off the page,” UK assistant coach Chuck Martin said Monday.

The ‘Canes can shoot the three. Actually, multiple ‘Canes can. No fewer than four players on Jim Larranaga’s team are shooting 50% or higher from beyond the arc. Christian Watson has made two of his four threes for an even 50%, but Wooga Poplar (29-for-57) is at 59.4%, Bensley Joseph (10-for-18) is at 55.6% and Matthew Cleveland (7-for-14) is at 50%.

Overall, Miami is averaging 10.8 3-point makes compared to 23.6 3-point attempts per game. The Hurricanes were 12-for-28 from three in their opening 101-60 win over NJIT; 10-for-21 in an 88-72 win over UCF; 13-for-21 in an 86-80 win over FIU; 7-for-24 in a 79-68 win over Georgia and 12-for-24 in a 91-83 victory over Kansas State.

That’s right, Miami will bring a perfect 5-0 record into Rupp on Tuesday for the 7:30 p.m. tipoff on ESPN. A Final Four team a year ago, the Hurricanes moved up two spots to No. 8 in Monday’s college basketball AP Top 25 poll. Kentucky moved up four to No. 12.

Miami head coach Jim Larranaga talks to his team during the first half against NJIT on Nov. 6 at Coral Gables, Fla.
Miami head coach Jim Larranaga talks to his team during the first half against NJIT on Nov. 6 at Coral Gables, Fla.

And how has Kentucky done defending the 3-point shot to this point? As of Monday afternoon, the Wildcats rank 180th in Division I in 3-point defense. Opponents are making 32.9% of their triples. Marshall was 9-for-26 from downtown in the Thundering Herd’s 118-82 loss to the Cats last Friday. Texas A&M-Commerce was 10-for-27 from behind the stripe back on Nov. 10. Saint Joseph’s was 15-for-37 from three when the Hawks took UK to overtime in a losing effort on Nov. 20.

“We’ve done some good things, but obviously we can get better,” Martin said Monday. “As the year goes on, we should improve defensively.”

Tuesday’s matchup should be interesting from the standpoint that the two squads share much in common. Both can play up to four guards on the floor at the same time. Both utilize its 5-man as more of a 4-man who can shoot and facilitate from the perimeter.

“They’re a very dangerous team, averaging 89 points a night,” Martin said of Miami. “They’ve got four guards on the floor at any given time.”

The four-guard approach has been a staple of Larranaga’s recent teams. Last year’s team finished 29-8 after losing 72-59 to eventual national champion UConn in the Final Four. Miami knocked off No. 1 seed Houston 89-75 in the Sweet 16 before topping No. 2 seed Texas 88-81 in the Elite Eight. Those Canes were led by guards Isaiah Wong (16.2 points per game), Jordan Miller (15.3) and Nijel Pack (13.6).

Only Pack is back. The 6-foot junior from Indianapolis is averaging 16.0 points per game. Poplar, a 6-5 junior from Philadelphia, is averaging 18.0. Cleveland, a 6-7 junior from Atlanta, is averaging 16.0. Joseph, a 6-2 sophomore, is averaging 11.6 points and 4.2 assists. Miami’s (so-called) big man is Norchad Omier, a 6-7 junior from Nicaragua who averaging 15.8 points and 9.2 rebounds.

On the flip side, Ken Pomeroy’s computer ranks Miami 100th in adjusted defensive efficiency. Opponents are making 51.8% of their 2-point field goal attempts.

Meanwhile, the 74-year-old Larranaga is 260-149 since arriving at Miami in 2011 after taking George Mason to the Final Four in 2006. After going 10-17 in 2020-21, Miami is 60-29 with an Elite Eight berth in 2020 and last year’s Final Four.

“I was at Drexel when he was at George Mason,” Martin said Monday. “Coach Larranaga is a New Yorker and I’m a New Yorker. He’s always had disciplined teams, really good offensive teams. They’re not going to beat themselves.”

No different this year, which should make for quite the test for Kentucky on Tuesday.

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