The University of Miami men’s basketball team kicks off the season on Friday against Tennessee Tech under first year head coach Jim Larranaga. Preseason expectations are relatively high for the Hurricanes, picked to finish fifth in the preseason ACC Basketball Poll. A fifth place finish would equal the ‘Canes highest since joining the ACC. But the schedule is wrought with challenges, and it is imperative for the ‘Canes to get off to a strong start.
|11/11/11||vs. Tennessee Tech||Coral Gables, Fla.||7:00 p.m.|
|11/15/11||vs. Rutgers||Coral Gables, Fla.||7:00 p.m.|
|11/19/11||vs. North Florida||Coral Gables, Fla.||7:00 p.m.|
|11/22/11||vs. Florida Gulf Coast||Coral Gables, Fla.||7:00 p.m.|
|11/25/11||at Ole Miss||Oxford, Miss.||4:00 p.m.|
|11/29/11||at Purdue||West Lafayette, Ind.||9:00 p.m.|
|12/03/11||vs. Massachusetts||Coral Gables, Fla.||1:00 p.m.|
|12/06/11||vs. Memphis||Coral Gables, Fla.||9:00 p.m.|
|12/10/11||at West Virginia||Morgantown, W.V.||7:00 p.m.|
|Orange Bowl Classic|
|12/17/11||vs. Florida Atlantic||Sunrise, Fla.||12:00 p.m.|
|12/22/11||at Charlotte||Charlotte, N.C.||7:30 p.m.|
|12/30/11||vs. Appalachian State||Coral Gables, Fla.||7:00 p.m.|
|01/02/12||vs. UNC Greensboro||Coral Gables, Fla.||9:00 p.m.|
|01/07/12||at Virginia *||Charlottesville, Va.||6:00 p.m.|
|01/10/12||at North Carolina *||Chapel Hill, N.C.||9:00 p.m.|
|01/18/12||vs. Clemson *||Coral Gables, Fla.||7:00 p.m.|
|01/22/12||vs. North Carolina State *||Coral Gables, Fla.||12:00 p.m.|
|01/24/12||at Georgia Tech *||Atlanta, Ga.||9:00 p.m.|
|01/29/12||at Boston College *||Chestnut Hill, Mass.||1:00 p.m.|
|02/01/12||vs. Maryland *||Coral Gables, Fla.||8:00 p.m.|
|02/05/12||at Duke *||Durham, N.C.||3:00 p.m.|
|02/09/12||vs. Virginia Tech *||Coral Gables, Fla.||9:00 p.m.|
|02/11/12||at Florida State *||Tallahassee, Fla.||1:00 p.m.|
|02/15/12||vs. North Carolina *||Coral Gables, Fla.||7:00 p.m.|
|02/18/12||vs. Wake Forest *||Coral Gables, Fla.||1:00 p.m.|
|02/21/12||at Maryland *||College Park, Md.||8:00 p.m.|
|02/26/12||vs. Florida State *||Coral Gables, Fla.||6:00 p.m.|
|02/29/12||at North Carolina State *||Raleigh, N.C.||9:00 p.m.|
|03/03/12||vs. Boston College *||Coral Gables, Fla.||2:30 p.m.|
In previous years, the ‘Canes have played a lighter out of conference schedule, opting to build confidence and a strong record against lesser opponents. They won’t be afforded that opportunity this year. The ‘Canes will be tested early and often with games against Rutgers, @Ole Miss, @Purdue, Massachusetts, Memphis, @West Virginia, and @Charlotte before even entering ACC play. Needless to say, if the ‘Canes have a strong record heading into conference play, they will be well positioned to earn a coveted invitation to the NCAA Tournament.
Because of the unbalanced nature of the ACC schedule, the ‘Canes play Boston College, Florida State, Maryland, North Carolina and North Carolina State twice, and every other team one time. In terms of preseason predicted order of finish, these teams are fairly well interspersed throughout the standings, making this schedule tough, but not impossible.
There are two key stretches that I believe will go a long way towards determining the outcome of the season:
- 11/25 – 12/10: A challenging 5 game stretch featuring 3 road games and 2 home games, all against formidable teams. A 3-2 record in this stretch would have to be seen as a good run.
- 01/07 – 01/29: The ACC schedule opens with 4 of 6 games on the road, including a game at national title contender North Carolina. 3-3 has to be the goal here, positioning the ‘Canes to capture the 8-10 win ACC season that they need to make the NCAA tournament.
Miami’s backcourt will be one of the best in the ACC and the team will rely on them to carry the team. Starting Guards Durand Scott and Malcolm Grant bring experience to the position. Behind them, the Hurricanes are extremely deep, with veteran experienced players Garrius Adams and Rion Brown joined by transfer Trey McKinney Jones and freshmen Bishop Daniels and Shane Larkin (still awaiting NCAA clearance as he originally enrolled at Depaul). The ‘Canes will need this depth to overcome the lack of depth in the front court.
Last year, the ‘Canes were too reliant on this group and the 3-point shot. In fact, 39% of the Miami’s FG attempts last year were from 3-point range. To contextualize that, only 29% of defending champion Connecticut’s shots were 3 pointers. With Larranaga taking over, a different system should be in place this year, allowing the ‘Canes to take a more balanced approach.
Uncertainty abounds. The ‘Canes top 2 centers are out. Starting center, Reggie Johnson, who broke out last year showing a strong post game, will be out until at least January. His backup, Julian Gamble, is out for the season with a knee injury.
This situation is further complicated by question marks surrounding forward Daquan Jones involvement in the Yahoo! scandal. He will not play for Miami this year.
Behind those 3 players, the Hurricanes are thin. They will rely on forward Erik Swoope (who started some last year), forward Rafael Akpejiori (who averaged less than 5 minutes per game last year) and transfer forward/center Kenny Kadji to man the power forward and center positions until Johnson returns from injury. At small forward, expect the ‘Canes to draw on their depth at guard and employ creative 3-guard lineups.
Coming and Going
The ‘Canes lost 3 contributors off of last years’ team: forward Adrian Thomas to graduation, Daquan Jones, and forward Donnavan Kirk to transfer (to Depaul). As mentioned, they will also need to replace center Julian Gamble and center Reggie Johnson for the pre-ACC schedule.
But the ‘Canes do have reinforcements coming in. Kadji and McKinney Jones transferred in. In addition, Daniels and Larkin (provided he receives NCAA clearance) will provide depth.
The team is returning a lot of talent. The only top level contributors lost off the roster from last year are Daquan Jones and Adrian Thomas. But the rest of the roster is in a state of disarray. The exhibition game against Florida Southern last week gave a window into a worst case scenario for the ‘Canes, with Larkin sitting out while awaiting permission to play from the NCAA, with Gamble, Johnson and Daniels injured, and with Kadji sitting out for a violation of team rules, the ‘Canes used a 7-man rotation of Scott, Grant, Adams, McKinney Jones, Brown, Swoope and Akpejiori.
The season may actually come down to the out of conference schedule. It is challenging and the ‘Canes roster will be depleted. But by the time ACC play comes around, the ‘Canes should be playing with mostly a full deck, absent only Julian Gamble and Daquan Jones. If the out of conference schedule doesn’t bury the team, expect a big season from the ‘Canes and a return to the NCAA tournament.