ACC Team Previews: MiamiPosted by mpatton on October 21st, 2011
Remember when we said Wake Forest had a rough season last year? I’m pretty sure Miami would be willing to trade. Compared to a few losses and off-the-court struggles for the Demon Deacons, the Hurricanes etched their names on Tablet Historical of NCAA Infractions after former booster (and current Ponzi scheme felon) Nevin Shapiro unleashed a barrage of NCAA violations that made Butch Davis and Jim Tressel cringe.
I’m not sure “impermissible” is a strong enough word to cover cash payments, hookers, and everything in-between. Now factor in the disappointment of an underachieving (and extremely unlucky) basketball team, the departure of the basketball coach, and a star player going down for the first half of this season with an injury, and you’re on a level to empathize with Hurricane fans.
Moving the focus back to basketball, last year was a disaster for the Hurricanes. No, they weren’t totally non-competitive, but in some ways that just makes things worse. The team was primed for success with a down conference and returning star power, but a hideous 1-6 start to conference play saw preseason expectations evaporate quickly. Looking back at the roster and season they had, I have to wonder if Frank Haith wasn’t on the hot seat anyway: he had only made the NCAA Tournament once in the last seven years despite several talented teams. His last four seasons were better, with Miami averaging over 20 wins and I’d be remiss not to mention the relative apathy for basketball south Florida has, but still.
The one caveat I’ll offer for last year’s team is that it was incredibly unlucky. Statistically speaking, the Hurricanes ranked #295 (out of 345) by Ken Pomeroy in the “luck” category. More qualitative analysis would just require looking at the box scores from Miami’s first ten conference games: no games decided by double figures, seven games decided by four points or less and six losses in seven games. Those constant close losses have to affect a team’s psychology. But this year is a new year. Jim Larranaga, formerly of George Mason fame, has taken the helm and will be a great short-term hire in Coral Gables. The only question is how long he’s able and willing to coach and recruit. His biggest potential setback this season—losing Reggie Johnson to a knee injury until January—may actually make the team better.
The biggest unknown with Johnson’s injury is how in shape he’ll be when he returns. Johnson has struggled to stay on the court his whole career because of conditioning issues (last year he averaged around 26 minutes a game). When he plays, he’s an impact center who’s the best returning rebounder in the nation and shoots nearly 60% from the field. Other than possible conditioning issues, Johnson’s injury should not hurt Miami in conference play. On the contrary, forcing Durand Scott and Malcolm Grant to run the halfcourt offense without a reliable inside presence combined with another year of experience and a discipline-oriented coach should positively impact the back court. Unfortunately, the only player Miami loses from last year is Adrian Thomas, which really thins their presence in the post. This will serve to give
Julian Gamble, (Gamble is out this season with a torn ACL) DeQuan Jones and Garrius Adams quite a few minutes even after Johnson returns for conference play.
Will Miami be better this year? Yes, I think the Hurricanes are destined for at least a .500 season in conference play, though having to play North Carolina and Florida State twice certainly won’t help. Whether this team realizes its true potential will depend as much on Johnson’s recovery as Grant and Scott’s development while he’s out.