ACC Preview: Miami’s Burning Question

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 4th, 2015

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage.

Can Jim Larranaga lead another experienced team to a magical season?

When the USA Today/Coaches Preseason Poll was released in October, we were a little surprised to see Miami among the others receiving votes grouping rather than listed in the Top 25. Even more shocking was that the Hurricanes came in 37th in the overall voting, behind seven other ACC schools. The recently released AP Preseason Top 25 gave Miami slightly more respect, placing them 31st in the voting. It’s our view that the Hurricanes are going to be better than that, and several notable media members seem to agree; both Gary Parrish (CBS) and Dick Vitale (ESPN) rank Miami at #21 in their Top 25s, and the ACC Media listed the Hurricanes as the ACC’s fifth-best team heading into the season. Our main reason for optimism regarding this year’s Miami squad involves the long and demonstrated coaching track record of Jim Larranaga.

Larranaga ProfileIn looking at Larranaga’s last 12 seasons, a clear pattern emerges that shows that experience on his teams really matters. And it REALLY matters. From 2005-15, there have been four occasions in which Larranaga brought back a more experienced squad than the previous year. In each case, his team’s conference wins rose dramatically (average of +4.5 wins) and Larranaga led all four of those squads into the NCAA Tournament, including the George Mason team that made the 2006 Final Four. With a returning roster that includes four seniors and two juniors among his top eight players, this year’s Miami club is well-poised to make another similar jump. It says here to watch out for the Hurricanes as a possible darkhorse league championship contender.

Miami not only boasts experience but talent in its starting backcourt, featuring two former transfers from Big 12 schools. The play of returning point guard Angel Rodriguez is probably the key to Miami’s success this season. He went through a major shooting slump in ACC play a year ago that was largely a result of trying to do too much, according to Larranaga. A late-season injury to his wrist limited his productivity in March but the Hurricanes still rallied to finish in second place in the postseason NIT. One player who raised his game last year — and especially during the March run — was leading scorer Sheldon McClellan. At ACC Operation Basketball, both Larranaga and Rodriguez mentioned how important it is for McClellan to look for his shot during his senior season. Another player who became more aggressive in the postseason run was junior forward Davon Reed, who went 26-of-37 from the foul line in the NIT after only taking 40 free throws over the prior 25 games. Two sophomores — Ja’Quan Newton and James Palmer — will provide perimeter depth along with 6’7″ freshman Anthony Lawrence, Jr.

The last time Jim Larranaga had a team with great experience, Miami won the ACC in 2013. (Getty Images)

The last time Jim Larranaga had a team with great experience, Miami won the ACC in 2013. (Getty Images)

After making honorable mention all-ACC as a junior, Tonye Jekiri is one of the top returning big men in the league. As a developing underclassman, Jekiri was basically a defensive specialist but he is the league’s top returning rebounder (9.9 RPG) and has become an improved offensive player. Larranaga has given him a goal of averaging a double-double this season, and thinks he could be the ACC’s best center as a senior. Oklahoma State transfer Kamari Murphy — an athletic forward who can guard multiple positions — also joins the Hurricanes. Murphy should provide a perfect complement to Jekiri on the interior. Ivan Cruz Uceda, who, according to Larranaga, “weighed 237 pounds last year, [with] 24 percent body fat, is now 217 pounds and nine percent body fat,” is also expected to be much improved. The big man from Spain joined Miami as a junior college transfer last year and may provide a stretch-four alternative to the rotation. Finally, freshman center Ebuka Izundu will get a year to learn behind Jekeri, and he hopes to follow a similar career trajectory.

All in all, this shapes up as a possible special year at Miami. When asked if the Hurricanes can duplicate the magical 2013 season pulling off the sweep of both the ACC regular season and tournament championships, Larranaga cautiously pointed out that the league is much deeper in talent than it was just a few years ago. Even if Miami is significantly improved, lofty ambitions like another ACC title could be hard to come by. But as long as they stay healthy this season, look for the Hurricanes to nestle into the tier right below the favorites and possibly earn a top five seed in next March’s Big Dance. From there, given Larranaga’s tournament history, watch out.

Brad Jenkins (383 Posts)

Share this story

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *