ACC Burning Questions: Miami Hurricanes

Posted by Matt Auerbach on November 8th, 2016

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

Burning Question: Does Miami have enough talent on hand to replace all of its significant departures?

While Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan both transferred to Miami halfway through their collegiate careers, the pair felt more like program players than short-term mercenaries. Now faced with the departures of the venerable backcourt duo, head coach Jim Larranaga must replace not only their production but also their demonstrated intangibles and leadership. The proverbial torch will be passed to junior dynamo Ja’Quan Newton. Known for his fearless style of play, the 6’2” combo guard embodies the characteristics of a typical undersized player from Philadelphia. Newton averaged 10.5 points in 22 minutes per contest, undeniably thriving as a spark plug with the highest usage rate on the squad. Will he seamlessly make the transition to the become the lead Hurricane and at times sacrifice his own offense for the betterment of the team? We shall see.

Jim Larranaga and Miami are quietly having a very good season. (Getty)

Jim Larranaga said goodbye to some known commodities, but the cupboard is not bare in Coral Gables. (Getty)

Miami’s leading returning scorer is junior Davon Reed, who averaged better than 11 points per game as a full-time starter. A 38 percent shooter from beyond the arc, Reed’s long-range proficiency should complement Newton’s proven ability to penetrate. Because the Hurricanes under Larranaga have typically been perimeter-oriented, the importance of the Miami frontcourt tends to get overshadowed. In that vein, a gaping hole exists with the graduation of Tonye Jekiri, an All-ACC first-team defensive performer. Senior Kamari Murphy flanked Jekiri last season, but he will be asked to be take on greater responsibility for anchoring the defense while simultaneously increasing his offensive role.

Promising sophomore forwards Anthony Lawrence Jr. and Ebuka Izundu will likely round out the starting unit. Lawrence showed flashes of talent in his limited opportunities last season, averaging four points in 12 minutes per game while connecting on 18 of his 42 three-point attempts. His adeptness on the perimeter presents match-up problems at the four, while his length is bothersome to wings on the defensive end of the floor. Izundu is a bit more of an unknown, having started playing basketball only five years ago. As the old axiom goes, however, you can’t teach size, and Izundu’s 6’10” frame will be critical in helping Murphy fill the void of Jekiri’s team-leading nine rebounds per game.

Although they are known for their support on the gridiron, Miami fans have a say on the basketball court, too. (AP)

Although they are known for their support on the gridiron, Miami fans have a say on the basketball court, too. (AP)

This group of returnees won’t be fighting the battle alone, though, as Larranaga welcomes one of the best recruiting classes in Miami history. Five-star guard Bruce Brown chose Miami over several name-brand basketball programs and is expected to make significant contributions right away. Local standout Dewan Huell will be just the fourth McDonald’s All-American to play his college basketball in Coral Gables. Like Brown, the 6’11” Huell, who has range out to 15 feet and can beat his defender off the bounce, will likely start the season in a reserve role. Seven-footer Rodney Miller is another highly-touted big man who will be expected to play immediately. Rounding out the class is Australian Dejan Vasiljevic, a combo guard who will provide depth at both backcourt positions. And while the talent in this class is without question mesmerizing, Larranaga’s most significant addition may once again be via the transfer route. Rashad Muhammad, younger brother of NBA player Shabazz Muhammad, joins the Hurricanes after leading San Jose State in scoring for two seasons.

Four years ago Larranaga faced the challenge of replacing ACC Player of the Year Shane Larkin and an accomplished supporting cast after a school-record 29 wins and Sweet Sixteen appearance. Miami missed the next two NCAA Tournaments before returning last year as a #3 seed after a third-place ACC regular season finish. And while the league’s strength should not be overlooked, Miami seems in better position this time around to ensure that Larranaga has reloaded with a roster worthy of garnering the school’s first back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances as a member of the ACC.

Matthew Auerbach (70 Posts)

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