ACC Burning Questions: Miami Hurricanes

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 3rd, 2017

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

Burning Question: Will the FBI probe of Miami impact the Hurricanes on the court this year?

On September 26, the FBI burst into the college basketball world when it arrested four assistant coaches from major programs on charges of bribery. The agency also implicated several other schools and coaches in a pay-for-play scheme that involved representatives of shoe companies and/or corresponding agents. Soon after the FBI’s announcement, we learned that Miami was one of the schools under heightened scrutiny, and more recently head coach Jim Larranaga acknowledged that he was “Coach #3” in the FBI’s released statement. Larranaga – who has maintained a reputation of unimpeachable integrity throughout his 33-year career on the bench — has vehemently denied any wrongdoing. On paper, Miami looks like an ACC title contender this year. But will the FBI cloud hanging over them squander that potential?


Star guard Bruce Brown may take on more ball handling duties as a sophomore for Miami.
(UM Athletics)

The Hurricanes may have the best five-man perimeter group in the ACC this season, starting with the returning backcourt duo of senior Ja’Quan Newton and sophomore Bruce Brown. Newton has always been an explosive scorer, but he struggled somewhat as Miami’s primary ball-handler last season. He productivity (13.5 PPG, 3.4 APG) was mitigated by inefficient offense (95.5 ORat) and carelessness with the ball (23.0% TO rate). Perhaps Larranaga will empower Brown (a preseason pick for 2nd team all-ACC) to handle more of the play-making duties after an impressive rookie campaign. In a trial run last February — while Newton was out of the lineup serving a three-game suspension — Brown guided the Hurricanes to three wins, including a rare road triumph at Virginia. Departed leading scorer Devon Reed leaves big shoes to fill at the small forward position, but incoming five-star freshman Lonnie Walker should be up to the challenge, provided that he completely recovers from offseason knee surgery. Depth in the backcourt will come from sophomore sharp-shooter Dejan Vasiljevec and freshman point guard Chris Lykes. Larranaga has compared the diminutive Lykes to former ACC star Spud Webb (1986 NBA Slam Dunk Champion) for his ability to push the pace offensively.

Miami returns three contributors up front – juniors Anthony Lawrence and Ebuka Izundu, along with sophomore Dewan Huell. The versatile Lawrence, who can play as either a stretch-four or a tall wing, gives Larranaga some flexibility with his lineup. After barely seeing the court as a freshman, Izundu became a key reserve in his second year, playing over 10 minutes in each of Miami’s last 12 games. Of the three, the 6’11” Huell probably has the most potential. The former top-25 recruit showed flashes as a rookie — especially on the boards (9.8% offensive rebound rate) — but wore down in ACC play. Things should be different now that he has added over 15 pounds of muscle since April.

This looks like a roster that can compete with anyone in the league, but the key question is if the team can maintain focus with the FBI probe swirling around the program. The Hurricanes’ head coach looked like a beaten man in October at ACC Operation Basketball. If he has to continue to spend time and energy fighting for his reputation, will the 67-year old Larranaga have enough pep in his step to push his team? As for internal leadership, Newton is Miami’s lone senior scholarship player. But after serving three game suspensions in each of the past two seasons, can he correspondingly be counted on as a leader? The answers to these questions may determine whether the Hurricanes have a special 2017-18 season or if it becomes lost amid a flurry of accusations.

Brad Jenkins (383 Posts)

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