Tuesday, December 18, 2012

season preview: Miami

Miami Hurricanes
Media prediction: 5th of 12

Last season:

Record: 20-13 (9-7); ACC 6 seed
Postseason: NIT 2nd round
KenPom: 47th of 345

Returning scoring: 79.7%
Returning rebounding: 85.6%
Returning assists: 82.1%

2011-2012 all-ACC:

1st team: none
2nd team: none
3rd team: F Kenny Kadji
HM: G Durand Scott
Defensive: none
Rookie: G Shane Larkin

(Italics indicate departed player.)

Starting lineup:

PG: Durand Scott (Sr.)
SG: Shane Larkin (So.)
G: Trey McKinney-Jones (Sr.)
PF: Kenny Kadji (Sr.)
C: Reggie Johnson (Sr.)


G Rion Brown (Jr.)
C Julian Gamble (Sr.)
F Erik Swoope (Jr.)

Coach: Jim Larranaga (2nd season)

ACC schedule:

Twice: Boston College, Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Virginia Tech,
Once: Maryland, NC State, Virginia, Wake Forest

It's not that often you can watch your old coach surprise you by leaving for a different, "better" job, and thus improve your fortunes.  Jim Larranaga, in his first season in Coral Gables after leaving George Mason, led Miami to the first in-conference winning record they've ever had in the ACC, and also their first since 2002.  With the ACC being down as it was last year, their reward was the NIT, but that could change this year.

The Canes have a senior-heavy lineup, and there's a strong now-or-never feeling about the team this year.  They're certainly starting to make the most of it, opening some eyes with a win against Big Ten powerhouse Michigan State.  They've got a very solid frontcourt, but rely heavily on their guards, a unit that Larranaga considers largely interchangeable.  Durand Scott is nominally the point guard (though the ballhandling is shared between any of the guards that might be on the court), and his return, after serving an NCAA suspension for (surprise! it's Miami!) impermissible benefits, has been invaluable.  Scott can take it strong to the rack and is a very active rebounder.  His backcourtmates, Trey McKinney-Jones and the diminutive Shane Larkin, are both excellent scorers and capable ballhandlers as well.

Miami also brings good size to the frontcourt.  Forward Kenny Kadji doesn't have blow-you-away talent, but he's 6'11" and does an excellent job keeping defenses honest and away from focusing too much on the guards.  He's a quality scorer and rebounder and can even knock down a three if you fall asleep.  At center, Miami still has the enormous Reggie Johnson, who no longer weighs 300 pounds but still isn't far off.  Johnson, of course, is an absolute load, draws a billion fouls (7.4 per 40 minutes, which makes him 15th in the country) and shoots free throws just well enough to make it worthwhile.  He's rather unrefined offensively, but naturally gathers a whole lot of rebounds since he can practically occupy both sides of the lane himself.

If there's an Achilles heel to this lineup, it's the ever-present depth boogeyman.  Miami had been counting on redshirt freshman guard Bishop Daniels for quality bench minutes, but he left the team just before the weekend - like, four days ago - and that leaves them with just one guard off the bench: junior Rion Brown, who's a definite step down from the starting trio.  Brown is the Canes' sixth man, and led the team in scoring in Scott's suspension absence at the end of last season, but he's been cold-shooting so far this year.  Since he hit on nearly 40% of his threes last season, it probably won't last, but it hasn't been a great start.  Julian Gamble is the first big man off the bench - also a clear step down from the starting unit - and the Canes use so little of Erik Swoope that it's hard to tell anything about him.

Any injuries here will put a major dent in the Canes' tournament hopes.  But for now those hopes are legit.  They have one loss on their resume so far, and the committee will probably overlook it as FGCU is a favorite in their conference and it came without both Scott and Johnson.  The win over MSU is a much bigger deal.  They'll provide a hefty amount of depth themselves to the ACC's reputation and should win enough games in conference play to earn a seed in the 6-10 range.

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