Eleven and a half years ago, a legend was born. Jim Larranaga, a basketball coach from the Bronx, in NYC, who had spent almost his entire 35 year coaching career in the mid major ranks, took George Mason, a CAA team, to the final four, in what may be called the most improbable run in NCAA Tournament history.
Coach Larranaga stayed in Arlington for five more seasons before taking the job in Coral Gables, after Frank Haith left for Missouri, thinking the NCAA wouldn’t think to look for him there apparently. Anywho, I must admit that when Miami made this hire I was not completely convinced it was the correct move. The coach didn’t seem to fit the culture. CJL seems like kind of a goofy fellah, and Miami is all baby oil, chest hair engulfing gold medallions (seriously how do you stop those from ripping out your chest hair?), machismo and cocaine. I mean, I’ve never been there, but I watch a lot of movies, so I think it’s a fair and accurate assessment. I also saw the 30 for 30, and ESPN only reports sports, and not racist propaganda to feed a political agenda so, yeah, there is that. Plus, Scarface.
Since arriving, Larranaga has a 66.8% winning percentage overall, and won 60% of their ACC games. Yeah, in CJL’s six seasons the Miami Hurricanes win their ACC contests at a 60% clip. By comparison, Jay Wright wins at a 64% clip at Villanova, Bob Huggins wins at a 58% clip at WVU and Kevin Ollie wins at a 57.8% rate at UConn, those numbers are in conference. Yet, somehow, you will never hear a casual College Basketball fan celebrate the ability of Jim Larranaga.
Ok, now that my own personal agenda is out of the way (unlike ESPN, I own that shit) let’s get on with the preview.
Miami is bringing in a hell of a recruiting class, as well as returning three high caliber players, along with some big bodies and a couple snipers from deep on the bench. Put that with a hatter who is just mad enough to get them all marching in the same direction and these guys are going to put a bunch of people in the hurt locker.
Let’s get after it…
The first thing to touch base on is the knee injury of Lonnie Walker, a 5 star, high scoring wing, who we assume would be stepping in to the spot vacated by Davon Reed. Walker should be ready to play at the start of the season, but will he be completely rehabilitated? We will have to wait and see.
- Davon Reed graduated after a season that saw him average 15, 5 and 2.5 per game. The 6’6 New Jersey native stepped up in a big way in his senior year, setting career highs in points, rebounds, assists, steals, free throw percentage and blocks. He was drafted #32 overall by the Phoenix Suns, but recently suffered a knee injury and isn’t expected to be back until the second half of the season.
- Kamari Murphy was never a flashy player, never a player who was going to wow you with any one part of his game. Though if you look at the box score at the end of the game, he was the guy doing the dirty work helping Miami win the game. The Oklahoma State transfer averaged 6 and 6 during his two seasons in Coral Gables and while his turnover and rim protection numbers weren’t great, he was a huge contributor to the Hurricanes success the last two seasons.
- Miami also dismissed VCU transfer Michael Gilmore, for the always informative reason of “failure to meet team expectations”. Gilmore never suited up for the ‘Canes, but he was/is a promising stretch 4 type player out of Jacksonville by way of Richmond. He has since landed at FGCU and will eligible in December of 2017.
The loss of both Reed and Murphy hurts, though I would venture to say that Murphy may hurt a bit more given the ‘Canes back court depth and talent. I am not sure Rodney Miller is up to the task of providing the needed front court depth as of right now, but we shall see.
The good is the talent, baby. Larranaga reels in talent at a crazy rate for this program. He has (7) four-star (or higher) guys on this roster. Yeah, who knew that? Raise your hand. Liars. This team returns four players who averaged at least 6 ppg and two guys that averaged double digits.
- Ja’Quan Newton turned in a not so great junior season for Miami last year. He shot well under 30% from deep and only had a 1 A/TO rate, but let’s be honest, he is not a natural point guard. He should be relieved of that responsibility this year and return to his more comfortable role off the ball. Look for his numbers to rebound and for Newton to live up to his potential this season. If he can keep his head on straight and avoid such things as last years suspension for violating team rules, he will be a key cog in what is a potential Elite 8/Final 4 team.
- Bruce Brown is the man, and I don’t think enough people know it. As a true freshman the 6’5 wing came in and averaged 11.8 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game, while slashing .459/.347/.744. He also played 32 minutes per game and only averaged two turnovers (1.6 A/TO). Just to show off he also snagged 49 steals on the season. This guy is capable of getting 17 a game this year and being a legit ACC POTY candidate.
- The front court returns some legit size with Dewan Huell (5.8 and 3.0), Rodney Miller, a sophomore seven-footer who was a 4* guy coming out of high school, and Ebuka Izundu, a 6-10 junior who averaged 4 points and 3 rebounds a game as a sophomore. Look for Huell to really become the force of the three. He has the athleticism, talent and the fuck-you attitude to make him a great big man in this league. Miller is a long term prospect who may end up being a Jekiri type for this program. Izundu is a solid backup who gives CJL great depth up front.
- The bench has some key contributors returning as well in Anthony Lawrence Jr. and Desan Vasilijevic. Wake Forest fans remember Lawrence from his 16 point performance in Winston-Salem last year when he hit 4-8 threes. Georgia Tech fans remember Vasilijevic from when they visited Miami, and the 6’3 Australian hit three treys and single handily killed every Jackets run that night. Both will continue to come off the bench this year along with Izundu and Miller, giving the Hurricanes one of the best benches in the conference.
Larranaga continues his stellar recruiting, bringing in 5* Walker and 4* PG Chris Lykes. Deng Gak, another 4* recruit, gives the ‘Canes another big man over 6-10 who has a ton of athleticism and upside. Look for Lykes to slide into the point guard role and move Newton off the ball.
Newton moving off the ball is a big deal. He is a creator of shots for himself, not necessarily others. He never fit in the PG role, and Lykes is a really talented kid. Lykes may not start from the gun, but he will be in that role by conference play I think. Bruce Brown and Newton on the wings allow Coach L to bring Walker back slowly during out of conference play while he recovers from his flat tire and regains his form. He’s a young man, he will be back. When Walker is all the way recovered that is when the decisions begin. I would almost venture a guess that Newton becomes the best sixth man in the conference but that’s just a guess. Maybe Larranaga is more comfortable with Newton at the point than I am. Look for Huell to be a man sized man this year. He’s going to blow up this year, mark my words.
This team has an embarrassment of riches in both the front and back court. Larranaga’s hardest decision this year is which guard he wants to give the opportunity to score 20. Look for Miami to drastically improve on their 339th ranking in Kenpom in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency.
Projected Starting 5: Chris Lykes, JaQuan Newton, Bruce Brown, Dewan Huell, Ebuka Izundu to start the season.
Lykes, Walker, Brown, Gak, Huell when ACC play starts.