The Hurricanes were disappointed to lose the way they did, but they believe that getting to the NCAA Tournament in the first place was an achievement for a young team.
Since everyone not named Davon Reed and Kamari Murphy is expected to return, Miami will have higher expectations entering next year. Last weekend in Tulsa, there was loose talk on press row about the Canes being a top-15 team to start next season.
Jim Larranaga hopes he sees a lot of player development this offseason, especially from a strength and conditioning perspective. Young talents like Bruce Brown and Dewan Huell must become forces with which to be reckoned. They, along with veterans Ja’Quan Newton, Anthony Lawrence and Ebuka Izundu, must learn how to lead. A ballyhooed freshman class led by All-American Lonnie Walker must acclimate quickly, because UM isn’t deep enough to keep minutes away from anyone with talent.
In looking at who’s coming back and what roles they could fill, it’s important to note the Hurricanes have two open scholarships (after dismissing guard Rashad Muhammad and forward Michael Gilmore for program rules violations during the season). It will be interesting to see how they use them; hundreds of players each year transfer, and seven of ESPN’s top 20 high school players for 2017 have yet to sign. It’s unclear if any of them are involved with Miami.
Thoughts on each position entering the offseason:
Point guard: Larranaga will lose a lot less sleep if Newton improves his ball distribution, cuts down on turnovers and grows into a prominent leadership role. The only senior on the roster, Newton (6-2, 195) will have a full year as full-time point to review his weaknesses and attack his offseason development. UM would love if he became an equal threat as a passer as a scorer. Freshman Chris Lykes (5-7, 160) will be limited defensively at his size, but is an excellent passer, has no fear of contact and should be an electric weapon off the bench. The thought of him running in transition with high-caliber athletes Brown and Walker is enticing.
Shooting guard: As a sophomore, Brown (6-5, 200) takes over as UM’s top offensive weapon and do-it-all guard. He can handle the ball, score from the outside and produce acrobatic finishes inside, and defensively, will see a lot of the opponent’s top scorer. This is his takeover season. The continued progress of D.J. Vasiljevic (6-2, 195) will be interesting; he proved to be an outstanding shooter, and added strength will make him more of a threat when he puts the ball on the floor (and on defense).
Small forward: Larranaga is likely to start junior Lawrence, but freshman Walker (6-4, 200) is too good to keep on the bench. Lawrence (6-7, 210) played more power forward than ever this year and admitted he struggled to score against those opponents. He’s more of a wing than a post, and looks more comfortable guarding the perimeter. Walker is a Brown-caliber athlete — which is to say, outstanding — and in tandem, those two could give opponent fits. Walker can shoot and make plays but excels in slashing and finishing high above the rim, and his long wingspan could make him a strong perimeter defender.
Power forward: Huell showed flashes of what’s to come, and must take the next step. He has an NBA frame (6-11, 220) but his moves in the post and defense are works in progress. He was often in foul trouble, as was center Izundu. If he can become a force in the paint, UM should be one of the top teams in the ACC. Brown-Walker-Huell is as athletic a trio as UM has ever had. Sam Waardenburg (6-9, 200) enrolled midyear and redshirted, which will help the skilled stretch 4 from New Zealand adjust to the ACC. Freshman Deng Gak (6-10, 200) is also skilled but skinny; like Izundu last year, he needs to add weight and strength in order to contribute meaningful minutes. He has potential at the 4 and 5 spots.
Center: Izundu (6-10, 230) needs to keep growing and learning how to play defense without fouling. He has a few crafty moves and can score in the paint, though he won’t be the focal point of the offense. The junior will be a key rebound-grabber with Murphy graduating, and along with Newton and Lawrence, is one of three returning upperclassmen. Huell will see action here, too, and could start. Sophomore Rodney Miller (7-0, 258) is an interesting project; he is UM’s most skilled big man, but needs to reshape his body. How quickly he can do that? Speculating: If it takes him another year, and Miami finds a big man who wants to grad-transfer to play with a potentially very good team, would Miller take a redshirt? That way, he would be a redshirt sophomore in 2018-19, potentially backing up a senior in Izundu.