It’s an image Canes fans haven’t been able to get out of their heads all summer. Donte Ingram elevating from beyond the three-point line, Sam Waardenburg caught off guard, flat-footed, throwing his hand up late. The ball swishing through the basket. Loyola Chicago celebrating, Jim Larannaga throwing his hands on his head in shock. The Ramblers marching on to the Final Four, the Canes heading back to Miami to think about what went wrong.
The 2017-2018 season didn’t go as expected for the Miami Hurricanes. The Canes started the season ranked #13 in the nation, climbing as high as #6, before heading into the ACC tournament ranked #24. The Canes finished 3rd place in the ACC, but earned just a 6-seed in the NCAA tournament. Bruce Brown, who was projected to be a lottery pick preseason, played just 19 games before dealing with a foot injury that sidelined him for the rest of the season. The Canes suffered from inconsistency whether Brown was in or out of the lineup, beating North Carolina and Florida State, but losing to New Mexico State and Georgia Tech. When the Canes lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament, it was hard not to feel like the season was a disappointment.
This season the expectations aren’t nearly as high for Coach L’s team. Lonnie Walker and Bruce Brown are off to the NBA, while Ja’Quon Newton, who was stellar down the stretch, graduated. Miami comes into the season unranked in both the Coaches and AP polls and is projected to finish 10th place in the conference according to the ACC preseason media poll. KenPom.com is a bit more optimistic, ranking the Canes at #21 preseason, but they are nearly alone in their assessment. Considering all the Canes lost, as well as the incredible depth of the ACC, it’s not surprising that the Canes aren’t on many people’s radar heading into the season.
But with the FBI investigation behind them and Larranaga’s name cleared, the Canes can finally get back to what matters: playing solid, distraction free basketball. Miami doesn’t have a single true freshman on their roster, in large part because of Coach L’s unknown role in the FBI investigation, but worked the transfer market, bringing in Florida Gulf Coast 5th year senior guard Zach Johnson, Wyoming freshman guard Anthony Mack, and Oklahoma junior guard Kameron McGusty. McGusty isn’t eligible to play until next season, but Johnson and Mack can contribute right away.
“We’re going to have what I would call seven starters,” Larranaga said, referring to Chris Lykes, DJ Vasiljevic, Anthony Lawrence, Dewan Hernandez (formerly Huell), Sam Waardenburg, Ebuka Izundu, and Zach Johnson. “Anthony Mack and Deng Gak both have the potential to make the rotation and play a lot of minutes.”
With a possible 9-man rotation, this would be one of the deepest teams in Coach L’s tenure. But while there are likely to be many contributors on both ends of the floor, the style of play under Larranaga is unlikely to change.
In the past, the Canes have sometimes had a frustratingly slow offense, often settling for 3s and contested mid-range shots. Coach L doesn’t expect his team to dictate the pace of games, but to be “capable of playing fast or slow”. When it comes to 3-pointers, Canes fans should expect even more than previous seasons, as Larranaga expects between 20 and 25 shots per game. He even mentioned that Hernandez at 6’11” has been perfecting his deep game.
The Canes schedule is favorable early on, without a single ranked opponent on the schedule until conference play. This is both a curse and a blessing. There are a lot of new pieces to the puzzle this year and this gives the Canes time to work out the kinks while playing against lesser competition; however, it also means that the Canes don’t have the opportunity for a great non-conference win, but have numerous opportunities for a terrible non-conference loss. This is something that has plagued the Canes every year under Larranaga.
The good news is that the Canes play in the ACC, and in such a loaded conference there will be plenty of chances to avenge any unexpected bad losses. 7 ACC teams come into the season ranked in the top 25, including Duke, Virginia, and UNC, who are all ranked in the top 10. Miami has 10 games scheduled against preseason top 25 opponents, 4 of which come against the previously mentioned goliaths.
Led by Lykes, Lawrence, and Hernandez, this isn’t the most talented bunch that Larranaga has ever had, but it could be his most well-rounded team since the 2012-2013 group led by Shane Larkin. If Hernandez has improved as much as anticipated than he, along with Izundu, will give the Canes a fearsome inside presence to go along with the plethora of guards that can play with anybody in the nation.
The Canes begin their season against the Lehigh Mountain Hawks on Friday, November 9 in the Watsco Center. The tip is set for 7:00pm local time.
I love L and all, would love for us to be an up and down the court team, not inferring this current team. New version of the running rebs. Just seems like a good fit in Miami and think recruiting would be much easier. We need a nice mixture of high flyers and court savvy guys.
I think it's called a "Sam Watson shot". It's sort of a drive to the basket from the perimeter but not a layup. The announcers talked about it during the Barry U game because Dewan executed one nicely for 2 points, and said Coach L has been trying to teach him. Dang, I hope we see more of that this year.