The expectations have changed for the Hurricanes. Now the question is: How high can they fly? Is this a program that can compete for ACC championships every year? Will Miami start outslugging Duke and Carolina and Kentucky and Kansas for the nation’s top recruits? Maybe that’s asking too much, but Jim Larranaga has brought it to the point where top-20 recruiting classes and NCAA Tournament appearances are the standard.
The Hurricanes have a seat at the table with the rest of the ACC heavyweights, and this could be a season they eat more than their share.
At a Glance
HEAD COACH: Jim Larranaga
2016-17 RECORD (ACC): 21–12 (10–8)
2016-17 POSTSEASON: NCAA: Lost to Michigan State 78–58 in the first round
F Kamari Murphy (7.1 ppg, 7.3 rpg)
G Davon Reed (14.9 ppg, 2.4 apg)
Of the three former five-star recruits on the Canes’ roster, two are guards. The forward is Dewan Huell, and this could be his breakout year. After playing in an unheralded prep league in South Florida, Huell was slow to adjust to ACC play as a freshman, but he has the size (6'11", 220) and skill to average a double-double.
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UM is excited about two more projects, junior Ebuka Izundu and sophomore Rodney Miller, both of whom are more offensively oriented. A key piece is 4-man Anthony Lawrence Jr., a decent shooter (35.4 percent from 3) who can bang a little. Losing rugged defender Kamari Murphy means defense will be a team effort. Izundu has proven he can protect the rim, and Huell’s athleticism and improving strength could make him a factor.
Redshirt freshman Sam Waardenburg, a 6'9" shooter, could help stretch the floor. Freshman Deng Gak could contribute meaningful minutes off the bench.
Larranaga is overjoyed about the prospect of teaming sophomore Bruce Brown and freshman Lonnie Walker — two of the most gifted players ever to sign with Miami — in the same backcourt. That’s still the plan, though the Canes might have to wait a bit on Walker, who tore a meniscus in his right knee in a July practice. The hope is that the Pennsylvania native will be ready for the opener in November.
Walker, a 6'4" high flyer who played in the McDonald’s All-American Game, and Brown are projected to be 2018 first-round picks. They will join Ja’Quan Newton, Miami’s only senior, and electric freshman Chris Lykes in a free-flowing backcourt that will attack defenses with athleticism. Newton was second on the team in scoring last year, averaging 13.5 points with a team-high 3.4 assists per game.
All four bring toughness, awareness and leadership, and Brown, Walker and Newton are good rebounding guards — especially Brown, who averaged 5.6 boards per game as a freshman. What they don’t bring: Proven 3-point shooting. That’s why it’s critical for Australian sharpshooter D.J. Vasiljevic to build on his freshman campaign. He made (51) and attempted (146) more 3s than any UM freshman since 2004-05, though his accuracy (.349) could improve.
Two factors should determine if Miami can emerge as a legit threat to win the ACC: how far the defense drops off and how dynamic Walker is post-surgery. Larranaga joked in July that UM was top 25 in defensive efficiency last year, “and right now, we’re 250th.” That’s to be expected with the loss of Murphy and Davon Reed, two versatile, intelligent, athletic defenders who will be in NBA camps this fall.
This isn’t Larranaga’s 2012-13 team, which won the first ACC title in school history with a host of 22- and 23-year-olds and star sophomore Shane Larkin. This a more talented, much younger group — but will it be ready to win before Brown, Huell and Walker turn pro? Simply asking that question shows you how far this program has come.