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ACC Preview #12 - Miami

We had originally written this and scheduled it for November 1st, but after the Duke-Miami football game, we decided to hold off. It just didn't seem the right time. For some reason (ahem), we haven't wanted to think about Miami much since Halloween and forgot to post it.

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Angel Rodriguez could have a break-out season for the Hurricanes.
Angel Rodriguez could have a break-out season for the Hurricanes.
Evan Pike-USA TODAY Sports

Miami has always been an erratic program. To be sure, Miami has had some good teams, and the great Rick Barry put them on the map, but overall, it’s been a very up and down history, compounded by a typical lack of fan interest.

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Then Jim Larranaga showed up.

Miami has been pretty solid since Larranaga came to town. He’s averaged 22 wins per year – exceptional by Hurricane standards – and that includes the year before last, when Miami finished 17-16.

Still, that’s over .500, and at Miami, that’s big news.

The ‘Canes return 5-11 Angel Rodriguez and 6-5 Sheldon McClellan. Both players were Big 12 transfers to Miami (Kansas State and Texas, respectively) and both did quite well.

McClellan averaged 14.5 ppg, 4.7 rpg and shot reasonably well (.358 from three point range, .484 overall and .824 from the line). After the previous season, when Miami had virtually no offense, it was a big help.

Rodriguez justified his defensive reputation and was an outstanding floor general.

Then there’s 7-0 Tonye Jekiri, who is the rare project who has really exceeded expectations. Jekiri has become an outstanding rebounder and had 10 games with 13 rebounds or more. He’s an excellent bet to average a double-double this year.

He’s not perfect by any means, but he has improved considerably each season. He may or may not catch on in the NBA, but he could play pro ball somewhere for 10 or 15 years.

Miami has a solid core to build on. Larranaga could also start fellow senior (the afore-mentioned trio are all seniors) Ivan Cruz Uceda (6-10) or guards Davon Reed (6-6) or Ja’Quan Newton (6-2).

Or he might opt for Oklahama State transfer – yes another Big 12-er heading for the beach – Kamari Murphy, a 6-8 player who could be a versatile defender.

James Palmer (6-5) and Chris Stowell (6-6) make up the sophomore class. Palmer got 13.3 mpg last year while Stowell played just 1.5. You can’t measure everything by statistics, but statistically, neither had a big impact.

Miami also brings in three freshmen, Anthony Lawrence, (6-7), Ebuka Izundu (6-10) and Mike Robinson (5-10).

Larranaga had followed Lawrence since he was in 9th grade. He originally committed to Central Florida before settling on the ‘Canes. Down the road, he could become an offensive force.

Izundu was widely sought after and picked Miami partly because of Jekiri, who is also Nigerian. He’ll be the understudy for this year and likely become a starter next season.

There are some variables here, as there are for every team and every season.

The main thing with Miami though is Larranaga. His Final Four run with George Mason seemed flukish at the time, but in retrospect, it was the first time the public at large saw this masterful coach at work.

He’s had Miami as high as #2 in the polls. He adapted to losing a monster class and his top six players two years ago and still finished with a winning record.

And he’s been flexible enough to find players by hook or by crook. We’re not suggesting he cheated, not at all. But like NC State’s Mark Gottfried, he’s worked the transfer market brilliantly and found enough promising young talent to compete in the brutal ACC.

We have no idea how Miami will do this season, but we can promise you this: the Hurricanes will play to the best of their ability.