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ACC Preview #10 - Miami

As we’ve come to expect, Miami will again be in the thick of the ACC race.

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Clemson v Miami
Jim Larranaga has redefined Miami basketball to the point where anything is now possible.
Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Remember when Miami hired Jim Larranaga and people thought he was too old?

That was five years ago and the Miami coach seems to have found the long-lost fountain of youth. He’s completely overhauled Miami basketball from A-Z and does not seem likely to be shopping for a rocker anytime soon.

Now, Miami is one of the most consistently competitive programs in the ACC and a legitimate tournament threat every season.

True, it took a couple of years to even out his recruiting. For a while Miami was in a boom-bust cycle with big classes followed by major rebuilds. Even that seems impressive in retrospect. Left with almost no meaningful talent in 2013-14, Larranaga turned in a winning record at 17-16. It sounds sort of blah, but you try losing your top six players and see where you end up. It was a remarkable achievement, not least of all because that team had no offense to speak of.

Last year, Miami lost to eventual national champs Villanova in the Sweet Sixteen. And this year?

Well, Miami loses two solid players in 7-0 Tonye Jekiri and 5-11 PG Angel Rodriguez.

Jekiri turned into a nice player for Miami. Last season, he averaged 7.6 ppg and 8.6 rpg. He had a few games where he didn’t rebound well, but when you look down last season, you see numbers like 12, 14 and 17. He was an outstanding rebounder.

The guy we loved on that team though was Rodriguez. He was tough and as competitive as any kid we’ve seen in the ACC in a long time. He made that team special.

It won’t be easy to replace him.

Miami will turn the ball over to sophomore Ja’Quan Newton. He and Davon Reed and Kamari Murphy are likely to be Larranaga’s prime building blocks.

Reed is the most obvious scorer. He averaged 11.1 ppg last year and 4.1 boards. He’s a good teammate in that he’s not selfish. He may be asked to be a bit more so this year.

Reed is a willing defender, as is Murphy, but Murphy is a highly versatile defender who can guard just about anyone on the court.

Anthony Lawrence could build on the theme of versatility. Larranaga sees him as a small Stretch 4 and in high school,Lawrence, 6-7, played point. He could add some intrigue to MIami’s season.

Rashad Muhammad, 6-6, sat out after transferring last year from San Jose State. If his name is vaguely familiar, it’s because his older brother, Shabazz, was a Duke target who ultimately chose UCLA where he played for Ben Howland.

Rashad did well at San Jose State, leading the team in scoring for both of his seasons. In his final season, he averaged 13.9 ppg.

He played at San Jose State for Dave Wojcik, brother of former UNC assistant Doug. Dave worked for the late Skip Prosser at three schools and also for Lefty Driesell at James Madison and Dino Gaudio at Wake Forest. He was recruited by George Nessman though and perhaps decided to move on after a year of Wojcik.

Incidentally, Nessman coached Brent, Drew and Jon Barry in high school. You might say he had his pick of the Barrys.

Ebuka Izundu, 6-10 and 230, got about five minutes per game last year as a freshman. He’s from Nigeria but lists Charlotte as his home town.

Michael Gilmore is a junior but like Muhammad, Murphy and Gonzalez,he transferred in, in his case from VCU. He’ll sit out this season.

Miami has an outstanding freshman class. Bruce Brown is a 6-5 guard out of Beantown. He was a Top 50 recruit. He’ll help a lot on offense (it’s a given that to play at Miami you’ll play defense).

Miami also landed 6-3 Aussie import Dejan Vasiljevic. As you’ve seen over the years, Australians are not shy about shooting and he models himself after the late superstar Dragan Petrovic. Consider yourself warned.

He’ll be able to play some point too and should be fun to watch. Although he’s not a redhead, he has a bit of the chipmunky look of fellow Aussie Andrew Dellavedova. Maybe it’s in the water.

On the same day Brown committed, 7-0 Rodney Miller did as well. He’s a big kid - 258 already - and will add some oomph to the roster. He played at Oak Hill, so you know he’s well coached.

He may lose minutes, at least initially, to fellow freshman big man Dewan Huell. Duke fans are used to McDonald’s All-Americans, but at Miami, it’s a rarity. He’s only their fourth and their first since Darius Rice in 2000.

Unfortunately for Miami, Huell got into legal trouble quickly at Miami when he walked into his former girlfriend’s dorm room at Florida International and roughed up a guy he found hiding with her in her closet.

Larranaga gave the classic coach-speak line, saying “it’ll be handled internally,” which in his case we expect is true. Huell will be held accountable on some level.

It should be noted that while he did pull the guy from the room and did scratch him, he did not hit him. Nor do we know anything about the situation except for the broadest outlines.

Still, in case you’re wondering, Huell is good to go as far as Miami is concerned.

Defense will be the immediate concern for the ‘Canes. There’s no replacing the ferocity Gonzalez brought. He was a passionate defender. You never got the sense that he took a play off. He was always, always, busting his ass. We loved him.

Jekeri was a solid defender too.

Miami will have some youth to work in to be sure. All four freshmen are talented though and Muhammad comes from a highly athletic family.

So basically that’s five solid athletes he can turn to.

He’s master at fitting pieces together and he’s also a master at identifying under appreciated players. He’s always had a place for a guy who’s too short for his role (think Lawrence) or a point guard who seems too small and slow (think Gonzalez).

Miami might take a few weeks to make the pieces fit, but by January we expect Larranaga will do what he usually does: put out a highly competitive team that is aiming for the post-season.