Miami has had a tough couple of year, finishing 29-34 for the last two years and 15-16 last year.
You really have to give a pass for last season due to injuries. Chris Lykes, Kameron McGusty and Keith Stone all missed significant time. Jim Larrañaga did the best he can, but sometimes you can’t patch it all and he couldn’t. It’s no one’s fault.
On the bright side, while Stone is done and dangerous sniper Dejan Vasiljevic is also gone, a lot of talent is back and there are promising newcomers.
Returnees: Chris Lykes, Isaiah Wong, Kameron McGusty, Rodney Miller, Harlond Beverly, Sam Waardenburg, Deng Gak, Anthony Walker and Willie Herenton.
Start with the backcourt. Lykes is small at 5-7 but incredibly athletic. He’s a really fun player to watch. Size is a concern but he’s a senior now. He’ll be fine. He’s better on offense than defense but he’s so quick that that makes up for his size to a large extent.
McGusty, injuries aside, was a welcome addition. He’s an athletic 6-5 and put up 12.5 ppg, 4 rpg and 1.6 apg. If he’s healthy he’ll be a big asset for Miami.
Six-foot-three freshman Wong really came on when injuries gave him minutes. He’s going to continue to get better and will make Lykes and McGusty better as well.
Starting with Miami’s trip to 14-19 UNC, Wong started to go off. He had 19 against the Heels and had nine straight games in double figures, topping out with 29 against Virginia Tech (not surprisingly, Virginia blanked him).
He’s likely to be a force this year too and is bound to have tons of confidence.
Harlond Beverly, 6-5, wasn’t as good offensively but he’s an excellent defender and can build on that until his offense improves. Defenders always get minutes.
Miami has some useful size this year too. Rodney Miller is back and while he’s never going to be great, he’s competent and knows what his coach wants. Is he slow-footed? Yes, he is. So was Brian Zoubek. He can still help his team.
Fellow senior Sam Waardenburg is much quicker than Miller and has some range. He can open Miami’s offense to an extent and also play around the rim. A redshirt senior, he’s 6-10 and now 225. Like Virginia’s Jay Huff, he’s filled out.
Deng Gak is also back and now a redshirt junior. He’s 6-11 and 225 but injuries have stalled his career. He’s only played in 15 games in the first two years of his Miami career. Last year it was a meniscus tear which followed a previous injury to the other knee. He was a highly regarded recruit - Duke was interested - but he’s just had tough breaks. At least it wasn’t an ACL and we hope he’ll be good to go this year.
Walker didn’t do a whole lot in his freshman year but he has plenty of time to contribute. He was a four-star recruit and was well regarded at Brewster Academy, so don't rule him out just yet.
Herenton is a former walk-on and if he gets a lot of time that means Miami is in real trouble.
The newcomers are 6-7 Matt Cross, who was a year behind Walker at Brewster, fellow freshman Earl Timberlake, a 6-4 guard out of DeMatha, and 7-0/240 lbs. Nysier Brooks, a senior transfer from Cincinnati.
Cross is said to be a good offensive player and probably will have a complimentary role. He could slide in at the three spot and surprise people.
Timberlake is more likely to have a major role as a freshman though. He’s a tremendous defender and his high school coach raved about his impact on DeMatha. Larrañaga is no doubt salivating over the prospects of using Beverly and Timberlake at the same time on defense when he can. They’ll make a difference.
Brooks should have a major impact as well.
He’s big, he’s strong, and at a minimum he’ll anchor Miami’s interior defense and be an effective shot blocker.
He’ll probably be a little more than that and if he can get near double digits in rebounds, Larrañaga will elated.
Elijah Olaniyi, a 6-5 senior wing has transferred from Stony Brook but will sit out this year.
This is a team with some real athleticism and some scoring potential. The defense should be solid too. The perimeter is going to be dynamic and unlike some recent Miami squads, there is size. Last year’s team was really weak on the boards and interior defense was another problem. Brooks should help a lot in those areas and the rest of the team should be able to hit the boards well enough collectively to make it much less of a weakness and possibly to neutralize it.
As long as Miami stays healthy, we see no reason why this team shouldn’t have a winning season and a shot at the NCAA Tournament, assuming of course that there is one.