Miami Faces Uncertainty After Stunning Season

Rion Brown will be Miami's leading returning scorer on next year's roster.
Rion Brown will be Miami’s leading returning scorer on next year’s roster.

Miami’s 9-7 ACC record in 2011-12 went under the radar, allowing the Hurricanes to enter this season with limited expectations despite returning an experienced and talented roster. That roster led Miami to conference regular season and tournament titles, along with a sweet sixteen appearance.

Jim Larranaga’s squad will be hard-pressed to repeat that magic next season, however. Following point guard Shane Larkin’s announcement that he will enter the NBA Draft, Miami faces a massive challenge to replace six of the seven players who started games in 2012-13.

Between Miami’s five seniors (Julian Gamble, Trey McKinney Jones, Reggie Johnson, Kenny Kadji, Durand Scott) and the sophomore Larkin, the Hurricanes will lose players that contributed 83.2 percent of their minutes, 86.9 percent of their points, 75.9 percent of their rebounds, and 92.8 percent of their assists during ACC play.

The team’s leading returning scorer? Rising senior Rion Brown, whose lone ACC start this season came at home against Virginia Tech. The guard averaged 6.4 points per game for Miami, seventh on the team in scoring. He will be the only returning player to average more than seven minutes per game in ACC play.

Joining Brown as returning scholarship players will be forwards Erik Swoope and Raphael Akpejiori and center Tonye Jekiri. None of the three saw considerable playing time, even when Reggie Johnson missed eight games with a thumb injury. They were certainly have the opportunity to display their abilities next season, but they will expected to play a much larger role as well.

There will also be pressure on Miami’s 2013 recruiting class to contribute early in some capacity with the numerous departures. Four-star guards Deandre Burnett and Davon Reed will lead the class after the Hurricanes lost out on center Demetrius Henry to South Carolina. Burnett attended Massanutten Military Academy (Va.) this season after graduating from Miami’s Carol City High School. The taller Reed (6-5 to Burnett’s 6-1) hails from Princeton, NJ. Both are coming off huge seasons where they scored in bunches, but the leap to ACC competition will be a stiff one.

The Hurricanes will also be returning senior Garrius Adams. Adams redshirted the 2012-13 season following a knee injury, but has started 37 games for the Hurricanes over three seasons. 24 of those starts came as a sophomore, when Adams averaged 7.3 points per game. There may be some rust or concerns about his knee in his initial return, but his experience could prove invaluable for what will otherwise be a young Hurricanes roster.

Not only will the team be incredibly raw, but the rebuilding year comes when Atlantic Coast Conference basketball will be taking a step forward. Many pointed to the lack of competition when Miami became the first conference team to fail to receive a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament after winning both the regular season and tournament titles. The introduction of Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, and Syracuse should curb such complaints next season. The Hurricanes will visit the Carrier Dome in 2013-14 as part of a conference road slate that also includes trips to Chapel Hill and Charlottesville, current ACC members expected to have strong seasons next year. Miami will also host the three conference newcomers along with Duke, meaning there will be few easy nights once ACC play begins.

Jim Larranaga is an exceptional coach, as proven his time at George Mason and last year’s run, the latter of which earned him AP National Coach of the Year honors. However, that also makes him one of four National Coach of the Year winners in next year’s ACC (a total not including Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski). Such a rebuilding job is not impossible, as evidenced by 2006 AP National Coach of the Year Roy Williams, who replaced three seniors and four early draftees from the 2005 National Champions to finish second in the ACC regular season standings. However, Williams also had the benefit of a 2005 recruiting class that included four-star prospects Bobby Frasor, Marcus Ginyard, and Danny Green along with five-star recruit Tyler Hansbrough.

All of this, of course, goes without mentioning the current NCAA brouhaha surrounding the Miami athletics program.  The ongoing saga between the university and the NCAA has been ongoing for two years, and there doesn’t seem to be an ending in sight as the two parties grapple with each other.  Whenever the investigation has run its course, the sanctions passed down to Miami could hinder future recruiting efforts for the program.

No matter how it is sliced, Miami will enter next season as one of true underdogs in the conference. The Hurricanes surprised with their conference title run in 2013, but the deck is stacked against an encore performance (or even a .500 conference record) next year.

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