2015-16 Miami record: 27-8 (13-5 ACC)
The Miami Hurricanes enter the 2016-17 season with momentum continuing to build around the program behind the leadership of legendary head coach Jim Larranaga. As he enters his sixth season in Coral Gables (time flies, right?), Larranaga will be tasked with replacing the two top scorers off of last year’s team in guards Sheldon McClellan and Angel Rodriguez. McClellan led last season’s Sweet 16 squad in points per game with 16.3, while Rodriguez was no slouch in his own right, finishing second on the team in scoring with 12.6 points per game for the Hurricanes.
It is no secret that two players in particular for Miami will be relied upon more than the others in this year of transition for Miami, as Jim Larranaga will look no further than junior guard Ja’Quon Newton and senior guard Davon Reed. While both players took on important roles throughout last season’s Sweet 16 run, the duo will be tasked with a much-heavier workload now that Rodriguez and McClellan have moved on due to graduation.
“Yeah Ja’Quan and Davon are going to be our leading scorers,” Larranaga quipped at ACC Media Day. “They are in practice everyday. They’re very, very different, but they work very well together. They’re a tremendous complement. They’re roommates. They’re best friends. They get along very well together on and off the court, and they are both stepping up into new roles. Ja’Quan Newton was our sixth man, and Dick Vitale called him the best sixth man in basketball last year. He moves into the starting role and leadership role as our point guard.
Davon Reed was our — I think third leading scorer. He is now responsible for taking over that job by Sheldon McClellan, and between Ja’Quan Newton and Davon Reed, we need to get 30 or more points. If those guys are able to do that on a consistent basis, it takes pressure off some of our younger guys, yet we’re going to be counting on some of our younger guys to be double-digit scorers.”
There will be plenty of talented youngsters on the Miami team who will likely be thrust into the fire with some early playing time in the nation’s toughest conference. Among the newcomers are freshman shooting guards DJ Vasiljevic and Bruce Brown.
“DJ Vasiljevic is a shooting guard, and he can really shoot the three. We’re hoping he’ll be able to provide some points. Bruce Brown is an outstanding athlete, and we’re hoping he’ll be able to score for us in transition — in the open court,” Larranaga said.
As for some of the other holdovers from last year’s squad, it sounds like there will be a sizable workload for sophomores Anthony Lawrence and Ebuka Izundu, who combined for only a shade over 17 minutes per game last season.
“The two sophomores are going to be huge keys for us. Anthony Lawrence and Ebuka Izundu…we need both of them to score a bunch at the offensive end. If they can each get to double figures, that would really make us tough.”
This overall could be a pretty big ask of Jim Larranaga for his relatively young team, but if there is anything we have learned from him as a coach both at George Mason and at the University of Miami thus far, it is that resilience and competitiveness drive him and his team to great successes.
“Well, one of the things we said years ago when I took the job at George Mason and then again repeated it when we arrived at Miami, that we did not want to build a good team, we wanted to build a great program. And the difference is I think anybody can get hot in a given season and things just click for you…but to have a great program, you’ve got to do it on an annual basis, year in and year out.”
The task will be no different for the Hurricanes and Jim Larranaga this season; fight like heck to get to the tournament and make noise in March. They have the young talent, but development will be the tell-tale sign from here on out to decide the final verdict on the 2016-17 Miami Hurricanes.