With four key players from last season departed, Miami Hurricanes basketball coach Jim Larranaga decided his team needed special operations training.
The Navy Seals paid a visit in September, and among the topics discussed was the perfect jumping jack. The Hurricanes attempted to perform one, and then sheepishly acknowledged to the Seals that while good, it could have been better.
“The message is we’re going to do all the little things correctly,” Larranaga said. “And we’re not going to be very good until we get it exactly right. Not close to right — exactly right. Because if one guy is out of step, the play doesn’t work.”
With a young team short on experience, Larranaga worries about the little things. The top two scorers and top rebounder departed from last season’s team, which went 27-8 and reached the third round of the NCAA Tournament. Larranaga has only 10 scholarship players, five of them newcomers.
Even so, many prognosticators expect Miami to return to the tournament.
Here are things to know about Larranaga’s sixth Hurricanes team:
RETURNING: Larranaga has all five positions covered with his five returning players. They are point guard Ja’Quan Newton, wingmen Davon Reed and Anthony Lawrence, power forward Kamari Murphy and center Ebuka Izundu. “It’s a nice combination of veteran players who all play different positions,” Larranaga said. “They all complement each other.” Reed and Murphy were starters last year, and Newton was one of the nation’s top sixth men. But Izundu and Lawrence are sophomores who have yet to start a game.
NEWCOMERS: The makeup of the roster means Larranaga will need to count on help from a promising freshman class and junior guard Rashad Muhammad, a 6-6 transfer who led San Jose State in scoring for two seasons. The freshmen include Dejan Vasiljevic, a 6-3 guard from Melbourne, Australia, and Bruce Brown, a 6-5 guard from Boston. “A lot of new faces,” Larranaga said. “They’ve all shown signs they can help us.”
RUNNING THE SHOW: The 6-2 Newton averaged 10.5 points coming off the bench last season, and now he’s running the offense as a replacement for departed two-year starter Angel Rodriguez. Larranaga said Newton is even more athletic than a year ago, and embracing a leadership role. “He has the ball in his hands constantly, and I don’t know if I would have predicted that last spring,” Larranaga said. “I can see him taking on more of a major contribution role.”
LEAGUE RACE: The Hurricanes tied for second place in the ACC last season, one game behind champion North Carolina. They were one of seven league teams to make the NCAA tournament, and Larranaga didn’t discount the idea of 10 teams making it this season. “The league has gotten so good and so deep,” he said. “Ten is a lofty goal, but I have a hard time figuring out who they’re leaving out, because 11, 12 and 13 are going to be very capable of competing with the best teams in the country.”
EARLY GAMES: The Hurricanes’ non-conference schedule appears weak, which could help their record but hurt their chances of making the tournament. They face Rutgers in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, and the only non-league game on an opponent’s court is at North Florida. But Larranaga said preseason schedules that look soft sometimes turn out to be otherwise. ” There are too many unknowns to predict how our non-conference schedule will impact us,” he said.
AP College Basketball: collegebasketball.ap.org