The Miami Hurricanes men’s basketball team played in April for the first time in school history a year ago. A veteran squad returns to build on that and make 2015-16 an even bigger and better march through the madness that is college basketball.
The Canes won 25 games last season (25-13, 10-8) and reached the finals of the NIT, falling 66-64 to Stanford for the championship. It was the second-most victories in program history and the 38 games played were the most ever in one season.
A force on the road, Miami defeated eventual national champions Duke, 90-74, at Cameron ending Duke’s 41-game home win streak. They were the only team to beat Duke on its home court. Miami also ended Florida’s 33-game home win streak and in addition, won at Syracuse.
The Canes were one of the hottest teams in the nation at the beginning of the season. Reaching a ranking of No. 15 in the country after starting the season with an 8-0 record, Miami looked to be headed for something special. And the team rocked along until a wrist injury late in the season sidelined sparkplug point guard Angel Rodriguez.
“I think if Angel hadn’t hurt his wrist, it could have been a spectacular year,” said head coach Jim Larranaga. “It was already a very good year. We won 25 games.”
The Canes rallied around their injured leader, winning the final two games of the season before opening ACC Tournament play with a 10-point victory over Virginia Tech. But a loss to Notre Dame sent the Canes to the NIT where victories over North Carolina Central, Alabama, Richmond and Temple put them in the finals.
Larranaga is hoping for another quick start to the 2015-16 season and a long run afterwords.
“What I’ve seen is a group that seems to be very focused,” he said of early workouts. “They have a lot of experience in what we do. So things are moving along very quickly and very productively. They are very receptive to coaching. They want to get better.”
The Canes lose guard Manu Lecomte, who transferred to Baylor. The junior guard averaged eight points per game, starting in 23 games while playing in all 38.
But they welcome in redshirt junior forward Kamari Murphy, who sat out last season after transferring from Oklahoma State, where he led the Cowboys in rebounds (199) and blocked shots (40) as a sophomore.
Add to that the return of four starters Rodriguez (11.9 points, 3.9 assists), Tonye Jekiri (8.6 points, 9.9 rebounds), Sheldon McClellan (14.5 points, 4.7 rebounds), and Davon Reed (8.2 points, 4.0 rebounds).
In all, seven players return, on a team with just 10 total scholarship players. The roster rounds out with Ivan Cruz Uceda (5.2 points, 3.5 rebounds), Ja’Quan Newton (4.0 points) and James Palmer (3.7 points).
The Canes host Florida (Dec. 8) and Princeton (Dec. 29) in preparation for the ACC opener, Jan. 2, at home with Syracuse. A tough early road trip that takes Miami through Virginia (Jan. 12), Clemson (Jan. 16), and Boston College (Jan. 20) in succession will be a big test.
A challenging close to the regular season could be an interesting prelude to the postseason or a devastating finish. The Canes end with North Carolina on the road, Virginia, Louisville, and then at Notre Dame and at Virginia Tech.
If the Canes can remain healthy they have the veteran talent, leadership and depth to make a serious run at the ACC title and beyond.