It’s never too early to look at what’s to come. Over the next few weeks, we will give you a peek at what is ahead for teams in the Power 5 conferences and some other teams expected to be players on the national scene. Next up: the Miami Hurricanes.
Look no further than the backcourt as a microcosm for what Miami will be like next season. The Hurricanes -- picked by most prognosticators as a preseason top-25 team -- are heavy in talent. Coach Jim Larranaga has already said he expects guards Lonnie Walker and Bruce Brown each to declare for the 2018 NBA draft after next season.
What’s missing from the backcourt, and the Canes’ roster as a whole, is the experience.
Guard Ja’Quan Newton, who started 28 games last season, is their only senior on the roster. Larranaga is openly searching for a graduate transfer who can play immediately, but, even if that happens, the player would be like a rookie learning his system.
So let’s get back to the talent for a second. Nothing could punctuate the upgrade in Miami more than Walker and Brown. They are two players that, historically, were not the kind to end up playing in Coral Gables, Florida. Walker -- the highest-ranked recruit to sign with "The U" since the ESPN 100 began in 2007 -- highlights an incoming class that ranks sixth nationally by Recruiting Nation.
Many thought Walker, the 6-foot-4 guard from Reading, Pennsylvania, would end up being a Wildcat -- either the Arizona or Villanova variety. But he’ll give the Canes a talented scorer who should help ease the departure of Davon Reed.
Brown left so many texts and phone calls unreturned during his recruitment that Larranaga assumed he wasn’t interested in Miami. And now here is Brown returning for a sophomore season. The 6-5 Boston native bucked the trend of other highly touted freshmen clamoring to be one-and-done by not entering his name in the NBA draft to test the proverbial waters.
Larranaga is hoping his backcourt trio, along with reserve sophomore Dejan Vasiljevic, can make the Canes a more prolific 3-point-shooting team. Of the returnees, only Vasiljevic averaged more than one 3-pointer per game last season. Brown shot 34.7 percent from deep but had only 95 attempts. Newton had even fewer, making just 11 3s last season in just 40 attempts.
Larranaga is asking Newton to make a similar transition as he did Durand Scott as a senior in 2012-13. Scott made just 19 3-pointers as a junior because he passed on open shots in order to drive to the basket. Larranaga persuaded Scott to shoot instead and he nearly doubled his output from behind the arc.
Newton doesn’t have to become Steph Curry overnight, but if he makes around 40 3-pointers next season, chances are the Canes’ offense will be operating the way Larranaga envisions.
The frontcourt offers Miami a different kind of challenge. Sophomore forward Dewan Huell averaged 5.8 points and 3.1 rebounds as a freshman, but Larranaga says he could be a double-double machine next season.
The 6-foot-11 Huell has been playing basketball for only five years, mainly getting by on his natural athletic gifts and work ethic. He’s just now starting to focus on developing his skill set, which Larranaga says could be substantial. Between Huell and junior Ebuka Izundu, the Canes need a low-post option. That was sorely missing when Michigan State eliminated Miami in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Experience is also noticeably absent in the frontcourt. Larranaga is actively searching for a graduate transfer who specializes in rebounding to add to the roster. With Kamari Murphy now gone, Brown is their leading returning rebounder, and he averaged just 5.6 per game last season.
Here is again where the Canes hope offensive firepower will help mask their lack of experience. They’ll have a couple of stretch-4s who can loosen up opposing defenses. Junior forward Anthony Lawrence is better-suited as a small forward but played a lot at the 4 in the Canes’ lineup last season. Larranaga is even tweaking his offense so that the 3 and 4 have a more similar role.
Sam Waardenburg, a 6-9 forward from New Zealand, enrolled early and has practiced with the team since December. Waardenburg has already beefed up 20 pounds to 210, and while he physically will have to develop more, he brings a shooting touch from the perimeter that’s ACC-ready.
With their lack of experience, the Canes are optimistic that their overall talent is ready, too.