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Looking ahead: Miami Hurricanes

Editor’s note: It’s never too early to start to look ahead to next season. In the coming weeks, we will examine what comes next for each team in the Power 5 conferences and also those outside the Power 5 that could make noise on the national stage.

On Jan. 13, 2015, the Miami Hurricanes walked into Cameron Indoor Stadium and punched the Duke Blue Devils in the mouth. And then, they skipped town, buoyed by a résumé-anchoring 90-74 road win over the eventual national champion.

Life was good for Jim Larranaga & Co. The Hurricanes were 12-4 and they’d just kicked off ACC play with a 2-1 start and a victory over the nationally ranked Blue Devils.

Things got real for Miami after it left Durham, though. The Hurricanes lost five of their next eight games. They never found their swag again after that win over Duke, and their season ended with a loss to Stanford in the NIT title game.

So much promise followed by so much disappointment.

At least the Hurricanes could be proud of the fact that their key contributors from last season would all return in 2015-16, right?

Hold on a second. Guess that’s not true.

Promising guards Manu Lecomte (7.9 PPG, 46 percent from the 3-point line) and Deandre Burnett (7.0 PPG) have decided to transfer. That’s a setback for the team’s overall depth. Burnett and Lecomte could have blossomed into stars for the program. But they’re gone.

The good news? Six of the team’s top eight scorers from last season are back, including the Hurricanes' top four offensive players from 2014-15.

What the immediate future holds: Miami looked great against some of its best opponents, but the Hurricanes were often mediocre against the bottom-tier teams that can’t help a résumé but remain capable of shredding it.

Yes, they beat Duke, Illinois, Syracuse and NC State. But they missed the Big Dance because they lost to Eastern Kentucky, Green Bay, Georgia Tech, Florida State and Wake Forest.

Still, Larranaga’s squad returns a solid nucleus -- one that would have been much stronger and deeper with Lecomte and Burnett back in the mix -- and adds top-100 recruit Anthony Lawrence Jr.

Angel Rodriguez carried the Hurricanes throughout the season. But his inconsistency was a problem. Still, Miami will be led by a veteran next season. Sheldon McClellan, the team’s top scorer from last year, is back, too. You could do far worse than a McClellan-Rodriguez backcourt pairing.

Ja'Quan Newton and Davon Reed, both underclassmen, scored 26 points combined in the NIT championship. Omar Sherman and Ivan Cruz Uceda blocked five shots in that game. They’re all back.

Even at full strength, however, the Hurricanes were an inconsistent assembly that missed the NCAA tournament. They finished 76th in adjusted defensive efficiency on kenpom.com. They were one of the worst offensive rebounding teams in America. And their 47 percent mark inside the arc was also below average.

The program boasts a respectable ceiling, although it is tempered by the recent transfers. But Lecomte and Burnett would not have guaranteed anything for Miami had they decided to stay.

In early January, the Hurricanes appeared to be a team on the rise. And they ended the year as a program that had failed to use that win over Duke to build momentum over the following two months. They finished strong in the NIT but they never reached their potential.

Will they next season? Perhaps.

They’ll certainly stumble again if they’re inconsistent, especially on the defensive end. Miami held Duke to 1.00 point per possession in January. A few weeks later, Georgia Tech registered 1.15 PPP against the Hurricanes. Huh?

That’s why it’s not easy to create projections for 2015-16 Miami.

Sure, Rodriguez and McClellan could lead the Hurricanes to the NCAA tournament, assuming the team invests on the defensive end every night.

But that ship could run aground again.

After last year’s turbulence, Miami fans should probably be prepared for either outcome with this team.