March 3, 2012; Coral Gables, FL, USA; Miami Hurricanes guard Malcolm Grant (left) center Reggie Johnson (center) and guard Ryan Quigtar (right) all talks during the second half against the Boston College Eagles at the BankUnited Center. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

Miami Hurricanes Basketball Season Preview

The college hoops season is right around the corner, and Busting Brackets is here to whet your basketball-starved appetite. Over the next five weeks, we are publishing season previews team by team, conference by conference, to offer a glimpse into the upcoming season. Busting Brackets is giving you the lowdown on the biggest storylines, offseason changes and x-factors for each team and each league as we roll into the 2012-13 season. Our complete season preview archive can be accessed here. Buckle up, peeps.

Miami (FL) Hurricanes

Last Season 20-13 (9-7 ACC)
Lost to Florida State in quarterfinals of ACC tournament
Lost to Minnesota in 2nd round of NIT
Key Returning Players: Durand Scott, G
Kenny Kadji, F
Reggie Johnson, C
Shane Larkin, G
Rion Brown, G
Trey McKinney Jones, G
Garrius Adams, G
Julian Gamble, F/C
Erik Swoope, F
Key Additions: Tonye Jekiri, C (Champagnat Catholic HS)
Key Losses: Malcolm Grant, G
DeQuan Jones, G
Top Non-Conference Games: Nov. 24 vs. Detroit
Nov. 28 vs. Michigan State
Dec. 1 @ UMass
Dec. 18 vs. UCF (Orlando)
Dec. 22 vs. Hawaii (Diamond Head Classic, Honolulu)
*Dec. 23 vs. Arizona (Diamond Head Classic, second round)
Dec. 25 vs. TBD (Diamond Head Classic)
Jan. 2 vs. La Salle
*Projected matchup, assuming Arizona and Miami both win
Top Conference Games: Jan. 10 @ North Carolina
Jan. 13 vs. Maryland
Jan. 23 vs. Duke
Jan. 27 vs. Florida State
Feb. 2 @ NC State
Feb. 9 vs. North Carolina
Feb. 13 @ Florida State
Mar. 2 @ Duke
Breakout Player: Kenny Kadji. There was a two-month stretch smack in the middle of last season—spanning 15 games across January and February—when the Florida transfer was the best stretch-4 in all of college basketball. Really. Over that period, which began with a 30-point showing against UNC Greensboro, Kadji averaged 15.4 points on 55-percent shooting while pulling down at least seven rebounds in nine of the 15 games. Kadji has the size (6-foot-11), long-range ability (42-percent 3-point shooter) and athleticism to be the best stretch-4 for the full five months, not just two, provided he matures and shows a higher basketball IQ in 2012-13. Kadji is an adept rebounder when he’s not isolated on an island behind the 3-point line, a bad habit he fell into for much of last season. With better shot selection and a renewed commitment to playing inside, Kadji should turn a lot of heads during his sendoff season. Durand Scott and Reggie Johnson get the bulk of the attention—in terms of national exposure and coaches’ scouting reports—but Kenny Kadji is the silent assassin on this Hurricanes team. He shouldn’t sneak up on any ACC teams this year, not after his coming out party early last winter.
X-Factor: Health of Reggie Johnson. Injuries devastated the Canes frontcourt in 2011-12. Reserve big man Julian Gamble suffered a torn ACL before the start of last season which sidelined him for the year, while star center Reggie Johnson missed the first month of the season after tearing the meniscus in his knee during a pickup game. Miami cannot withstand a similar wrath of injuries—especially not to Johnson—for the team to tap its lofty potential in 2012-13. The backcourt will undoubtedly be the backbone of this year’s group. The combination of Scott, Shane Larkin (a budding star) and sharpshooters Rion Brown and Trey McKinney-Jones makes for one of the top guard rotations not only in the ACC, but all of college basketball. A healthy Reggie Johnson, however, could shift the balance of power in the league, forming a dynamic, inside-out frontcourt duo that would challenge Duke for tops in the league. Not only is the presence of Johnson hugely important unto itself; after all, Johnson in short spurts at a time can be the top center in the conference. But a healthy, able and better-conditioned Johnson would allow Kadji to operate more on the perimeter, where he’s most effective. Removing Johnson from the equation forces Kadji to play more inside where he’s less effective, a double whammy given the forward’s strength as a stretch-4. With Johnson banging down low and Kadji creating mismatches on the perimeter—taking his defender out of the paint in the process—Miami has the most unique frontcourt tandem in the conference. The two players feed off each other impeccably, with Kadji opening up the paint for Johnson while Johnson occupies the paint to allow Kadji to navigate the perimeter. It’s almost impossible to game-plan against. Miami’s frontcourt dynamic is one of the best kept secrets in college basketball, but the cat will be let out of the bag soon if Johnson can stay on the floor this season.
Best Case: Johnson is healthy. Garrius Adams recovers from the same meniscus tear that cost him five weeks of last season. Kadji parlays his sizzling two-month stretch last season into a full year of all-ACC caliber play. Together, Johnson and Kadji form the best one-two frontcourt punch in the league. Instead of having a sophomore slump, Shane Larkin makes the sophomore jump. Larkin becomes a more efficient scorer with better court awareness and decision making in the half-court. The absence of gunner Malcolm Grant, who had a letdown senior campaign after shooting a paltry 34-percent from the floor, actually bolsters the offense. After three seasons shooting better than 40-percent from 3-point range, Grant lost the touch in his final season, forcing ill-advised shots and falling victim to defensive schemes aiming to take him out of the offense. Durand Scott challenges Lorenzo Brown for best point guard in the ACC honors, improving his passing ability and cutting down on the lapses in crunch time that have plagued the Canes over the last two years. Brown and McKinney Jones are lethal from downtown, and Miami is one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the league (again). The Canes do a better job on the glass, where the team ranked tenth in the ACC in defensive rebounding. With a balanced and dynamic offensive attack—aided by the departure of Malcolm Grant, who disrupted the offensive flow with too many low-percentage shots—the Canes finish in the top-three in the ACC. Miami finishes the season hot, motoring through the ACC tournament, winning the tourney and earning a favorable seed in the NCAA tournament as a result. Jim Larranaga quips at the end of the season that the “U” is now a basketball school.
Worst Case: Johnson is not healthy, and conditioning remains a problem for the oft-injured, always-out-of-shape big fella. That tantalizing frontcourt recipe falls apart, and Kadji is not able to maximize his skill set as a stretch-4, instead serving as an out-of-position 5 inside. Larkin endures the sophomore slump, not jump, and Miami again struggles from not having a pure point guard on the floor. Larkin and Scott, both combo guards at their truest form, spend more time creating their own shots than facilitating for others. Once again, the Canes suffer from a jumbled offense that poorly incorporates the various assets on the roster. Malcolm Grant’s ill-advised shooting isn’t missed, but his defense is. So too is DeQuan Jones, the athletic swingman who wreaked havoc on the defensive end. Miami’s perimeter defense slacks in 2012-13 as a result, and holes at the top allow opponents to exploit the Canes inside. The net result: more foul trouble for Johnson, Kadji and Gamble. With Johnson struggling to stay on the floor, rebounding is again an issue for Larranaga’s team. And with frontcourts much improved around the league, Miami is exploited inside. Full of balance and with talent allocated equally between the backcourt and frontcourt, the Canes never take advantage and never fully mesh. The guards and big men play as two separate units thrust together. Miami flashes its talent and teases its high upside, but only for short spurts at a time. The Canes are buried behind NC State, Duke, North Carolina, Florida State and Maryland, finishing sixth in the conference and sweating it out on Selection Sunday. Despite an NCAA tournament caliber roster, Miami’s lack of marquee wins ultimately has the team on the outside-looking-in yet again.
Projected Finish: 21-9 (12-6 ACC)
3rd place (ACC season) / Lose in semifinals of ACC tourney
NCAA tournament No. 6 seed

Tags: Basketball Miami Hurricanes

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