Haith's Canes Have High Expectations

The University of Miami basketball team started practicing with some of the highest expectations in the program's history. Frank Haith enters his fourth season as Miami's head coach with the deepest and most talented roster he has had in his tenure.

Frank Haith's squad has suffered late season collapses in two of his three seasons at Miami. Last year team however struggled early and any hope of turning around its season was stifled with injuries to Anthony King, Jimmy Graham, Adrian Thomas, and Fabio Nass. Those injuries and Raymond Hicks missing several games due to suspensions left the team's frontcourt decimated and it forced Haith to use guards under the basket.

The Canes return four starters and an experienced roster due to the fact so many young players were forced into playing major minutes last season. The Canes flashed their potential last year in the ACC tournament. The Canes finally began to get healthy and it showed in beating Maryland in the tournament's opening round and pushing Boston College to the limit in the second round. The team is now back and healthy and ready to show they can be a force in the ACC.

"These guys have been chomping at the bit to get back on the court," Haith said. "Finally get to play again is really exciting. Even though we did not have a good season last year these guys understand the kind of team we can have. If we play together and do not let selfishness get in our way we can be pretty good."

When you start to break the team down position by position it is clear this is the most complete team Coach Haith has had at Miami. The Canes are talented and extremely deep.

GUARDS
The biggest question going into Miami's season is the point guard position. The Canes will have an open competition for the point guard spot between Jack McClinton, Eddie Rios, and Lance Hurdle.

"Practice will indicate who gets the most of those minutes at point guard," Haith said. "I do not know who will get the bulk of the minutes yet. We will see who performs well in practice and gets those minutes. "

The one thing certain about the Hurricanes backcourt is Jack McClinton will be its leader. Whether it is at point guard or his natural position, shooting guard, McClinton will be playing a lot of minutes and scoring a lot of points. The 6-foot-1 junior guard from Baltimore led the Canes in scoring last year with 16.7 points per game. He finished third team All-ACC last year and led the conference in three point field goal percentage at 43.8%.

McClinton has proven during his two years, he sat out two seasons ago because of transfer rules, at Miami he is hard worker, great shooter, and a big time scorer. He spent 2005-2006 practicing and would ask the coaching staff to let him guard Robert Hite and Guillermo Diaz. He needs to improve his ball handling and passing to play point guard, but there is little doubt he will be a major contributor for the Canes this year.

The battle for the other starting guard position will feature Eddie Rios the 6 foot freshman from Miami Senior High School and Lance Hurdle a junior from San Bernardino Valley Community College. Rios is maybe the biggest recruit Miami has ever had. He has been a big time name ever since leading Miami High to a state title his sophomore year and tearing up the AAU circuit the following summer.

"Eddie is going play the one," Haith said. "I like Eddie Rios. He needs experience. We need him to get minutes at point guard because it is a tough position for a young guy to learn."

Rios is the only true point guard on the roster. Rios was a big time scorer his high school career averaging 26.5 points his senior season. His ability to score has created concern about whether he can be a pass first point guard. He was known for big time scoring outbursts with the ability to score 40 points on any night, but a lot of that was out of necessity and not having a talented roster his senior season. One of the most impressive parts of Eddie's career however was his junior season at Chaminade Madonna High School despite being hampered by an ankle injury but he was still able to average 20 points per game and he utilized a talented Lions' roster to dish out 10 assists a game.

If Rios can win the starting job he will allow McClinton to play his natural position, but if he does not win the job it appears Lance Hurdle will be the other starter in the Canes' backcourt. Hurdle is an extremely athletic junior combo guard who average 16 points per game for his junior college. Hurdle has been a pleasant surprise for Miami as he has impressed everyone so far with his big time summer league season and how hard of a worker he is.

"Lance has been a little bit of surprise," Haith said. "He has been really good. I think he has a very good chance to be a good player. He is a very hard worker. He is like Jack in the way he works and puts time into his game and watches tape. He is a great kid also."

Hurdle is the favorite to start and if he does earn the job he will probably play shooting guard and McClinton will assume the responsibilities of point guard. Whether he starts or comes off the bench Hurdle should be a major part of team and will impress fans early with how athletic he is.

The other guard that is expected to get significant playing time is 6-foot-3 sophomore James Dews. Dews averaged 3.1 points per game as a freshman and played in all but one game. If Dews wants to play a lot he will have to regain the shooting prowess he displayed in his high school career. Dews is one of the team's best defenders and if he can make a jump like Brain Asbury made last season he can be a major factor for the Canes.

The only walk-ons this year are guards Landon Glover and Jonathan Stratton. While walk-ons are always fan favorites any contribution during games from either of these players will be a major surprise.

FORWARDS
The main three forwards in the rotation should be Brian Asbury, Dwayne Collins, and Jimmy Graham. Asbury will start at small forward for the Canes and should be the Canes' second leading scorer. The 6-foot-6 junior from Miami averaged 11.7 points per game last year. Asbury made a big jump from his freshman season to sophomore season.

The Canes hope Asbury can now make a jump from a good player to a great player. Asbury uses his long frame to create havoc defensively and his height lets him get his shot off at will over smaller guards. If his handle and ability to get to the basket improves he can be a big time player. Asbury had to play under the basket at times last year because of all the injuries. The return of several frontcourt players will allow Asbury to play on the perimeter were he is much more comfortable.

The power forward spot will be a competition between Dwayne Collins who averaged 8.6 points per game last year as a freshman and junior Jimmy Graham. Collins is a freakishly athletic 6-foot-8 245 pound forward. He is a great offensive rebounder and a good scorer. He needs to work on his defensive rebounding and shot blocking, but that should come with time. "I think Dwayne needs to be consistent with his effort," Haith said. "If he plays with a lot of energy he can be special. He showed he has the ability to do that. He needs to be more consistent."

Jimmy Graham completes the trio of towers. Jimmy is a high energy player and a great defender. He spent part of last season injured, with a broken hand, like most of the Canes frontcourt. He played great in the ACC tournament averaging 10.5 points per game and showed the kind of potential he has. Anthony, Dwayne, and Jimmy give the Canes the best frontcourt this team has seen in a while.

"It gives us a lot of depth," King said. "It lets us rest tired players. We all complement each other well. We all play differently. Dwayne brings a lot of power and Jimmy brings a lot of energy."

Senior Raymond Hicks and sophomore Adrian Thomas give the Canes more depth on the front line. Both should play a decent amount of minutes. Hicks is an athletic power forward. He is a good rebounder and plays with a lot of energy. Thomas is a combo forward and if used correctly can create mismatches on the offensive end.

Senior Fabio Nass and freshman Julian Gamble are the other forwards available. Anything either of the two contributes will be a pleasant surprise as neither is expected to play much. Nass is a lanky senior who played sparingly for the Canes last before getting hurt. Gamble is a 6-foot-9 258 pound freshman that should be a big part of Miami's future, but it is hard to envision him playing a lot of minutes in a loaded and experienced frontcourt. Cyrus McGowan is a 6-foot-9 235 pound forward who transferred from Arkansas and has to sit out the year due to transfer rules.

CENTERS
Miami is really excited to welcome back Anthony King at center. He missed 24 games last year in what was supposed to be his senior season due to a wrist injury. King was granted an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA and that is a great thing for this team.

"It means a lot to this team to have Anthony back," Haith said. "I am very happy for Anthony. It would have been a shame if he could not play in the ACC his senior year. I am happy for him and I am happy for our club."

King's return gives the Canes a great rebounder and excellent defensive player. King was on the ACC All-Defensive team his junior year and finished second All-ACC defense his sophomore season. King greatest strength on defense is his shot blocking. He averaged 1.9 blocks a game as a junior and 3.0 as a sophomore. The Canes definitely missed his presence under the basket last year and his return should help Miami become a much better defensive team.

"It feels real good to be back," King said. "I am 100 percent healthy. I feel everything is back. Last year was really disappointing. I got another chance to play so hopefully I take advantage of it. I can not wait to get back out there."

The Canes do not really have a true back-up center. When King is out of the game Jimmy Graham and Dwayne Collins will shift from power forward to fill the void at center. Julian Gamble can also play the position if needed, but as mentioned earlier any contribution from a true freshman on a loaded frontcourt will be a pleasant surprise.

SCHEDULE
The marquee out of conference games this year for Miami are Winthrop in the Orange Bowl Classic, and the Puerto Rice Tip-Off classic in which the Canes will face Marist College in the first round. The rest of the schedule features home games with Florida Southern, Morgan State, Alabama State, St.Johns, Stetson, North Florida, North Carolina A&T, and Penn. The Canes will go on the road to play Mississippi State which should be a tough test and will take a short trip to play at Florida international. The only thing notable about the conference schedule is that both perennial powers North Carolina and Duke will come to Miami to play the Canes in the Bank United Center.

The out of conference schedule is not tough. Miami should get to the championship game in Puerto Rico and use that as a springboard for the rest of the schedule. Anything worse than 12-2 will be a disappointment. The Canes need to get off to a fast start and head into ACC play with a strong record.

ROTATION
I think we will see an opening game starting line-up of Jack McClinton, Lance Hurdle, Brian Asbury, Dwayne Collins, and Anthony King. "I think we can go deep into our bench," Haith said. "I think we can play 10 guys. We have a lot of experienced players. We will see how it plays out."

I agree with Coach Haith. Jimmy Graham and Eddie Rios will be the first ones off the bench for this team. James Dews, Raymond Hicks, and Adrian Thomas should earn minutes for the Canes. Dews should give the Canes a great shooter and defender off the bench. Hicks is a high energy player that can be used to rest Collins, Graham, and King. Adrian Thomas has the ability to play multiple positions and that ability could help him find a role on this team.

As the season progresses do not be surprised if Eddie Rios is moved into the starting line up to give the Hurricanes a more traditional starting five. Eddie starting will allow McClinton to focus more on scoring and will let Lance Hurdle serve as a spark plug off the bench with his athleticism and energy. Jimmy Graham could also start ahead of Collins, but I feel he is better suited to come off the bench since he is more suited to play both center and power forward and he is a high energy player.

PREDICTION
This is a big season for Frank Haith. This team is expected to win a lot of games and be a contender in the ACC. There is no reason this should not win 20 games. Coach Haith has a loaded frontcourt and an All-ACC type player in shooting guard Jack McClinton.

I predict this team will make the tournament and finish the regular season with a 22-8 record including a 9-7 record in the conference. There is no reason this team can not finish 4th-5th in ACC and establish themselves as a 4-6th seed in the NCAA tournament. This should be an excellent year for Miami basketball. Frank Haith finally has a team full of his recruits and will show he is the right man for this job.


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