Canes Going In Wrong Direction

Ok, not finding enough offense – Darius Rice and James Jones aside- might be on the long list of excuses on why the University of Miami men's basketball team has fallen flat on it's face this season. Give them the one about the team –with two freshmen in the starting line-up- not being mentally prepared just yet to win on the road.

But with the season slipping away faster than a toddler in a hurricane Miami isn't any better today than what they were even before playing a game that mattered three months ago. After 24 games, the Hurricanes continue to display an inability to create opportunities for each other, play laughable defense, at least in Leonard Hamilton's eyes, show no offensive rhythm and make horrendous decisions with the ball at the end of games.

And the blame should start with none other than the man in charge- coach Perry Clark.

We've heard them all this season: THE HURRICANES ARE LOOKING FOR A THIRD SCORER; THE HURRICANES ARE TOO YOUNG AND HAVE NO BUSINESS COMPETING FOR ANYTHING IN THE BIG EAST THIS SEASON; IT WILL TAKE A WHILE BEFORE THE FRESHMEN START GELLING WITH THE REST OF THE TEAM.

We're stilling waiting.

14 losses later the Hurricanes are still committing the same mistakes and playing the same brand of basketball that has them going in reverse a year after making the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time in school history. And with Clark in the fold until at least 2005 and owed 2.25 million its hard to fathom the Hurricanes even getting close to what is supposed to be the pinnacle in college basketball anytime in the near future.

The Hurricanes were in rare form once again Tuesday night at Villanova looking lost on offense and disorganized on defense after taking a brief lead that ended in a Wildcats rout and left the Hurricanes in a last-place tie in the Big East conference with three regular-season games remaining on their schedule. Miami showed their deficiency of putting the ball in the basket (25 points with 15:00 remaining in the game) and ever-present sloppiness with 21 turnovers.

Clark continues to harp on the fact that Miami has lost nine games by five points or less and that they are not as far away as people may think. The only thing with that is Miami still has trouble coming out of timeouts doesn't draw up well late in games and gives up too many easy baskets. With their recent slide several of the players have begun questioning if the players have packed it in. But all fingers should be at Clark who has done nothing to make this team any better. The Hurricanes are one-dimensional. If they're shots are falling they are alright. If not, good luck.

For all of Clark's praise of Oakland-bred point guard Armondo Surratt the kid has one shown one constant in his game: he still has a long way to go. Clark keeps attempting to prove that Surratt is that third option he's been so desperately searching for. But time and time again Surratt has proven otherwise-and Clark is squarely at fault for putting the first-year player in some tough situations. Don't know what Perry was thinking with 5.4 seconds remaining against Georgetown last Saturday? And if anybody cares to remember what was Surratt doing taking a last-second three-pointer against Florida back in December.

The other highly touted newcomers aren't close either. Robert Hite is a high-flyer who dominated in high school and is still learning how to play at this level. And Eric Wilkins is also a work in progress.

With formidable stars in Rice and Jones the Hurricanes should not be fighting for their postseason lives at this stage of the season, instead they should be finishing up strong and getting ready for the NCAAs. Isn't Rice, in the eyes of many, excluding this author, a can't miss NBA draft lottery pick? Isn't Jones the hard-as-a-rock backbone that holds this team together and makes everybody around him that much better? It is sad to think that a team that did so well last year- although 13 of those victories came against a weak schedule to the start the season- is going backwards. If not for Clark the Hurricanes would not be in their current state.

People may tend to forget that for all of Rice's talents he is still an average defender and refuses to put the ball on the floor and post up his opponent, and anybody that watched the Hurricanes meltdown against Villanova can attest to that. On more than one occasion Rice was fed the ball with a height advantage and passed up the chance to take the smaller defender to the hole. Jones has a solid stroke from the perimeter and is about the only player on the team that has the will to play in the paint.

The Hurricanes won a school-record 24 games last season with Rice, Jones and current Philadelphia 76er John Salmons at the forefront. But this current crop of Hurricanes should at best have a winning record and be on the bubble for a spot in the 64-team tournament. Basketball differs from other sports in that with two or more adequate players a team can consistently compete. And with Rice and Jones the Hurricanes should at least compete.

Problem is they're not.

Although Hamilton and assistant coach Dwight Freeman are no longer with the program they are as responsible as anyone for the Hurricanes recent problems. Before taking Michael Jordan's offer with the Washington Wizards it was Hamilton who strongly recommended Clark to UM athletic director Paul Dee.

And as if that wasn't enough it was Freeman who killed an almost complete deal between Dee and Rick Pitino by taking the information to the newspapers. Dee has refused to discuss the topic in several conversations, only to say that ‘Pitino had a job at the time'. But Pitino, who at the time was under contract to the Boston Celtics, warned that the deal could not be exposed. It was- thanks to Freeman. Check the polls lately. Louisville is sitting pretty aren't they?

Dee probably has no other choice than to take the hit with Clark and wait out the remainder of his contract. It would be difficult for a school in Miami's position- small and private- to be able to afford letting Clark go and starting anew with a fresh face, and a coherent one at that.

But the men's basketball program is sinking fast. So Dee might not have any other option.

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