They return most of their roster from a team last season that went 17-16 overall, and 9-7 in the Mid-American Conference, which was good enough for a tie for third in the East Division.
It's expected to be the last season for Head Coach Charlies Coles, who, after 12 years (210-157) at Miami and 18 years overall as a head coach, will more than likely retire. Coles, last season, had open-heart surgery, a bleeding ulcer and his gall bladder removed.
So, with a veteran group of players, playing for their out-going coach, you'd say that Miami has the makings of a good season. In most pre-season polls of the MAC, the RedHawks are picked to contend for the East Division championship with perennial conference power, Kent State.
The two cornerstones of the team are senior lead guard Kenny Hayes (6-2, 183) and senior wing Michael Bramos (6-5, 225).
Bramos is their go-to guy, averaging 16 points per game last season while shooting 36% from behind the arc. He's a big, strong forward who likes to go inside as much as shoot from the outside.
Hayes is the floor leader, but he's more of a scoring guard than a pass-first kind of player. In fact, on Wednesday against Weber State, he went off for 24 points, hitting 7 of 7 threes. For a team that likes to play possession by possession, Hayes, though, can be careless with the ball, forcing things unnecessarily at times. He's not a natural point guard or passer. In fact, last season he had one more turnover than assist.
The other returning starter is senior power forward Tyler Dierkers (6-8, 220), who is an experienced glue guy. He doesn't step out to shoot much but is solid inside, both scoring on the block and rebounding.
Junior Adam Fletcher (6-8, 226) is the man in the middle, a seldom starter a year ago who is expected to step up and play more minutes. Coles doesn't appear to have a great deal of confidence in him just yet, however, and Fletcher tends to get into foul trouble.
The other starter Wednesday was sophomore forward Nick Winbush (6-7, 213), another the RedHawks are hoping can take on a larger role than his scant back-up minutes last season. Winbush isn't a great ballhandler and is more comfortable close to the basket.
When Fletcher comes out, Dierkers slides over to the five, and the RedHawks go small, with senior Eric Pollitz (6-5, 204) taking over one of the wing positions, which also puts Winbush in the paint. Pollitz gives Miami another good outside shooter. If it's not Pollitz, it's sophomore Antonio Ballard (6-4, 197), a pretty athletic player who missed almost all of last year with an injury.
Kramer Soderberg (6-0, 172) is a freshman spelling Hayes, and is expected to provide 10-15 minutes of error-free ball.
The hyped freshman is Julian Mavunga (6-8, 252), a big body that isn't greatly mobile, so he isn't a great natural rebounder, but he does throw his body around well.
The RedHawks don't look to be a deep team, with seven players getting the majority of their minutes.
It plays into their style, though, and that's to more or less slow it down, get a good look on every possession and play 35 seconds worth of solid defense. They definitely utilize a zone, to try to keep their limited number of big men out of foul trouble.
Last night against Weber State, Dierkers played 37 minutes.
They struggled for a while Wednesday with Bramos in foul trouble. He played 27 minutes but if he stays away from foul issues you can expect him to play 35 minutes, at least.
Miami executes well, and doesn't make a great many mistakes. Hayes, though, while he can score, really hurts them at times with his proclivity for turnovers. They aren't a great outside shooting team but Bramos and/or Hayes can get hot.
Ben Howland will probably use a number of defenders on Bramos, being able to throw a good number of fouls at him, in an effort to wear him down. Jrue Holiday will probably get the initial assignment, so it will be interesting to watch the very talented freshman go up against a less-talented but very experienced offensive player. Also expect UCLA to really pressure the ball since Miami lacks many good ball handlers.
Miami has experience on their side, but UCLA has a vastly more talented and athletic team, and a lot more depth.
The slow pace should limit UCLA's chances of blowing out Miami by big double digits.
Expect Howland to limit his bench quite a bit compared to last night, in an effort to make sure he gets to Madison Square Garden next Thursday.