The College Hoops season is rolling right along and believe it or not we are about a third of the way to March Madness.
The UM Men's Basketball Team, picked to finish 10th in the ACC and unranked to start the season, has turned some heads with a strong start that includes wins over Florida, Akron, Charlotte (2x), and Illinois.
Their loss this past weekend to Green Bay is the lone blemish for the 20th/21st (AP/Coaches) ranked team in the country, and hopes for a deep run in the ACC/NCAA Tournaments seem very realistic.
But a lot of work remains.
The team is still incorporating new pieces.
G Deandre Burnett, arguably the team's best pure scorer, missed 4 games with a balky knee and has only really played a big part in the last 4 contests.
G/F Davon Reed, a lock down defender at 6'6 and versatile offensive weapon, has played just over 20 minutes this season and has yet to score.
And 6'11 F/C Ivan Cruz Uceda will be back in January after serving a 17 game suspension.
As you can see, there are still a lot of moving parts, and despite the nice start, team chemistry is going to be key through out the season.
So what are the best and worst things to happen so far this season?
Let's break it down with this segment of 3 UP & 3 DOWN:
#1 Sheldon McClellan looks like an NBA player out there most of the time. At 6'5 200 and blessed with a 44 inch vertical leap, there is little doubt he has the size and athleticism to be a college star and future big time pro. But what has impressed me the most has been his unselfishness. He's shooting nearly 58% from the floor and averaging 16.2 ppg. You could make the argument that he should maybe look for his shot even more. We knew he could score but his overall floor game and rebounding have also been pleasant surprises. As he becomes more and more confident and his role in the offense expands, UM will become increasingly dangerous as a team. McClellan is good enough to be the best player on the floor (or damn close) most nights he laces em up.
#2 Lots and lots of guard depth. Angel Rodriguez has had his ups and downs (the downs only recently) but is still a well above average PG. If he gets back to being a pass first guy, he has plenty of scorers around him to rack up the assists. Manu Lecomte is scorching the nets at 51% 3P% and 12.1 ppg. Burnett can put up a dozen before your seat is warm. McClellan, well, read above. Not to mention that young guys like James Palmer and JaQuan Newton can come in and get you a few buckets. While a lot of teams in the country are trying to find out who their second or third guards are, the 'Canes have 6 or 7 who can provide quality on both ends of the floor. Rodriguez is the key. He needs to get back to involving others first and looking for his shot second.
#3 Coach L teams are always defensively sound. The 43 points allowed in the second half Vs GB was an anomaly. Most nights, Miami is going to make their opposition work hard for clean looks especially when UM takes care of the ball and limits fast break opportunities. Tonye Jekiri has been a rock as a rim protector in addition to cleaning up the glass. Joe Thomas, while not much of a scorer, has been a pretty decent one way player. Rodriguez and McClellan love playing the passing lanes and creating havoc. Against some of the better teams in the conference they may end up needing a more conservative approach. But if there is one thing you know Larranaga is going to demand, it is outstanding effort and team play on D. Whether they play zone, man, box and 1, or all of the above, expect this unit to continue to stifle opponents as the season progresses.
Now for the not so good, or potentially not so good, stuff.
#1 The recent trend of not sharing the ball enough has to end. After averaging close to 15 assists a game in their first 8 games, Miami averaged just 10 a contest their last 2. With the amount of weapons they have on perimeter they can be indefensible when they share the ball. The return of Burnett, while a good thing long term, has led to less ball movement short term. And Rodriguez is looking for his own shot far too much lately as well. UM needs to get back to playing the San Antonio Spurs style of hoops if they want to really make some noise in March.
#2 We still don't know how this team will hold up against a powerful front court. Kudos to Jekiri, Thomas, and Omar Sherman for what they have been able to do so far down low. And as mentioned above, help is on the way in the form of Cruz Uceda. Nonetheless this group is still largely untested compared to what they face in future contests with the likes of players like Jahlil Okafor, Montrez Harrell, and Kennedy Meeks to name a few on tap. Can they hold their own against the bigger teams they are going to face?
#3 The Schedule only gets harder from here. Out of conference, only Providence lurks as a potential problem. But the 'Canes open ACC play with defending conference champs Virginia 1/3, then follow with games against an improved BC team, DUKE, underrated Notre Dame, NC State, and Syracuse. 2 battles with Louisville, 2 with rival FSU, and one with UNC are also on the horizon. None of those games are going to be easy. We will really find out what this team is made of in conference play.
So there you have it Miami Basketball fans, plenty of reason for hope and yet cause for concern.
This should continue to be a very fun season, as the Hurricanes work their way to what they hope will be a fun and successful season.