Many people in the Miami Hurricanes community thought that not much else could go wrong after Miami (6-9, 2-8 Atlantic Coast Conference) dropped its third-straight conference matchup to No. 16 Florida State on Monday night.
The team has battled a handful of injuries for the third consecutive season, with senior guard Chris Lykes (ankle), who averaged over 15 points per game last season, missing a considerable amount of time, in addition to guards Kameron McGusty (hamstring), Elijah Olaniyi (shoulder) and Earl Timberlake (shoulder) having been in and out of the lineup.
“We’re looking very closely at what we need to do to proceed,” said Larrañaga last Friday on the team’s varying starting lineups, six of them to be exact. “We’ve had so many different questions without having a clear-cut answer to them. When we were planning for the season, Sam Waardenburg was likely to be our starting four-man, and then he was going to be backed up by Anthony Walker, a sophomore… We’re trying a lot of different possibilities at that four [slot].”
Those concerns have not been the icing on the cake for Miami head coach Jim Larrañaga, however, who has coached the undermanned Hurricanes amidst his 10th season in Coral Gables, Fla. Freshman forward Matt Cross, a four-star recruit in the 2020 class alongside guard Earl Timberlake, was dismissed from the Miami program on Thursday, according to the team. A specific reason was not given.
Cross, who had started the season-opener versus North Florida, remained a solid 3-point shooting option for the Canes this season, having averaged 6.9 points and 3.9 rebounds through 26 minutes per game. He did not see any action at Florida State on Monday, however, as Larrañaga stated it was a “Coach’s decision.”
A 6-foot-7 forward from Beverly, Mass., Cross started in nine of the team’s 14 games this season. Hard to not notice him remaining seated on the Miami bench on Monday night, almost everyone knew a problem had arisen, as the Canes were left with six scholarship players to face Florida State, a program they had not defeated in six straight outings.
Miami remained a solid fit for the Brewster Academy (Wolfeboro, N.H.) graduate over other schools, including South Carolina and Florida. He favored the Miami coaching staff as well as the program’s system in place, but especially with what Larrañaga represented and his player relationships.
“I tend to gravitate to and get along with older coaches more than younger ones,” said Cross after a non-conference game this season. “I like Coach L’s values, what he stood for.”
Larrañaga almost immediately saw the potential in the 3-point shooter, who had shot a team-best 40 percent from downtown prior to his dismissal.
“Matt’s the kind of guy who’s probably not going to get a lot of attention in a scouting report, but he’s so efficient,” Larrañaga said. “He was thrust into the starting role when Sam went down and has handled it very well.”
Similar to the previous two seasons, Miami is once again down to seven scholarship players on its roster. The Canes have essentially no chance at making the NCAA Tournament with an at-large bid, and will have a tough road to trek in matchups against Duke, Virginia Tech, and North Carolina ahead of them.