ESPN's annual College Basketball Kickoff Marathon featured a number of great games. Talented G Ray McCallum and Detroit gave St. John's all they could handle before succumbing on the road in the 2nd half. Sampson Carter hit a last second three off a perfect pass from Chaz Williams to give UMass a 67-64 victory over Harvard. Michigan State rallied to a victory over #7 Kansas behind Keith Appling's 19 points. And last but certainly not least, Seth Curry and Duke manhandled defending champion Kentucky in prime time.
What do all of these teams have in common, besides boosting ESPN's ratings, and assuring the event becomes an annual fix for the hoops starved basketball junky?
Detroit heads to the BUC in over a week (11/24) to challenge UM, The Minutemen host Miami a week later (12/1), Sparty heads to Coral Gables as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on 11/28, and of course the Dookies get Miami twice (1/23 & 3/2) as part of ACC play.
Long story short, the 'Canes need to figure things out and figure them out fast.
So how concerned should UM Hoops fans be?
While the upcoming schedule is daunting, and the loss to FGCU alarming, it's NOT time to panic yet, and here are the reasons:
Durand Scott's return. Miami is with out last year's returning scorer for just one more game. Besides the fact that he takes the ball to the hoop and can create his own shot, Scott is an underrated defender as well as an excellent passer. Miami has really struggled to get the ball in the post, and has allowed opponents to penetrate far too often in its' first 3 contests (including the exhibition). Scott's presence will help both areas tremendously. More then anything else though, Scott will provide on the court leadership. Coach Larranaga has said on more then one occasion that Durand Scott is the heart and soul of this team. They sorely missed his leadership last night.
Improved Shooting. Through their first two games Miami has shot 41% from the floor, 60% from the line, and just 31% from three point range. There is NO chance this continues. Last year, despite Malcolm Grant's season long slump, Miami finished 43% from the floor, 72% from the line, and 35% from deep. Rion Brown (0-7 from the floor against Florida Gulf Coast), Reggie Johnson (33% FG through 2 games), and Trey McKinney Jones (22% 3P%) are all due to break out. When they do watch out! These are all guys who are proven. There is no reason to anticipate they will do anything other then what their track records indicate.
The Defense will get better. More disconcerting then perhaps anything else in Miami's first 2 games is the fact that Miami allowed Stetson to shoot nearly 45% from the floor, and FGCU a whopping 49%. Miami was 4th in the ACC last season in FG% defense at just under 42%. And this is essentially the same roster. If Miami can hold the NC States, Dukes and UNCs of the world down, you know they have capable defenders. Look for the return of Scott and a re-emphasis on defensive effort to lower those opposing shooting numbers. Wins will follow.
These guys are good. A handful of publications had Miami in their preseason top 25. ACC coaches picked them 4th in the conference. Joe Lunardi has yet to exclude from his brackets. Reggie Johnson didn't suddenly forget how manhandle a Plumlee. Kenny Kadji is still the same inside-out threat that caught the eye of some NBA scouts. Shane Larkin didn't lose his lightning quick first step. Effort can be increased. Strategy can be altered. Skill and talent do not go away overnight.
Early season upsets happen, it's more important how you finish. How many people remember that defending ACC Tournament Champion FSU lost to Harvard last year?? Big East Tournament runner up and Sweet 16 qualifier Cincinatti took shots to the chin to both Presbyterian and Marshall in its first 5 games last year!!! Vanderbilt lost to Cleveland State as the #8 team in the country early on last year, and Pitt lost to Long Beach State as the #9 team just days earlier. The Hurricanes loss to FGCU, while embarrassing, is not unprecedented. Many a team has recovered from an early major upset to go on and do special things later in the season. Some teams take a handful of games to get into a groove. Better to struggle now then late in the season.
The expectations for the 2012-13 Miami Hurricanes basketball team are justifiably high. Last night's loss was in a word, inexcusable. But there is still a whole lot of basketball left to be played. There's a very good chance by the end of the year the upset loss to FGCU, while not forgotten, will merely be a footnote.