After posting a 20-win season and a winning record in the Atlantic Coast Conference for the first time ever, expectations are sky-high in Coral Gables as the men’s basketball team nears its 2012-2013 kickoff against Stetson. The Canes debut at 5:30 p.m. Friday in the BankUnited Center.
With six seniors on the team and three of last year’s top four scorers returning in Durand Scott, Kenny Kadji and Reggie Johnson, it’s no surprise that many experts picked Miami to be a sleeper in the ACC. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has the Hurricanes penciled in as a nine seed for the NCAA Tournament, while Blue Ribbon Yearbook has Miami at No. 24 in its preseason rankings.
The Canes finished last year tied for fourth in the conference, a program best, as coach Jim Larranaga became the first head coach to open his UM career with 20 wins. Even though Miami saw players like Scott, Johnson and DeQuan Jones miss a slew of games due to suspensions, NCAA investigations and injuries, the team was able to earn some impressive victories. Most notably, the Canes notched an overtime road win against No. 7 Duke and a home victory over No. 15 Florida State.
Miami’s season would eventually end with a second-round loss to Minnesota in the National Invitation Tournament.
With the addition of freshman Tonye Jekiri and the return of big man Julian Gamble, Miami will feature a deep and physical frontcourt. Jekiri, a 7-footer from nearby Champagnat Catholic School, was rated the 23rd best center in his class by ESPN.com.
The Canes’ backcourt is a different story, with Scott missing time due to a suspension that has carried over from last year, and redshirt freshman Bishop Daniel’s status still unclear because of a hamstring injury.
Although a 69-67 loss to St. Leo put somewhat of a damper on the Canes’ preseason buzz, the players are trying to stay positive.
“It’s embarrassing, but I think we’re going to bounce back,” said senior guard Trey McKinney Jones in Friday’s postgame press conference. “We’re a resilient group, and I think we learned a lot from tonight.”
With consistent powerhouses like Michigan State, Duke and North Carolina on the schedule, the Canes will have to ratchet up the intensity and avoid getting caught up in the preseason hype that surrounded them these past weeks. Larranaga, entering his 29th season as a head coach, boiled it down to five simple words last Friday:
“Actions speak louder than words.”