As the 2015-16 men’s basketball season came to a close in the Sweet 16 against Villanova last Thursday night, it was difficult not to think about the players and contributions the Hurricanes will miss next season. Losing three starters and a key bench player to graduation won’t be easy, but Miami should be poised for another NCAA Tournament run in 2017 due to a solid group of returning players and a top-10 recruiting class.
With Angel Rodriguez gone, rising junior Ja’Quan Newton will handle point-guard duties for the Canes next season. Newton was one of the best sixth men in the country this year and played well off the bench in big games throughout the season. He showed a knack for getting to the rim and finishing, and he uses his length against opposing guards to get in passing lanes and come up with steals. However, at times his jump shot and ball handling were inconsistent. Newton will look to improve his outside shooting ability and take better care of the basketball as he takes over as Miami’s primary ball handler.
Another player who will look to take advantage of greater opportunity next year is forward Anthony Lawrence Jr. As a freshman, Lawrence saw the court sparsely early on, but played well enough in practice to earn significant minutes once the ACC schedule rolled around. He showed great potential on the defensive and offensive boards, outhustling bigger opponents for rebounds.
Next season, Lawrence will be called on for much more than hustle plays, as he will compete for a spot in the starting lineup. He showed that he could knock down outside shots and get to the rim with ease against slower defenders, making him a matchup nightmare for opponents at either forward spot.
Miami also has a stellar recruiting class headlined by two ESPN top-100 players in 6-foot-9 power forward Dewan Huell and shooting guard Bruce Brown. Huell is a long and athletic big man who can run the floor and finish in transition as well as score in the low post in half-court sets. He may need to put on a little weight in order to handle the bruising forwards he’ll face in the ACC, but an off-season in the weight room should fix that. On the other hand, Brown is a physical shooting guard that excels on the defensive end of the court. He will be called upon to lock down some of the ACC’s best perimeter players next year.
It is always tough to see a distinguished group of seniors leave, especially since it is a rarity in the world of college basketball one-and-dones. However, the near future is bright for Miami’s basketball program. Next year’s team has great potential, and no one should be surprised if the Canes find themselves back in the Sweet 16 a year from now.