The wait is over for Miami hoops enthusiasts: The men’s basketball team is set to launch its season Thursday at 7 p.m. in an exhibition game against Florida Southern.
While the game’s result won’t officially be reflected in the Canes’ record, it will be the team’s first contest since it was eliminated by Alabama in a 79-64 loss in the quarterfinals of last season’s NIT.
New head coach Jim Larranaga has had his players preparing for the start of the season for the past three weeks with practices and intra-squad scrimmages.
“The guys are tired of playing against each other,” he said. “You want to try and beat on somebody else.”
Miami comes into the season projected to finish fifth in the very competitive ACC, as it returns 11 players from last season’s 12-man roster that finished with a 21-15 record and a ninth-place finish in the conference.
Senior guard Malcolm Grant leads a talented and deep backcourt for the Canes, and was voted to the Preseason All-ACC team. Last season, Grant led the conference in three different statistical categories: three-point percentage, three-pointers made per game and free throw percentage.
With a talented and athletic group of players, Larranaga is faced with the challenge of adjusting his team to a new style of play.
“Whenever you’re developing a new system, it takes the players a while to adjust,” he said. “A coach can’t adjust to 13 different styles, but 13 people can adjust to one new style.”
Larranaga feels that, defensively, the team needs to improve on pressuring the ball, preventing dribble penetration and ultimately rebounding better to finish off opponents’ possessions.
Offensively, he’d like to see his guards distribute without turning the ball over. Larranaga said he sees too many turnovers in practice because players are in a hurry.
The Canes are hindered by injuries in the frontcourt. Julian Gamble is out for the season with an ACL tear, and Reggie Johnson isn’t expected back until January.
Larranaga will mostly play a four-guard lineup this season, with either Kenny Kadji or Raphael Akpejiori playing center. Against bigger teams, expect Kadji and Akpejiori to split playing time and create better matchups.
Kadji will not play in Thursday’s exhibition at the BankUnited Center because of a “violation of team expectations.”