Miami men’s basketball 2020-2021 season preview: Freshmen

Freshman guard Earl Timberlake in Miami's practice facility.
Freshman guard Earl Timberlake drives to the basket during a practice in the Hurricanes practice facility. Photo credit: Twitter, @CanesHoops

As the Miami men’s basketball season nears its return this Sunday, anticipation is growing in Coral Gables for the Miami Hurricanes to get back on the court.

The Hurricanes are coming off another disappointing season, finishing the year with a 15-16 record and missing out on the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive season. However, there is reason to be optimistic about this team’s chances to get back to March Madness.

The Hurricanes return four starters from last year’s squad, and are spearheaded by star point guard Chris Lykes and other high-level starters such as Harlond Beverly and Isaiah Wong.

Complementing the team’s returning talent are two high-profile freshmen, Matt Cross and Earl Timberlake, who are poised to step onto the scene and make an immediate impact.

Cross is a forward from Beverly, Massachusetts who stand’s at 6-foot-7. Cross spent his senior season at national powerhouse Brewster Academy (NH), where he averaged 18.6 points and 10 rebounds a game. Cross led the Bobcats to a 37-3 record and a National Prep championship victory.

The sharp shooting forward was a McDonald’s All-American game nominee and a four-star recruit ranked as the 82nd best player in the country by ESPN.

Cross excelled on the Nike EYBL circuit in 2019. He averaged 23.3 points and 9.5 rebounds per game, joining the company of NBA stars such as Deandre Ayton, Michael Porter Jr. and Miles Bridges as players to place in the top ten of scoring and rebounding on the EYBL circuit.

Prior to committing to Miami in November of 2019, Cross held offers from a plethora of Power Five schools such as Butler, Florida, Texas A&M, Indiana and South Carolina.

Cross explained in an interview with 247Sports his reasoning for choosing Miami: “I see myself fitting in because they are in need of a true three and I think that me being able to come in and play that spot and shoot the ball and [exploit] mismatches that I think Miami finds and creates, is what I do best and will take that part of my game to different levels,” he said.

Although Cross is able to play the three position, he thrives when playing the four and that is the position we should expect to see him deployed in by Jim Larrañaga and the Miami coaches this season.

Cross will likely come off of the bench, at least to start the season, where he is sure to make an immediate impact on both ends of the floor. Known for his sweet shooting stroke and rebounding, look for Cross to earn praise for his hustle and offensive firepower.

The other freshman heading to Miami, Earl Timberlake, is equally impressive.

The 6-foot-6 guard hails from basketball hotbed Washington, D.C. where he attended Dematha High School (MD).

Timberlake comes to Larrañaga’s team as an elite talent. He was ranked as the 37th best player in the country by ESPN and as high as 35th by 247Sports. The feisty guard was the consensus best high school player in his state.

Timberlake was a forceful player at both ends in high school, averaging 16.5 points, 10 rebounds and four assists in his senior year as he led the Stags to a 30-3 record and a Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championship.

Much like his fellow freshman Cross, Timberlake dominated on the Nike EYBL circuit. In 18 games with Team Durant in 2019, Timberlake averaged 18.3 points and 9.6 rebounds while shooting an efficient 46.4% from the field.

The two-way menace naturally held offers from elite colleges such as the University of North Carolina and Seton Hall, however, the player nicknamed ‘Easy’ chose Miami because of the coaching staff and the beautiful campus.

By all accounts, Timberlake enters his first college season ready to make a splash. Coach Larrañaga said recently at the team’s media day that “[Timberlake] is more physically ready than most freshman.”

His high school coach Mike Jones in an interview with the Washington Post said, “Earl Timberlake could possibly be the best defender in college basketball, best two-way player in college basketball, next year. Quite clearly, he is college ready.”

Aside from his defensive prowess, Timberlake has a polished offensive game with the ability to create off the bounce and finish at the rim. As the season and his career at UM progresses, look for him to continue to improve his three-point shooting and evolve, as Jones said, into one of the best two-way talents in America at the collegiate level.

Together, Cross and Timberlake enter their first collegiate season with high expectations. For this year’s team to be successful, they both must play well in their roles and consistently make winning plays.

Fellow teammate Kameron McGusty thinks they will rise to the occasion. McGusty told reporters, “Matt and Earl are two very talented freshmen… they are going to help us a lot this year.”