Column: Miami will face difficult transition moving into offseason

Freshman guard Wooga Poplar attempts a driving layup in Miami's 76-50 loss to top-seeded Kansas in the Elite Eight on Sunday, March 27, 2022 at the United Center in Chicago.
Freshman guard Wooga Poplar attempts a driving layup in Miami's 76-50 loss to top-seeded Kansas in the Elite Eight on Sunday, March 27, 2022 at the United Center in Chicago. Photo credit: Josh Halper

Miami men’s basketball was predicted to finish 12th the in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Miraculously, the team rode its season as high as a second-half lead in their first-ever Elite Eight.

NCAA Tournament blue-blood team Kansas defeated the Hurricanes 76-50 in the Elite Eight last Sunday in Chicago, ending the 2021-22 campaign.

“Boy did these guys do a fantastic job of representing our university. I told them I was very proud of them and that I loved them,” Miami coach Jim Larrañaga said. “They will have these memories, not this game, but all the memories that led up to it, they’ll have it for the rest of their life.”

After a bittersweet run comes to an end for the Hurricanes, a worse outcome than the season’s end may be around the corner, as the team will be in for some massive changes heading into next year.

Veterans Kameron McGusty, Charlie Moore, Sam Waardenburg, and Rodney Miller Jr. will all walk away from the Hurricanes program as their years of eligibility run out. Three of the four players remained in the starting lineup all season and contributed heavily, helping UM to the country’s top transition offense with an average of over 1.2 points per possession, before the Elite Eight.

“More than anything it just hurts because this is a close net group of guys. We’ve dealt with injuries over the years, we get Charlie, we get Jordan [Miller], and we just have such a special season. To lose, it just hurts,” McGusty said.

McGusty led the team in scoring, averaging 17.8 points per game, while also leading the team in steals with 67 total. Moore was in charge as the playmaker, averaging 4.6 assists per night. Miller collected a team leading 5.9 rebounds per game and Waardenburg blocked 1.3 shots per game.

These players made up much of the production in Miami’s lineup, and the team will now be tasked with replacing them. The Canes may return guard Isaiah Wong and forward Anthony Walker, but below these two every other player on the team outside of guard Bensley Joseph played less than 10 minutes per game.

On the recruitment side, Miami currently holds a fifth-ranked class in the ACC according to 247Sports. The Hurricanes do not hold even one top-50 prospect in the class of 2022, however, often a requirement of a team looking to win immediately with the newest college players.

For comparison, Duke, a mainstay in the NCAA tournament and often the best in the ACC, holds three of the top five recruits in the country heading into next season.

Larrañaga did have one message for his players heading into next season.

“Be the best that you can be. Put in the time and the effort and develop your skills for whatever your job might be. What these guys have to do is improve. You have to get better, there is no standing still,” Larrañaga said. “Hopefully these young guys realize they got to get better.”

If Miami wants to relive the glory of an incredible run to the Elite Eight next season, it will need flip a very large recruit or land some significant transfer names that compare to the likes of McGusty or Moore, for example. Those will involve experienced players who can come into the program and have immediate impact, putting up numbers that lead the team.

If this doesn’t transpire, Miami may need a couple of years to rebuild back into real ACC contention. At the moment, a finish in 12th place in the ACC in 2023 seems much more likely than a journey to the Elite Eight.