It's fitting that Miami is entering its first season in the ACC, because in many respects the school's long-suffering program is starting all over again.
After winning the most games in school history in 2001-02, the Hurricanes followed by posting two consecutive losing seasons in the Big East. The collapse resulted in the firing of Perry Clark, who was replaced by Frank Haith, an energetic and upbeat 38-year-old whose first head coaching job will be anything but easy.
"I don't know if I can put a number on the wins and losses, [but] we're not going to be as bad as people think we're going to be," said Haith, hired from Texas where he was the top assistant on Rick Barnes' staff.
Expectations are certainly low for the Hurricanes. With the exceptions of guards Robert Hite and Guillermo Diaz, Clark left Haith little of value. Two potential standouts have moved on -- point guard Armondo Surratt transferred to San Francisco, and center C.J. Giles, Miami's prized recruit, requested and was granted a release from his scholarship after Clark was fired.
To make matters worse, Haith was hired so late in the spring recruiting calendar that he was left with little but leftovers to replenish a roster that needed help just about everywhere.
Haith said he will use a three-guard lineup to take advantage of what figures to be the strength of his team. But absent huge years from Hite and Diaz, the Hurricanes will be hard-pressed to overcome a highly suspect frontcourt game.
FRONTCOURTThe season begins with only five scholarship centers/forwards on the roster, and of that group, one player is a freshman, another didn't play last year and a third saw action for a grand total of 143 minutes. Losing the wildly inconsistent Darius Rice might not be that big a deal if Miami had anyone to replace him.
The player who Haith will rely most heavily upon is Will Frisby, who performed well last season after returning from an eight-game NCAA suspension. Frisby plays well above the rim but also demonstrates a nice touch around the paint.
The best bet for the second starting spot in the frontcourt is Gary Hamilton, a high-octane player with unmatched work ethic but woefully short on offensive skills. Hamilton is more suited for a back-up role, but with a lack of experience and rebounding presence inside, he'll likely get plenty of minutes.
Massive Glenn Batemon could well be Miami's wildcard in the post. Batemon averaged 10.4 points and 5.6 rebounds for Fordham two years ago. Since arriving in South Florida though, Batemon has had surgery on both knees, and his weight ballooned to approximately 400 pounds. Haith is hopeful that Batemon can get his weight down to 315 pounds by the start of the season.
BACKCOURTIf there is reason for optimism, it comes in the form of Hite and Diaz, a pair of athletically gifted guards who can score by going over or around their opponents.
Hite improved his outside shot considerably between his freshman and sophomore seasons and was playing like an All-Big East selection before he and the Hurricanes faltered down the stretch. With Rice no longer around and few offensive options remaining, Hite will be expected to up his average to around 20 points per game.
Diaz dazzled fans with his slashing, showy style of play that often ended in spectacular dunks. But he also led the team in 3-point shooting and exhibited a toughness in clutch situations unmatched by his older teammates.
With defensive-minded Eric Wilkins starting in a three-guard lineup, the Canes don't have a lot of worries in the backcourt. Except for one thing: None of the three has much experience at the point, a spot left vacant by the departure of Surratt, a two-year starter. Diaz played point guard at times last season but was erratic. Haith said he'll use the same "point guard by committee" that Texas employed last year. Stay tuned.
FINAL ANALYSISMiami's first season in the ACC is going to be no party. Everything has to go just right and, even then, a .500 overall record may be out of reach. The hiring of Haith appears to be a move in the right direction. He's young, smart, passionate and the type of coach that probably should have been hired after Leonard Hamilton left the program five years ago. But even if Haith is the next Paul Hewitt, it's going to take time and patience to right this ship.