Postseason:NIT: Lost to South Carolina 69–67 in the first round
Miami, FL/South Miami
Bayamon, PR/Miami Calusa Prep
Goldsboro, NC/Charis Prep
Pembroke Pines, FL/Flanagan
Frank Haith assembled one of the best classes in school history. Each of the four freshmen is expected to make an impact. Without a true point guard on the roster, Clemente could play plenty. Same is true with Asbury, a swingman who some analysts consider to be the prize of the class. Limited depth will provide Thomas and Graham with opportunities.
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With several ACC teams losing elite players to the NBA, and Miami bringing back the core of last season's overachieving roster, expectations of a return to the NCAA Tournament are swirling around the Hurricanes' program.
Coach Frank Haith, a finalist for the Naismith Award in his first season in Miami, thinks those expectations are legitimate. No one in Coral Gables is arguing with Haith, who transformed a team picked to finish a distant last in the ACC into one that was nipping at the heels of Duke, North Carolina and Wake Forest until a late-season slump foiled its hopes for an NCAA berth.
"Now, we have to take the next step. The NCAA Tournament is an attainable goal for us," Haith says. "People now expect us to do more. We just raised the bar with what we did last year."
If the ACC had a Most Improved Player award, forward Anthony King would have won it. After languishing on the bench as a freshman, King broke through last season by finishing second in the conference in blocked shots and fifth in rebounding.
But King is not a finished product by any stretch. He scored in double figures only five times. Haith expects King to increase his scoring average to around 10 points from last season's 6.3. Improving his free-throw percentage alone might get King to double figures.
Aside from King, there are few proven commodities among the post players. Gary Hamilton is scrappy, energetic and provides real toughness in the post. But Hamilton, who figures to start alongside King, adds little offense.
Of the three other players expected to see action in the frontcourt, only Raymond Hicks has played in a college game. Hicks showed occasional flashes last season, but his court time was too limited to draw any real conclusions.
Freshman Jimmy Graham, a burly power forward, whom Haith likens to Ben Wallace, is raw offensively but will give Miami a third big body to go along with King and Hamilton. Adrian Thomas, another freshman, will also see playing time.
Guillermo Diaz may not be the ACC's best player, but he is surely the most exciting. Diaz has an explosive vertical but is as deadly with a 3-pointer as he is on the money end of an alley-oop. The Puerto Rico native added consistency to his game as a sophomore and, according to Haith, became a much smarter player who learned to use his enormous physical talents to his advantage.
Diaz considered jumping to the NBA but decided to return to smooth out the remaining rough edges of his game. In order to benefit from the attention Diaz attracts, Haith would like to use him on occasion at the point.
Joining Diaz in the three-guard lineup will be Robert Hite and Anthony Harris. Hite is a devastating outside shooter, but he struggles with consistency and physical defenders. If he can put the ball on the floor more effectively, he could be impossible to cover. Harris, who is more suited to playing shooting guard, was used at the point and will find himself there once again this season. Along with King, Harris turned out to be a surprising contributor after virtually not playing as a freshman.
While Miami's starting backcourt received little help off the bench last season, that figures to change thanks to freshmen Denis Clemente and Brian Asbury. Clemente is quick and knows how to score. If he proves a good decision-maker with the ball, he could cut into Harris' playing time.
Miami may be better in Haith's second season than his first, but that doesn't mean the team will win more games. The schedule will provide more obstacles. Florida, Washington and Louisville will be part of a difficult non-conference slate. There are also questions about depth. Miami's first four players off the bench may be freshmen.
There are plenty of reasons to think Miami will be back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in four seasons. Diaz is a spectacular player who can control the end of games, and there are enough serviceable parts around him to make Miami a tough draw every night.