TEAM: Miami RedHawks
COACH: John Cooper
RECORD LAST YEAR: 13-18, 8-10 MAC
Lost to Ohio in second round of MAC tournament
EARLY 2013-14: 5-8
*All rankings/stats are among MAC teams unless otherwise noted.
By MIKE SMITH
The road to rebuilding the Miami RedHawks has been anything but easy for head coach John Cooper, now in his third year at the helm. Numerous hazards and detours … not to mention some just plain bad luck have stymied the effort.
Certainly, Cooper and his staff have worked the recruiting trail hard, and this season’s Miami squad has an abundance of new faces. The questions are:
1. How much can MU get from the newcomers?
2. How much can MU get from the returnees?
Sounds simple enough, but the answers haven’t been all that impressive through non-conference play. The 5-8 record includes a six-game losing streak in the middle, with losses to Evansville and No. 21 Ohio State thrown in before and after the streak. The RedHawks have won two straight since the OSU loss, so there is hope that Miami carries some momentum into MAC play.
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Among Miami’s challenges entering 2014-15 was replacing the contributions of departed forward Will Felder and guard Quinten Rollins.
The latter was particularly skilled on defense, finishing his basketball career ranked second at Miami and 12th among MAC leaders in steals. Amazingly, he carried the ‘steal” thing to a whole different level, using an additional year of eligibility to play football. All he did there was lead the league in interceptions and win MAC Defensive Player of the Year honors. It appears the NFL is his next stop, but that is another story.
At least Miami has been able to find a more than reasonable replacement at point guard. Eric Washington handles the position well and is also an offensive threat. The 5-10 junior scored a game-high 23 points in the RedHawks recent 66-61 win over UMKC.
A bigger problem, literally and figuratively, is replacing the void left by Felder.
Felder wasn’t the same kind of inside presence that former RedHawk Julian Mavunga could be at times. However, Felder averaged 14.2 points and 6.7 rebounds per contest in his senior season. He hit 53.5 percent of his shots from the field and 83.7 percent at the line.
That kind of production has been difficult to come by so far this season in spite of several new “candidates” for the position. L.J. Livingston, a 6-10 junior center transfer from Florida Gulf Coast flashed 17 points and eight rebounds of production against Ohio State. The next game he had two points and five rebounds against Capital. It was four points and three rebounds in the most recent outing – 16 minutes against UMKC.
Other options inside haven’t really given MU that needed “presence” inside, either. So, certain matchups and opponent strategies will be more challenging than others as the MAC season progresses. At least through non-conference play, the RedHawks have used a four-guard lineup on several occasions.
Speaking of lineups, Miami’s returning starters from its final game of 2013 were Will Sullivan, Willie Moore and Geovonie McKnight. Sullivan and Moore each played 40 minutes, while McKnight was on the floor for 25 minutes. Two other returnees from that team who saw significant minutes that day were Australia products Joshua Oswald (18 minutes) and Jaryd Eustace (27 minutes).
The 6-7, 225-pound Oswald simply hasn’t seen much action (5.4 mpg) this season. Eustace , a 6-7 guard who scored 15 points in last season’s finale, hasn’t been on the court much, either. In his case, illness and injury wiped out any early opportunities. His minutes have been generally increasing, but he still doesn’t appear back to form in game situations yet. Head coach John Cooper indicated Eustace seemed to be turning the corner in practices. Getting the junior back to form, let alone improving on last year, would be a big boost for the RedHawks. He’s capable of hitting threes but can also drive to the rim.
Two other important returning players have also been seeking mid-season form – or at least consistency.
Willie Moore, a 6-3 guard who transferred from Oregon to Miami two years ago, averaged 9.2 ppg last season. He enters MAC play with a 6.9 average. His season high is 24 points (vs IPFW), but he has only been in double figures three other times and also scored zero points on three occasions.
Sullivan is near his 2013-14 scoring average, but he, too, has also bounced around in the scoring column. The RedHawks only senior has reached double figures five times, with a high of 21 on opening night against Southern Utah. He also has three games in which he produced 3, 2, and 2 points.
It probably wouldn’t hurt if MU had more of a complimentary inside game. The RedHawks are usually flying high when Sullivan is knocking down triples. So far this year, he is connecting on a team-best 44.8 percent of his 3-point tries.
One of the brighter spots for MU thus far has been guard Geovonie McKnight. After averaging 9.4 ppg last season, he is now up to 10.5 ppg. Moreover, he has been in double figures nine times in 11 games.
Very little of the production comes from distance, as he owns 17 trey attempts and has made just three. Instead, he is more of a slasher – driving toward the hoop for either a pull-up shot or layup attempt. McKnight has the third-highest free throw attempts on the team (38) and is currently hitting 71.1 percent from the stripe.
Freshman guard Zach McCormick is averaging just 3.6 ppg. That will change. The question is when. McCormick is a scorer. At some point his confidence, timing and stroke will come together. The RedHawks already needed another outside shooter. It will be even more urgent when Sullivan leaves after this season.
In no particular order, Logan McLane, Chris Byant and Kalif Wright can be added to the inside game mix. Cooper has tried his new “ingredients” in a variety of combinations. It would seem the “opportunity door” is still open. Forwards Roderick Mills and Brian Oddo came off the bench to give MU a “spark” against UMKC.
-- Scoring is an issue. Miami ranks last in scoring with an average of 63.5 ppg. It is ninth in points allowed (66.7 ppg) – not enough to pull it out of last place in scoring margin (minus-3.2 ppg).
-- Somewhat surprisingly given the former stat, Miami is actually fifth in field goal percentage (43.6%). Of course, it doesn’t help on the scoring margin when opponents are shooting 46.2% (highest among MAC teams).
-- MU is hitting 33.8 percent of its 3-point tries (8th).
-- Even when they are playing well, the RedHawks may well need all the free throws they can get. The lack of scoring inside doesn’t exactly help at the line, either. Miami is 10th in attempts and 11th in percentage made (66.3%). The RedHawks were 11-of-19 (57.9%) in the recent win over UMKC, but helped themselves by making nine straight during a critical stretch in the second half.
-- One could note that a four-guard offense might not help on the boards. However, (A) Miami needs scoring from somewhere and (B) It’s debatable whether more height would help. Washington – all 5-10 of him – led Miami rebounding with seven caroms against UMKC. (Byant did have six rebounds in 20 minutes of play).
-- Miami is eighth among MAC teams in turnover margin (0.54) and 11th in assist-to-turnover margin (0.74).
-- Despite the departure of Rollins, MU has thus far continued to shine in steals. The RedHawks are tied for first with an average of 8.69 per game.