Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Short stay in Miami?

The ACC is not for the feint of heart. The ACC is a conference made up of a few perennial powerhouses, several teams that spend several years at the top and take one or two years to rebuild, and the rest are teams that fight year in and year out to breakthrough. Florida State is annually on the cusp as a team looking to break through, while Virginia Tech is a team that broke through this year. Coming into his third season, Frank Haith's Miami program was a team that had spent the previous two seasons along side Florida State, fighting to belong. This season, that plan unraveled.

In the pressure packed world of major college sports, coaches are forced to win now. They face the extremely difficult task of taking a program that has struggled, winning with the talent they currently have in house, while turning the program into a major contender by attracting top recruits. It's the inability to win with the talent in house, while convincing top recruits to come to a program that hasn't won yet, where coaches most often meet their doom. In a conference where no game is an easy win, this task proves close to impossible.

Coming off a 12-20 season, finishing dead last in the ACC with a 4-12 mark, Coach Haith will begin to feel the pressure in his fourth season. After two NIT appearances, and never finishing above .500 in conference, Miami will begin to expect results. The question facing Haith, will be whether his team, one made up of mostly his recruits now, will be able to grow up and succeed in the pressure cooker of the ACC quickly enough. Furthermore, what level of improvement will be demanded of Haith to keep his job?

After going 16-13 and 18-16 over his first two seasons, Haith's Miami team fell apart this season after losing guard Guillermo Diaz, who foolishly declared early for the NBA draft (and went undrafted), and losing center Anthony King to injury. Diaz and King were supposed to be the strength inside and outside for this team, allowing top recruits to slowly work their way into the flow of the system. What looked to be a promising season quickly thrust young unproven recruits into the limelight. Sophomores Jack McClinton, Brian Asbury, and Denis Clemente led the way for a Miami team that featured three sophomores and a freshman in the starting lineup. In the talent-filled ACC this quickly led to its undoing as the team fell apart, finishing 4-12 in conference. They showed signs of life towards the end of the season, upsetting Maryland in the first round of the ACC tournament before falling by three to Boston College.

With McClinton and Clemente emerging this season as the solid back court of the future, the questions of Miami's success will lie inside. Sophomore Brian Asbury played well in the small forward position (11.7 ppg/5.9 rpg), but Miami will need freshman Dwayne Collins to become a true force inside. Whether that will become a reality is yet to be seen, but Haith has no shortage of bodies to use, to see what he can get out of his post players. Jimmy Graham (SO), Raymond Hicks (JR), Fabio Nass (FR), and Lawerence Gilbert (FR) will all get their chance to fight for minutes for the Hurricanes. Joining them will be incoming freshman Freddy Asprilla and Julian Gamble, both 6'9".

From this talented, young group, Coach Haith will have to find out who is ready to grow up and accept the challenge that lies before them next season. Anything short of an NCAA birth might not be enough to keep Haith's job, depending on how understanding Miami is. Given their handling of the Larry Coker situation, he might be given enough time to let the kids grow up next season, before his job is on the line the following year. Drastic improvement will be hard to come by in the ACC, especially with a team that will still be relatively young next season. However, if Haith can get to .500 in the ACC next season, he will most likely have done enough to save his job for one more year. If he is able to get to that point, this team should be one that could finally be ready to breakthrough and be a contender in the ACC on an annual basis.

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