A splendid UM basketball season ended with a thud tonight, the Canes vanquished 92-69 by Villanova in a Sweet 16 game in Louisville. The Hurricanes closed 27-8, losing in a regional semifinal for the third time in the program's history.
In some ways, Miami's season concluded like its last Sweet 16 appearance three years ago: With a double-figure loss to a Big East team at 7 p.m. on a Thursday night.
But this one was different in this regard: Unlike that loss to Marquette three years ago, UM shot very well tonight: 53 percent and 10 for 17 on threes. But UM committed 12 turnovers and couldn't stop Villanova, which shot 63 percent and 10 for 15 on threes.
In their final UM appearances, Sheldon McClellan scored 26; Angel Rodriguez had 13 points, 8 assists and four turnovers; and Tonye Jekiri fouled out with just two points and four rebounds.
Some reaction from the postgame press conferences:
• Jim Larranaga: "We couldn't [do anything] to stop them.... We're a team that prides itself on not fouling. We're in the top 20 in not putting people on the foul line. But their skill level is so high; they have the ability to create contact when you think you're in great defensive position. We've been a very good defensive team against teams similar to Villanova.
"But nobody shot threes and stretched our defense like Villanova did. It seemed every opportunity we had to get a stop, [we couldn't]. You've got to give them credit. They have the ability to make a lot of shots. Falling behind is an issue for the way we play defense.
"For the last three years, [Rodriguez and McClellan] have given me the greatest pleasures you can possibly ask for a player. They work very, very hard in practice. They already graduated, very good students, very skilled offensive players. In their three years, they became better and better defensive players. Sheldon came to Miami with the reputation of not being a very good defender; now it's one of his strengths.
"First two or three possessions of the second half, we played them very, very well, and it was like one second left on the shot clock and they scored. That was discouraging to our defense and they built a 10-point lead again."
• Rodriguez: "They outplayed us. Every loose ball, they got. At this time of the season, whoever wants it more [is going to win] because everyone is very talented, at the same level. They wanted it more, I guess, because they outplayed us."
• McClellan: "We play against great teams like that all the time. We dug ourselves a hole in the first half. Every time we made a run, they seemed to get timely baskets."
• Assistant Chris Caputo, on WQAM: "We never got to the point where we could take away things we thought we could take away."
• Besides McClellan, Rodriguez and Jekiri, UM also loses plus backup forward Ivan Cruz Uceda, who had his moments this year but did not play tonight.
But UM welcomes a recruiting class with three players rated in the top 102 by 247sports: power forward Dewan Huell (the 25th best prospect in this class), guard Bruce Brown (36th), and center Rodney Miller (102).
UM also adds Australian guard Dejan Vasiljevic, rated 213th among all prospects by 247sports.com. He's a skilled shooter who also had offers from Louisville, California and Stanford, among others.
And shooting guard Rashad Muhammad also becomes eligible. He transferred to UM last August after being the leading scorer on a San Jose State team that went winless against Division 1 teams in 2014-15.
• UM's scholarship wing players next season (as of now): 6-6 Davon Reed, 6-2 Ja'Quan Newton, 6-7 Anthony Lawrence, 6-5 James Palmer, 6-4 Brown, 6-6 Muhammad and 6-2 Vasiljevic.
• UM's scholarship bigs next season (as of now): 6-8 Kamari Murphy, 6-10 Ebuka Izundu, 6-10 Huell and 6-11 Miller.
So the program should remain competitive next season, but the ballyhooed freshmen need to contribute immediately; Muhammad needs to pick up some of McClellan's scoring; and Newton, Lawrence and Palmer must all raise their games.
Newton, after playing so well much of the season, ended the year in disappointing fashion: with a three-game suspension to end the regular season and a scoreless two-turnover game tonight in which he angered Larranaga by not diving for a loose ball.
Some Canes, Dolphins and broadcast notes on a Thursday afternoon:
• Cornerback Corn Elder today became the latest Canes player to mention quite happily that players are required to think less in this new defensive system, and as a result are able to make more plays.
It’s “see the ball and get up and make a play,” he said. “It fits us well with the athletes we have.”
Unlike Al Golden’s approach, Mark Richt hired separate coaches for cornerbacks and safeties. Paul Williams handled both at UM; he was criticized by some high-level UM officials and is now at Illinois.
That individual attention from a cornerbacks coach (Mike Rumph) “has helped us out a lot,” Elder said. “It’s more hands on.”
When I asked Elder if UM will be playing more man defense, he smiled and said: “We got some good defenses coming in.” When Manny Navarro asked about being able to press more, Elder again smiled, declining to offer specifics.
UM played a lot of zone last year, but Mark D’Onofrio said it was less than the perception. But former players said they lobbied D’Onofrio to let them play more man. Manny Diaz said he doesn’t want to leave his cornerbacks without help, especially a group that’s so young.
• Elder, the only cornerback on the roster with a lot of experience, said he has been getting some work on returns and said he has “enough energy” to be a returner and an every-play cornerback. “I wouldn’t mind it,” he said.
• For the first time, Mark Richt said today what we’ve reported previously: That he badly wants an indoor practice facility. Richt called it a No. 1 priority. About 20 practices were delayed or disrupted or even canceled by weather last year, and UM can’t afford that.
“You need an indoor facility because of rain and lightning” and also to give players an occasional break when “it’s smoking hot,” Richt said.
UM AD Blake James wants to get this done, but a big donation is needed to finance a facility that could cost $17 million. We’ve been told Richt is willing to help with the fundraising drive.
Richt said the current plan now is to move players inside the Wellness Center for practices disrupted by weather.
• Richt wants things done a certain way on offense and he said “the good news is every so often we do it right. Are they practicing the way we want? They’re trying to…. It’s still not quite where we want them.”
• R.J. McIntosh was moved from defensive end to tackle and said he’s getting first-team work with Kendrick Norton. Anthony Moten, Courtel Jenkins and Gerald Willis have been working behind them.
• Brad Kaaya said Richt’s system has “a few different route concepts and different footwork” from the approach of the former staff. Is it a more complicated system? “I wouldn’t say more complicated. Just different."
• The Dolphins, curiously, haven’t addressed their guard deficiency by signing any player who was a full-time starting guard last season.
As many of you know, they’re hoping the position will be solved by converted tackle Jermon Bushrod, Kraig Urbik (a one-time full-time starter who started four games for Buffalo last season), and the trio of Dallas Thomas, Billy Turner and Jamil Douglas. Another addition or two is possible.
But Adam Gase hopes a new approach off the field will help the team’s guard play.
Gase told us this week that when he was hired, he suggested “[getting] back to some old-school [techniques]. Let’s lift, let’s spend our two hours in the weight room, let’s get these guys bigger and stronger and faster.
“So that’s been our big focus. I want to try to give [the trainers] as much time allotted that he’s allowed to get these guys in position where we do start we can see a difference, we can see a difference physically in our guys as far as their strength and being able to come off the ball and move people."
What appealed to Gase about Bushrod?
“The good thing with me being with Bushrod last year [in Chicago] was I saw a guy that played five spots in practice,” Gase said. “He was our starting left tackle at the beginning of the year. He gets hurt, [Charles] Leno steps in, plays really well, and by the time Bushrod got back, he kind of lost his spot because of injury, which is unusual.
"We found a role for him, we put him as our big tight end, did a good job at that. And then in practice, he just kept trying to learn different positions. He played guard, he played center, he played right tackle. Him developing that flexibility last year, that was very intriguing for us.
"Here's a guy we can add to our team, gives us some flexibility, gives us some depth at a lot of different spots. We're going to give [Bushrod] a chance to compete and see how he fits in. Right now, you look at our situation, we feel really great about at least the depth we're bringing in."
Depth is great. Quality is better. If Bushrod or Urbik and one of the three young players can solve the guard problem, great. If not, more problems await.
“Once we hit training camp, then we'll have a better feel of where the pieces fit, who's where, and how we're going to approach this," Gase said.
• Gase believes the hiring of Jim Washburn is going to pay dividends. Washburn will be the pass rush specialist/senior defensive assistant. He will work with defensive line coach Terrell Williams and defensive coordinator Vance Joseph.
“We brought him on because he’s an expert in this defense," Gase said. "Our d-line, working with Terrell and Wash, we have a good combination. He’s going to give Vance a little bit of insight from his perspective.
“He can help in an overall philosophy. To add a guy who’s probably one of the greatest pass rush specialists that have been around in this game [is great]. I’ve known Jim for a long time; obviously his son [Jeremiah, the Dolphins’ assistant offensive line coach] is with us, too. That’s a great addition for us. When he said he was interested, I thought the smart thing for us as an organization was to go after him.”
The senior Washburn has a good relationship with Ndamukong Suh from their time together in Detroit.
• Couple broadcast notes: As expected, Amber Wilson is succeeding FS-1’s Joy Taylor on 790 The Ticket’s morning show, alongside Jonathan Zaslow and Brett Romberg….
What has interest been in the UM basketball team during this NCAA Tournament? One gauge is ratings.
In the Miami-Fort Lauderdale market, the UM-Buffalo game drew a 2.1 and the UM-Wichita State game did a 3.6. Nearly, but not all, UM football games drew more eyeballs in recent years, and the FSU game typically gets three to four times that audience.
Both UM ratings are far above what Panthers games generate but less than virtually all Heat games, including a 6.0 for Cavs-Heat last Saturday. And keep in mind the UM-Wichita State game wasn’t in a great time slot for luring a big audience (noon Saturday).
Dolphins games averaged a 15.8 last season.