How good can the University of Miami's basketball team be next season? How high can Frank Haith, Jack McClinton and company lift the program in '08-'09? That's what I was pondering on the flight back from San Antonio and the Final Four on Tuesday night.
A year ago the thought of picturing Miami at the Final Four or even the Sweet 16 this soon would have sounded insane. Not after a 12-20 season and last place finish. But following this 23-11 season and trip to the Round of 32, there is at least one basketball analyst who already has Miami as one of the country's 12 best teams next year. ESPN's Andy Katz came out with his very first Top 25 rankings for next season, hours after Kansas cut the nets down at the Alamodome. And much to my honest surprise, Katz has UM slated 12th (in front of Duke and second overall in the ACC behind North Carolina). Granted, its extremely early. Katz was under some pressure to put a list together not long after the confetti stopped raining down at the Alamodome. But the fact Katz -- and Rivals.com (which has UM receiving votes in its early 08-09 Top 25 poll) -- already have Miami somewhere in their top 25 should shows you the experts already have higher expectations for this team.
That's a good thing. Personally, I believe this Miami is definitely good enough to make the Sweet 16 next year if it stays healthy. I expect McClinton to have another sensational season, Haith to develop a number two scorer (either James Dews, Dwayne Collins, Lance Hurdle or even incoming freshman DeQuan Jones) and for the team to take another step forward. But I'm interested to see how being patted on the back and having high expectations from the public -- instead of having none -- will affect this team. Miami enjoyed so much success this season in the underdog role. It's going to be a challenge being on the other side of the coin.
--> Covering the Final Four for the second year in a row was pretty exciting. But I kept wondering how much anybody back home even cared about what was happening in San Antonio. I know football and baseball are king around here, but did the Canes' good hoops season make anyone more interested in watching the rest of March Madness? Has anyone become more of a college hoops fan? Let me know.
--> Watching Memphis' Derrick Rose in action was amazing. Like my friend Israel Gutierrez said, he's a triple-double waiting to happen nearly every night at the next level. I was on the Michael Beasley bandwagon when it came to the Heat draft, assuming it earns the first overall pick. But after watching Rose dominate, I'm hoping Pat Riley decides to take Rose. Great point guards are a lot harder to find than power forwards. While I like Beasley's game, Rose is simply too special to pass up. A backcourt of Dwayne Wade and Derrick Rose would be as good as it gets in the NBA.
--> FYI... I'm planning on taking the rest of this week off. I've got some days off The Herald wants me to use and this is probably as good a time as any. Besides, I've pretty much been nonstop since the start of the football season and I could use a break. See you guys next week.