If you picked up a preseason college basketball magazine, all you read regarding the University of Miami was how the program was expected to take a step back this season after the loss of two-time All-ACC guard Jack McClinton.
What McClinton did for the Canes can't be denied. He put UM on his back two seasons ago and carried them to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Last year, when he struggled down the stretch, so did the Canes. Instead of living up to their lofty preseason expectations, UM floundered, finished tied for a disappointing seventh in the conference and went to the NIT.
Naturally, this year's team was expected to flop with McClinton gone. But what we've learned so far is that these Hurricanes, off to a 5-0 start, could be an even more dangerous team without McClinton. Instead of one go-to option, the Hurricanes have shown us at least in the early going that balance has its benefits.
"Last year we had Jack [McClinton], and Jack was a guaranteed 25-30 [points]. On this particular team this year you never know who is going to kill you on any given night," sophomore guard DeQuan Jones said Tuesday. "Adrian [Thomas] might hit five or six threes. [James] Dews could go for 22. Reggie [Johnson] or Dwayne [Collins] will grab 15 rebounds. You never know. That's the beauty of this year."
Said Haith: "If you are a basketball fan you have to be excited about these guys. We're deep, strong, physical, we have shooters, we have athleticism, we have toughness. We have a little combination of everything. We don't have a superstar, but we have some really good players. You can win with that also.
"I'm extremely excited about this team. I'm anxious to be a part of the growth of this team and see where we are in January and February because I feel there is so much room to grow with this team."
After five games, it's easy to spot what UM needs to work on and what it needs to continue to do well...
> From the need to continue to do well section: Shoot the ball with accuracy and rebound. The Hurricanes have converted at least 50 percent of their field goals in all five games this season and are hitting 52.9 percent of their shots. Not only is it the first time Miami has shot 50 percent from the field in its first five games in a season, but its the only time UM has put together five-straight 50 percent shooting games at any point in a season since at least the return of the program in 1985-86. UM previously shot at least 50 percent in four-straight games, from Feb. 6-16, during the 1998-99 season. The Hurricanes knocked off Georgetown (.500), Syracuse (.500), Providence (.510) and Villanova (.606) en route to an NCAA berth.
> From the need to get better section: Clean up the turnovers and make free throws more consistently. The Canes have turned it over 99 times through its first five games, hitting the 20-mark three times so far. Haith said Tuesday it's a product of his two new point guards -- Durand Scott and Malcolm Grant -- playing at warp speed and getting adjusted to their teammates.
A few more notes and thoughts...
-- Make no mistake UM is a different team with two legit point guards. Having Durand Scott and Malcolm Grant has made things a lot easier on post players, who no longer have to work to the extreme to create a scoring opportunity. Julian Gamble said the feeling is a lot more relaxed on the court when teams try and create backcourt pressure. "It's been great," DeQuan Jones said. "Like Julian said having two point guards, two guys with tremendous leadership on the court. They really pride themselves on getting guys the ball where they can do the most damage. They come over and ask Dwayne or another post player do you want the ball here, here, or here."
-- Before the season got underway James Dews injured his shoulder in a collision with Scott during practice. It forced Dews to wear a harness. It seems like Dews is getting adjusted to it. He had back-to-back solid scoring games to close out the Charleston Classic and in the eyes of Haith probably should have be named to the All-Tournament Team. So, is Dews ready to be Miami's go-to outside? Haith is hoping so.
"I hope he and Dwayne [Collins] both [can be]," Haith said. "I don't want us to get away from that being our focus, playing inside out. You look at that last game, we only took 13 threes and we made eight of them. I think we can shoot the three very well. But I think we can shoot it even better if we have a post presence. In the South Carolina game, Dews made big play after big play. He's getting more and more comfortable wearing that sleeve. Quite frankly, we need him to be a player for us, a double figure scorer. We need that on a consistent basis."
-- Speaking of Dwayne Collins, it looks like he might actually be snapping out of his inconsistent funk. Teammate Julian Gamble said while Collins' laid back personality hasn't changed much, his game has. "I think he's still very relaxed on the court. He doesn't let things bother him. When things happen, he's pretty good at handling at adversity," Gamble said. "But practice wise, he's expanded his game a lot. He's stronger with the ball. He's more decisive with his post moves and I think he's developed a good 10 to 12-foot footer."
-- If there were times last season when sophomore swingman DeQuan Jones looked like he was trying to do much it's because he was. Jones, who spent most of his off-season working with Haith on his defense, said he's no longer looking for the home run. "The overall thing is just being poised, letting things come to you instead of the first play trying to hit a home run. Just be consistent. [Last year] I was trying to do too much. This year I just feel more poised, a lot more calm, more patient in the offense. People can say a year can make a big difference and I can see that."
For those of you interested in listening in on Tuesday's football and basketball interviews check out our UM audio section. I'll have a football blog later for you tonight.