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Larranaga, Morris talk UM hoops, baseball and their program's challenges; Heat buzz; Dolphins OL


The burden of unmet goals follows Al Golden everywhere he goes, but the weight of expectations also hangs over UM’s second- and third-highest profile programs, which have very good coaches with promising teams and unique challenges.

Considering how great Hurricanes basketball looked in wins at Duke and Syracuse and Florida, anything short of an NCAA Tournament bid would be a huge disappointment for a team squarely on the bubble. Meanwhile, UM baseball on Friday begins another season trying to end a six-year drought since its last College World Series appearance, its longest since the early 1970s.

Jim Morris made the CWS 11 of his first 15 seasons here, and won championships in 1999 and 2001, but hasn’t gone back to Omaha since 2008 and has only one super-regional appearance in that span, though he also has extended UM’s record of making the postseason to 42 in a row, longest active in college baseball.

“It weighs on me,” said Morris, whose team is ranked 9th to 15th in the preseason polls. “I want to get back to Omaha. I got very spoiled, this program is very spoiled, I went out Omaha 11 out of my first 15. We need to get back there.”

Of the past six years, last season’s 44-19 record (and an ACC championship) was UM’s best, but it ended with a thud, with Texas Tech shutting down UM 3-0 and 4-0 in the Coral Gables regional.

A month later, UM announced that Morris, who turns 65 on Feb. 20, will coach through the 2018 season, then be succeeded by longtime assistant Gino DiMare.  

“Four years is a long time. That the good news,” Morris said. “The bad news is it will be gone before you know it. I think about it once in a while for sure. I’ve been here a long time, and that will give me 45 years in coaching (including 12 as head coach at Georgia Tech). I’ll be 68 then. Then I’ll sit in the stands and ask Gino why he’s bunting.”

Morris, who has won as many national titles as the late great North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith, cites valid explanations that have contributed to the program’s recent struggles reaching Omaha.

The biggest one: The total cost of tuition, room and board has risen at UM –- Morris said it is now $62,000 a year, including $42,000 tuition -- and the NCAA allows teams to split only 11.7 scholarships among 27 players. Morris said in the past few years he has lost out on a lot of good players whose families cannot afford to pay the difference.

“Most of the kids grew up in this park, watched the University of Miami play here and would like to play here and their family would like them to play,” Morris said Tuesday, standing above Mark Light Field. “But [they say] do I pay all this money and take loans or do I got to Florida State or Florida and it not cost me anything? It’s a tough thing.”

Also hurtful: UM has lost a lot of players to the pros, out of high school, and once they arrive, and tuition is a big factor in that.

“The problem we have is do you stay here, which means [if the player has half a scholarship, as most do], do you pay $30,000 and get $30,000 or do you sign? Let’s say a [MLB team] gives you $100,000, plus they will pay for your college when you come back. And we have a scholarship plan to pay for it. If I make it, I make it. And if I don’t, my school will pay for it in full when I come back…. We have a lot of guys in that category.

“So we out-recruit Florida and Florida State. Now we’ve got to out-recruit pro ball, which is impossible if they want somebody, unless somebody unique like Andy Suarez comes back.”

Staff ace Suarez, a second-round pick of the Washington Nationals last June, returned to UM this season. “By far the highest drafted player I’ve had returning to school,” Morris said.

The good news: Morris said he believes UM soon will make more financial aid available to baseball players, which will help supplement partial scholarships. This could be something of a game-changer.

“The fact we’ve gotten less financial aid has been tough,” he said. “It’s very important at a private school. We’ve lost that over the last 10 years. It’s been harder and harder to get. You’ve got schools like Virginia that know they’re going to get 10 financial aid scholarships. That doubles the scholarships.

“We used to have more when I first got here. Vanderbilt, the financial aid is unlimited. We need some of that back. It’s like being the Pittsburgh Pirates playing the New York Yankees. We’re lucky there’s a lot of
good players in South Florida, which helps us. If we were a private school in the middle of the state, we would have no chance. We need financial aid and we’re hoping we’re going to move back toward that. That’s huge."

As for UM hoops… The Hurricanes (15-8, 5-5), who twice have exited the Top 25 shortly after entering, needs to finish better than .500 in the ACC (including the conference tournament) to make the NCAA Tournament, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi said by phone Monday.

On paper, UM should be favored in five of its final eight regular-season games: Wednesday at Wake Forest (11-13) and Sunday at Boston College (9-13), twice against 9-14 Virginia Tech and home against FSU.

But none of those wins can be remotely assumed, because UM has lost several games it shouldn’t have, including that 20-point debacle to Georgia Tech. UM will be an underdog at Louisville and at Pittsburgh, and a CBS-televised home game Feb. 28 against North Carolina is a toss-up.

“Good wins help you more than bad losses hurt, but Miami is testing that,” Lunardi said. “They have bad losses. They are my last team in the tournament because they’re the only team that won at Duke.”

UM is now 55th in RPI rating. “If you’re in the top 40, you have a heck of a shot,” coach Jim Larranaga said.  “If you’re below 60, you don’t have a shot. Between 40 and 60 you better pray.”

Larranaga told me this week that this is the most unpredictable team he has ever coached, in terms of not knowing what to expect game to game, “because we have nine new guys. I talked to an NBA coach who said in the NBA it takes three to four years of keeping the same group together for them to really develop into a cohesive unit.”

UM’s reliance on the three-pointer --- Miami takes more threes than any other ACC team --- also can lead to wide swings in play.

“I would like us to have an inside presence,” Larranaga said. “Tonye Jekiri is a very important player in our program, [but] he is really not a back to the basket scorer like a lot of big guys are.”

Though Larranaga has recruited well, he admitted: “It’s always going to be very challenging for my staff and I to recruit against Carolina, Duke, Louisville, Syracuse because of their tradition. They have unbelievable facilities.

“One of the things people use against us is you go to Miami, it’s beautiful and everything but no crowds. We’re trying to change that. Duke, Carolina always sell out. That’s what kids want; they want the excitement of competing in the ACC but in a real basketball environment, a basketball community where basketball is the primary sport.

“Everybody sees Miami as a football and baseball town. It’s changing slightly toward being a town that will support the basketball program. We’ve had some great crowds here in the last four years. But we need to try to do that consistently. The only way is to get ourselves ranked and stay ranked where people think we have a shot at winning the ACC again and maybe even winning the national championship.”

UM has done an admirable job developing Jekiri but finding classic big men “is so hard,” he said. “Everyone in the country wants big guys.”

There are three Florida big men generating a ton of interest, but UM faces immense competition: Norland 6-10 junior power forward Dewan Huell (rivals.com’s No. 23 overall prospect), Tampa junior power forward Juwan Durham (22nd overall by rivals.com) and Miami Beach 7-1 sophomore center Zachariah Brown (rated the No. 5 sophomore in the country).

UM has offered all three, but heavyweight programs such as Duke, Kentucky and Kansas usually lure the top big men.

### Quick football note: Though Kevin Patrick and Kareem Brown would love the job and are possibilities, we confirmed Golden very much likes and is considering FIU defensive line coach Randy Melvin to replace Oakland Raiders-bound Jethro Franklin for the same job at UM. Melvin has more than 30 years coaching experience, including seven in the NFL (Tampa Bay, New England, Cleveland). And he worked for Golden at Temple. [Wednesday 4:30 update: UM has hired Melvin.]


### An Eastern Conference general manager said Tuesday the Heat likely lacks the assets to make a meaningful move before the Feb. 19 trade deadline. He said Norris Cole has been mentioned in trade talks “but what are you going to get for him? He’s a backup. They don’t have much to give up. Josh McRoberts would have value for a team out of the playoffs. Birdman [Chris Andersen] would have value for a playoff team but a playoff team is not trading you a quality [wing] for him.”

### The GM said Mo Williams --– traded from Minnesota to Charlotte on Tuesday --- was the only starting-caliber point guard he had heard was being shopped.

### A source in contact with Detroit confirmed the Pistons offered impending free agent power forward Jonas Jerebko to the Heat for Cole. But as MLLive.com reported, Detroit rejected Miami’s demand that the Pistons also take Danny Granger, who’s due $2.2 million next season.

### One limitation is the Heat cannot trade a first-round pick until 2017 because of league rules. Its 2015 first-rounder (top 10 protected) will be sent to Philadelphia through Cleveland.

### The Heat moved into seventh in the East tonight by virtue of Charlotte's 106-78 loss to Detroit.

### Dolphins lineman Nate Garner’s future is in question because of headache/migraine issues, and the Dolphins would save $1.6 million on the cap by cutting him… The Dolphins are projecting Billy Turner as one potential starting guard –-- the front office loves him --- and mulling their options at the other spot. Of course, Turner has to justify the staff's faith; he won't be handed the job if he doesn't show he's worthy... New Dolphins tight end Ryan Taylor, who signed today, has played in 50 NFL games for Green Bay (including two starts) and eight for Cleveland, which cut him in December. He has eight career receptions for 45 yards.

### Twitter: @flasportsbuzz