#39 Miami Preview 2018-19

- Ky McKeon


Key Returners: Chris Lykes, Dewan Huell, Anthony Lawrence, Dejan Vasiljevic
Key Losses: Lonnie Walker, Ja’Quan Newton, Bruce Brown
Key Newcomers: Zach Johnson (FGCU), Deng Gak (Redshirt), Miles Wilson (Mt. St. Mary’s), Anthony Mack (Wyoming... maybe)

Editor's Note (8/21): Anthony Mack has been granted a medical waiver and will be immediately eligible.


Since coming to Miami from George Mason in 2011-12, Jim Larranaga has enjoyed a successful coaching stint, leading the Canes to 20+ wins in six of seven seasons. Larranaga appears to have finally brought stability to the Miami basketball program, making the last three NCAA Tournaments and bringing in a top 15 recruiting class the past two seasons. 2018-19 will be an interesting year for the Canes as they lose three pillars of last year’s squad in Lonnie Walker, Bruce Brown, and Ja’Quan Newton while not introducing any impact freshmen. In lieu of the lack of freshmen, Miami brings in two influential transfers and takes the redshirt off a former top 100 recruit. Those two sets of assets combined with a solid 4-man returning core should allow Miami to crash a school-record 4th straight Big Dance.

Miami’s identity on offense last season can be summed up in one basketball phrase: “pick-n-roll”. The Canes ranked 16th in the country in percentage of pick-n-roll ran last year, a function of the wealth of individual playmakers at Larranaga’s disposal. With Walker, Brown, and Newton’s playmaking ability, the Canes framed their offensive attack within a 4-out, 1-in look, with returning guard/forward Anthony Lawrence II serving as an undersized, floor-spacing 4-man.

With the trio of talent Miami loses, the rate at which the Canes run the PnR may decline slightly, but they still have the personnel to be successful in this primary system. Chris Lykes, a 5’7” lightning bug, will take over full-time responsibility at point guard. Lykes led the Canes in usage last season (i.e. when he played, he ended the most possessions on the floor for the Canes via a shot or turnover). The diminutive guard was prone to inconsistency and was certainly a bit erratic at times, but he proved he had the ability to create his own shot and be a pest on the other end to would-be ball handlers. With one season under his belt, expect Lykes to become a more consistent source of production.

Replacing Walker / Brown / Newton is no easy task, but Larranaga will turn to Florida Gulf Coast grad transfer Zach Johnson to try. Johnson brings a complete package with him to Coral Gables; he can play either guard spot, is athletic enough to blow-by defenders and rise-up in the paint, and he’s a money shooter from all over the court (.508 / .409 / .786). The jump to the ACC from the Atlantic Sun is substantial, but Johnson proved he could hang with power competition, dropping 23 points against Oklahoma State and 19 points against Wichita State a year ago. Johnson is a dramatic outside shooting upgrade over the trio of departed guards and, together with Dejan Vasiljevic and Lawrence, makes Miami potentially one of the best shooting teams in the country.

While the guards may garner plenty of attention and attempt the most shots, junior big man Dewan Huell is the guy NBA teams will be watching this season. Huell was almost criminally under-utilized last season considering how efficient he was when given the opportunity. He has the rare combination of size and agility to be a monster in the ACC this year and a worthy NBA draft pick next summer. Expect Huell to break out in a BIG way this season; he is a fantastic offensive rebounder and can score in the post, in the mid-range, or off the bounce. He also serves as the perfect roll man in Miami’s PnR-heavy system, scoring 1.143ppp in PnR situations last year (70th percentile in the country):

Aside from Johnson, Miami will look to get production from Mount St. Mary’s transfer Miles Wilson and redshirt freshman Deng Gak. Wilson is another versatile player that can bring the ball up, shoot from deep (36% as a freshman), and drive the lane. He played multiple positions for MSM in 2016-17 and, like Johnson, proved he could go toe-to-toe with elite competition, scoring 22 points against Villanova in the NCAA Tournament. Gak, a raw 7-footer with a skinny frame, was a top-100 recruit in the class of 2017. While Gak may not make an enormous impact in his inaugural year, he’s a skilled big man with good shooting touch and passing chops that could make him a force down the road. Wyoming transfer Anthony Mack is currently applying for a medical waiver in order to suit up for the Canes this season and not serve a year on the pine. If he does play, he'll add needed to size to the backcourt. 

Miami has been a top 50 defensive team under Larranaga the last three seasons thanks to its superior length and athleticism across nearly every position. This end is likely where the absence of Walker / Brown / Newton will be felt the most. Johnson racked up plenty of steals during his career at FGCU, but he’s not nearly as long as Walker, and Vasiljevic is not known for his defense. Additionally, Lykes’s size could be problematic against bigger ACC guards. Further, last season Miami was considerably weak defending the interior. Huell and Lawrence each racked up their fair share of blocks, but Lawrence was cooked regularly in the post (he’s only 6’7”) and the Canes were only so-so on the defensive glass. Senior Ebuka Izundu will be counted on to bolster the defensive side of the interior along with Gak.

Bottom Line:
The Canes will still boast a plethora of weapons on the offensive end this season, but defense could be a weak point. Thankfully for Miami, Larranaga is known as a strong defensive coach and should be able to game plan around his personnel’s weaknesses. Once again, the ACC promises to be a bloodbath chock full of NCAA Tourney worthy teams. Expect the Canes to be right in the middle of the pack this season and finish similarly to how they performed in 2017-18.