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Miami may never be relevant as a basketball program

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Miami is still a football school.

A decade as the darling of the NIT, while the school’s football program continued its reign with national brand appeal, didn’t help to change the status quo.

In the last seven years under now-Missouri head coach Frank Haith, it seemed the Hurricanes were the perennial bubble team that ended up on the outside, looking in, only making the Big Dance once, to go along with four NIT appearances.

On Tuesday night, under new head coach Jim Larranaga, Miami appeared to be the same fringe-NCAA tournament, never-quite-makes-it, Ralph Nader, it’s-ok-because-we-know-you’re-a-football-school-anyway team in their 76-65 loss to Purdue.

Senior guard Malcolm Grant had 16 points for the Hurricanes (4-2), but Miami shot 39 percent from the field as a team, while allowing Purdue to shoot at a 55 percent clip. Robbie Hummel added 17 points for the Boilermakers (7-1).

Jim Larranaga replaced Haith in April, coming from a George Mason program that he headed for 14 seasons, including the magical 2005-2006 run to the Final Four.

As opposed to Haith’s experience as a high-major assistant, prior to his Miami, Larranga comes with proven head coaching success at mid-majors George Mason and Bowling Green.

But after his hiring, there was little in the way of good news.

In July, 6-10, 303-pound center and the team’s leading rebounder Reggie Johnson tore cartilage in his right knee during a pick-up basketball game. He underwent surgery and is continuing to recover, with hopes that he will return in January.

Then the bombshell.

An extensive report from Yahoo! Sports detailed the alleged actions of Miami booster and convicted Ponzi schemer Nevin Shapiro, who said he provided thousands of impermissible benefits to university athletes, including ties to the basketball program during the 2000s.

Here was a coach, Larranaga, who had spent those years building a Cinderella program at George Mason with a reputation cleaner than any in college basketball, finally getting his shot at a high-major job, and he walks into this.

“I would have loved for it to have been smoother, for the circumstances to have been a little more comfortable for me and my family,” Larranaga told the Washington Post in October. “It got more complicated than I would have liked.”

Larranaga was immediately confronted with a reality of college basketball’s upper tier. Up here, there’s more glamour and bigger paychecks, but a lot higher risk than in Fairfax County and the CAA.

“For the players, it’s business as usual,” Larranaga said of the NCAA situation, in that same interview. “For the coaching staff and I, it’s a little more complicated. I get questions all the time, and quite frankly, I just don’t have any answers now. It’s definitely impacted our recruiting. . . . Are some students eliminating us because of concerns? The answer to that is yes.”

But they are starting to move on.

In the early signing period, Larranaga signed the first two official recruits of his era, 6-11 center Tonye Jekiri and sharpshooting New York guard Melvin Johnson.

They also got a boost when the NCAA granted DePaul transfer Shane Larkin a waiver, allowing him to play in 2011 without having to sit out a season.

Larkin is a quick, 5-11 point guard who also happens to be the son of former Cincinnati Reds shortstop Barry Larkin.

The Hurricanes were picked to finish fifth in the ACC in this year’s preseason media poll, which will likely put them in a familiar situation, come tournament time.

Until Reggie Johnson returns, Miami is small, with only one true big man in their regular rotation. That means nearly half of the scoring has fallen to the backcourt, onto the shoulders of guards Malcolm Grant and Durand Scott.

And it doesn’t seem to be enough.

The Hurricanes average just over 67 points per game, putting them at 202nd in the nation in that category. Tuesday night’s performance saw a five-minute scoring drought in the first half, a time when Miami missed seven straight shots from the field.

Against higher-powered ACC opponents like North Carolina and Duke, and coming down the stretch in March, long periods with no offensive production could be the thing that sinks the ‘Canes.

In the long run, the pending NCAA investigation could scare away the blue-chip recruits that would push Miami over the top. If sanctions are handed down, the situation becomes even more difficult.

For as much as Jim Larranaga will fight to build this program, the odds may be stacked against him, especially with schools like NC State and Maryland making power moves on the recruiting trail in 2012 and beyond.

There may only be room enough for one prominent basketball team in South Beach.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

Arizona lands first commitment in 2017 class

Alex Barcello (Jon Lopez/Nike)
(Jon Lopez/Nike)
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Arizona landed their first commitment in the Class of 2017 on Friday night as point guard Alex Barcello pledged to Sean Miller and the Wildcats.

Barcello is a 6-foot-2 point guard from Tempe who plays his high school ball for Corona del Sol. He committed to the Wildcats on an official visit to the Tucson campus.

Barcello is a borderline top 100 prospect who sits at No. 123 in the Rivals top 150. He’s known for his ability to shoot, and he’s more of a combo-guard — i.e. shoot-first — than a point guard at times, but he’s a nice pickup and projects as a solid four-year player for the Wildcats.

Virginia, Indiana, Stanford and Butler were the other four schools on Barcello’s list.

Duke lands first commitment in 2017 class

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Alex O’Connell knew exactly where he wanted to play his college ball, which is why, just two days after picking up an offer from Coach K and the Blue Devils, he became Duke’s first recruit in the Class of 2017.

O’Connell announced the on twitter on Friday afternoon:

O’Connell is a four-star prospect from Georgia that had a terrific summer, going from being a borderline top 75 prospect to a player that caught the interest of Duke, who, along with Kentucky, sit atop the college recruiting hierarchy. He’s an explosively athletic and lanky 6-foot-6 wing with three-point range on his jumper. He needs to add some weight and some strength — he’s listed as a crisp 175 pounds — but he has the tools, and the swagger, to develop into a very effective player in the ACC.

Is he a one-and-done prospect?

Probably not. In fact, since 2010, Duke has landed just two players that were rated lower than O’Connell: Antonio Vrankovic and Jack White. If you know who both of them are, you’re probably either Jon Scheyer or lying.

But what O’Connell is is a kid who put in the work to get better this past year and who has the skill set, the physical tools and work ethic to continue to improve. He may not be on Grayson Allen’s trajectory, but O’Connell has the makings of being an impact player for the Blue Devils for three or four years.

Alex O'Connell (Jon Lopez/Nike)
Alex O’Connell (Jon Lopez/Nike)

Shaka Smart lands contract extension at Texas

Texas head coach Shaka Smart instructs his team in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Baylor on Monday, Feb. 1, 2016, in Waco, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
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Shaka Smart has already landed himself a contract extension at Texas.

The school, according to the Austin American-Statesman, has given Shaka a one-year extension — through the 2022-23 season — and bumped his salary up to a cool $3 million, a raise of $100,000 annually.

Smart’s Longhorns went 20-13 last season and lost on a half court buzzer beater from Northern Iowa’s Paul Jespersen. It will be tough for Smart to match the success that he had last season, specifically because he lost senior point guard Isaiah Taylor to the professional ranks.

That said, the former VCU head man has been reeling in quite a bit of talent from the state of Texas — namely, Andrew Jones and Jarrett Allen — and is not all that far from turning the Longhorns back into a relevant member of the Big 12 title race.

Arizona and Texas headline Lone Star Shootout

PROVIDENCE, RI - MARCH 17:  Head coach Sean Miller of the Arizona Wildcats reacts in the first half against the Wichita State Shockers during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Dunkin' Donuts Center on March 17, 2016 in Providence, Rhode Island.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images
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Another marquee, early season event is on the books for the college basketball season as four potential tournament teams will be squaring off at the Toyota Center in Houston on Dec. 17th.

The highlight of the double-header, which has been dubbed the Lone Star Shootout, will probably end up being Arizona vs. Texas A&M. The Wildcats are a Pac-12 contender and a borderline top 10 team as we enter the season, and while the Aggies will have work to do replacing the seniors they lost off of last season’s roster, they’re a borderline top 25 team.

The other matchup will feature a pair of former Southwest Conference rivals facing off in Texas and Arkansas. Texas will be talented but young while Arkansas may actually have the best player on the floor in Moses Kingsley. What will make this matchup interesting is that both Mike Anderson and Shaka Smart are known for being coaches that prefer a full court pressing system.

“We are extremely excited about the opportunity to play in front of our fans at the Toyota Center in Houston,” Texas head coach Shaka Smart said in a statement. “It is one of the most important areas in this state as it relates to our recruiting and fan base.

Five-star 2017 guard Lonnie Walker cuts list to five schools

Men's U18 trials head shots and team photo on 6.15.16
Bart Young/USA Basketball
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Five-star shooting guard Lonnie Walker is coming off of a very good summer as he trimmed his list to five schools on Thursday night.

The 6-foot-4 native of Reading, Pennsylvania is still considering Arizona, Kentucky, Miami, Syracuse and Villanova, he announced on Twitter.

Regarded as the No. 26 overall prospect in the Class of 2017, Walker played with Team Final in the Nike EYBL this spring and summer as he averaged 16.6 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. Walker shot 45 percent from the field, 39 percent from three-point range and 72 percent from the free-throw line.

An efficient scorer who is learning to drive with both hands, Walker is very talented and the type of guard who might also be able to handle a bit as well.