Jim Brown-US PRESSWIRE
Miami starts hangin' with Mr. Cooper this year. Will the RedHawks tear the house down?
There's no sugarcoating the obvious: last season was a bad one for the Miami men's basketball team. In fact, it was one of the worst in program history. Miami's 9-21 record featured the fewest wins since the 1987-88 season and the most losses ever (not counting the 1988-89 season, where Jerry Peirson's Redskins finished 5-23 due to forfeits). Charlie Coles, the winningest coach in Miami and MAC history, went gently into that good night, announcing his retirement after a first-round loss in the MAC tournament.
A New Coach
After a national search featuring incorrect reports that former Miami assistant James Whitford was returning to Oxford from his spot as Sean Miller's lead assistant at Arizona, the RedHawks announced the hiring of
former Ohio State head football coach Tennessee State's John Cooper, who led a remarkable three-year turnaround for the Tigers, culminating in the program's first winning season in 15 years (such a long drought that Herb Sendek was still the coach at Miami back then) and a banner win over Murray State, which suffered its lone regular-season defeat at the hands of TSU. Before joining TSU, Cooper walked the sidelines in Tempe and beat Michigan in the Rose Bowl was an assistant at Auburn, Oregon, South Carolina, and Division II Fayetteville (NC) State. He played his college ball at Wichita State.
So far, Cooper has been saying and doing the right things. He even got a sizable student crowd to show up for the Maryville exhibition thanks to his tireless pavement-pounding, visiting every fraternity and sorority and all the dorms. (The notion of a Miami student fan section that is even 2/3 full and 1/2 paying attention should strike fear into the hearts of other MAC squads. Well, not really, but it's certainly a marked improvement over crowds that have sucked since time immemorial, even back when Peter King was doing game recaps for The Post.*) Excitement is running high with the message-board crowd: Cooper has fans believing in real change, and he looks to begin delivering on that promise this year.
*The Post used to have extensive archives on its website, where you could read all sorts of OU hate about Miami, including a legendary (at least to some Miami Hawk Talk posters) game recap by Peter King titled "What if they played a game and nobody cared?" Sadly, it looks like most of those archives are gone. If anyone who writes for The Post is reading this, bring them back!
A New Style
Although Coles' Miami teams were known for low scoring, stout defense, and lengthy possessions, "Charlie Ball" as such was never really a thing. He proved much more adaptable on a year-to-year basis than Herb Sendek, even if his in-game adjustments were sometimes, well, not happening. But what Cooper has in mind is a huge shift from what Miami fans have seen for the past 18 or so years. His teams will run. Not Paul Westhead at Loyola Marymount run, but run nonetheless. This scheme also promises more of a drive-and-dish style than the "hold the ball for 32 seconds and shoot" style that gave RedHawk fans heartburn.
But there was one constant to "Charlie Ball," no matter what changes Coles otherwise made: man-to-man. Miami almost never played zone under Charlie. It looks like there are some changes coming to Millett Hall on the defensive side as well. In the exhibition against Maryville, Miami spent most of the game in a diamond-and-one full-court press. (No word yet on whether the collective gasps from Millett Hall at seeing Miami not just in a full-court press, but in a zone full-court press, changed the recorded wind speed in Oxford last week.) The RedHawks probably aren't in shape to play forty minutes of hell yet, but it seems like they'll be playing a defensive style no one's seen from Miami in, well, ever.
Some New Players
There are three additions to the RedHawks' roster this year. First is Will Felder, a junior transfer from St. Francis (PA), who sat out last season due to NCAA regulations. Felder, a 6' 7" forward, made the all-NEC rookie team as a freshman, has a reputation for being a beast on the glass, and led the Red Flash in blocks as a sophomore. Geovonie McKnight, a freshman from Middletown, Ohio, was one of the Coles regime's last recruits, and he stuck with the RedHawks through the transition. McKnight, a 6' 3" guard, was named both the southwest district and Greater Miami Conference player of the year during his senior season with the Middies. Finally, Reggie Johnson, a freshman from Chicago, originally committed to TSU but followed Cooper to Miami. Johnson, a 6' 1" guard coming in at a muscular 200 pounds, served as a team captain all four years in high school and projects to be a team leader for the RedHawks in the future.
Some Old Players
So who's back? Much of last year's injury-ravaged roster returns, including Allen Roberts and Bill Edwards, both of whom were sorely missed. There were only two noteworthy departures, but they are big ones: all-everything Julian Mavunga, who passed up on a Pacers camp invite to sign with Angelico Biella of Italy's Serie A, and all-Freshman Team member Brian Sullivan, who transferred to Davidson at season's end.
A Never-Quite-There Player
Cooper also landed Roderick Lawrence, a Morehead State pledge who decommitted after a coaching change. Lawrence lasted all of about two weeks on campus before being kicked off the team for undisclosed reasons. He didn't even make it to the start of practice.
Gone are the days when Miami plays Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, and Ohio State in the same season. To be sure, there are two body bag games against NC State and Louisville, both of whom figure to be in the Final Four discussion, but the bulk of the OOC schedule is much easier, and much better for a team that's adapting to a totally different way of playing basketball. The usual Wright State and Dayton games show up on the calendar, though Xavier is missing this year. But instead of having four or five games against tip-top competition, there's dates with Grambling State (home), James Madison (home), William & Mary (away), IPFW (away), UMass (away), Evansville (away), and Illinois-Chicago (home). This sort of schedule gives the RedHawks a chance to jell without getting mercilessly beaten down in the process.
Miami was picked to come in last in the MAC East in the preseason media poll. (Query whether this means they're picked 6th overall in the MAC. #LOLMACWESTSUCKS)
The Bottom Line
In my fantasies, I see Miami running like no one in the MAC has done recently, wearing teams to the breaking point with a full-court press, and surprising everyone by winning the division, perhaps with enough OOC wins to justify an NIT bid if they don't pull off a tournament victory.
I don't think this will happen. But I also think the media poll is wrong. I see Miami finishing 4th or so in the East, ahead of BG and Buffalo. Make no mistake, this team will have some growing pains, but with the return of key veterans like Roberts and Edwards, the addition of a very experienced Felder, and a new style that no MAC coach has seen Miami play, I think the parts are there for a middle-of-the-pack season. In year one of a new regime, I'd be satisfied with that.
So that's my preview of the Miami RedHawks in 2012-13. I leave you with one of the greatest TV theme songs of all time: