13-18 (8-10 MAC; 0-1 against Division III competition)
Before the season began, I wrote Hustle Belt's Miami basketball preview. And here's what I said then:
I don't like to make predictions. I am notoriously bad at predictions. (Although the night after the Miami-CMU football game, I had a dream that Don Treadwell would be fired, so there's that.) Here's what I'm willing to say, though: I think Miami will show marked improvement from last season, but finish in that vast soup of middle-of-the-MAC teams who are all within a game or two of each other and see everything decided by tiebreakers. I expect next season to be the RedHawks' true breakout year under John Cooper.
As I'll explain below, I think this pretty well describes what happened in the RedHawks' second season under John Cooper. But next year will be make-or-break time for him.
For me, the unquestioned best news of the season has been the emergence and development of Jaryd Eustace. The Australian guard started the year as a tentative catch-and-shoot type, but ended up developing a very nice drive to the hoop that, in turn, opened up his three-point shooting by keeping defenders honest. And the ability of John Cooper and staff to develop players shows in the strides others made as well, like Geovonie McKnight getting a better jump shot off the dribble and Willie Moore showing some flashes of slash moves that would make Chet Mason proud.
In terms of highs on the schedule, if you had told me before the season began that Miami would beat both Kent and Akron, I'd have been quite happy. And I'm still quite happy about it, especially the road win at Kent State, the RedHawks' first since 2009. (Yes, I know Kent State isn't exactly the MAC's marquee program any more, but that's still a huge positive for Miami.)
Although the season, like everyone not named either UConn or Kentucky this year, ended in a loss, there was definite, noticeable improvement in the RedHawks' play throughout the year, especially the Akron victory, where Miami finally proved it could finish out a game.
Miami finally proved it could finish out a game against Akron (and against Bowling Green three days prior), but the RedHawks spent most of the year, including games after the Akron tilt, showing that they were excellent at blowing leads. Overtime losses to Western Michigan and Ohio spring to mind, as does giving away what would have been a signature win for Cooper against UMass. The story of Miami's 2013-14 season was largely one of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, for the RedHawks found themselves blown out far less frequently than last year, but giving up games nonetheless.
And Miami specialized in a certain kind of blown lead: a total inability to play perimeter defense. The RedHawks finished dead last in the MAC, and 318th in Division I, in defensive three-point percentage. Opponents made 258 of 681 shots from downtown, or 37.9 percent. Northern Illinois finished first in the MAC, and twentieth in Division I, at 30.4 percent. If we keep NIU's defensive percentage the same but up the number of shots the Huskies faced to Miami's 681, that means NIU would have allowed 207. To continue the math, that works out to five points fewer per game given up on the three-point shot. When you look at the schedule and see that Miami lost three games by five points or less, plus a number in the under-ten range that surely would have been different if Miami weren't fouling like mad to make up a five-point deficit in the last minute, you're looking at a potentially much better season, record-wise.
But all that is nothing compared to the absolute low for Miami this season: a home loss to Division III Wilmington. Nothing more needs to be said about this, and I have now removed it from my mind, much like a football game from 2002 that doesn't exist.
Miami started losing players before the season began. Allen Roberts was run off the team for being a clubhouse cancer (only to quit the Penn State team later on when he wasn't coddled as he wanted). Jon Harris transferred to Cleveland State so he could be closer to home. Drew McGhee left for Kennesaw State after graduation to play for Jimmy Lallathin, who originally recruited him to Miami. Josh Sewell just plain didn't want to play basketball any more.
And the hits kept on coming in the fall, as transfer Blake McLimans -- a rent-a-grad-student big man from Michigan -- quit the team rather than give up his long-distance chucking to play in the paint, and sophomore Reggie Johnson transferred after seeing he'd lose playing time to Eustace and Moore. Plus, the neverending Bill Edwards injury saga continued.
And hey, did we mention that Miami will be losing its unquestioned floor general, Quinten Rollins, and its only reliable inside presence, Will Felder, to graduation and the end of their four years of eligibility? (Rollins, recall, is sticking around another year to play football.)
So what's back next year, and who joins up? Well, Eric Washington, a transfer point guard from Presbyterian who redshirted last season, has the potential to fill Rollins' role immediately. Word is he's been excellent in practice. Plus, Eustace and Moore are natural point guards, even if they weren't used to fill that role last year. Miami also gains the services of incoming freshmen Zach McCormick (the No 1 guard recruit in Ohio), Roderick Mills (No. 4 forward in Ohio), and Logan McLane (No. 2 forward in North Carolina). And hey, who knows, Bill Edwards might somehow get another year of eligibility if he wants it.
Miami will be solid with guards next season, but there will be a lot of pressure on McLane and walk-on John Hawkins to contribute immediately down low if Edwards remains unavailable.
Given the crazy roster turnover and injury situations Cooper has faced in his first two years, I'm not sure it's fair to assign him or the team a grade yet. But there are some things he's doing well and some things he's not doing so well.
First, it appears he's doing a good job recruiting and developing ties. There have undoubtedly been some recruiting mistakes, but overall, this appears to be a high point for Cooper. Off the top of my head, I can't recall the last time Miami landed Ohio's top recruit in a given position, and the international connections Cooper has on staff seem to be paying off. Plus, Roderick Mills is a St. Xavier product, the first Greater Catholic League player I can remember the RedHawks signing in quite some time. If that portends more in the future, then it's a big plus from this season.
Second, though, Cooper's defensive coaching seems to be pretty poor. This isn't to question his leadership -- I have no doubt that the players respect him and will play their behinds off for him -- but rather to point out that, when a team blows lead, after lead, after lead by letting teams get open over, and over, and over again from three, that eventually falls on the coaching, rather than the players. In one game, you can blame it on a missed assignment here or there. In a season's worth of games, it's because the right skills aren't being taught in practice, nor are the right adjustments being made during games.
But Miami did show consistent improvement in most facets of the game throughout the season. The team that beat Kent State in early March would have beaten Wilmington by 20-plus. The team that lost to Wilmington in November just wasn't the same.
C, verging on to a C-. I saw pretty much what I expected to see: a team that has made some significant progress but still has serious holes finishing in the middle of the pack in the conference. (It would be a C+, but I'm deducting for losing to Wilmington. I mean, come on.)