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MAC Men's Basketball Preview: Miami RedHawks

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John Cooper's squad is Miami's most experienced team in years. Will the RedHawks finally get over the hump?

Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

Miami is full of seniors. Bursting at the seams with them. In fact, the team doesn't have a single freshman on the roster.

Why all the experience? Because this team is built to win now. But can they?

Head Coach: John Cooper, 4th year, 35-59 (19-33)

This is John Cooper's fourth season, and it could well be make-or-break time. After understandable growing pains as the team transitioned away from Charlie Coles' schemes, last season was expected to be a year where the team made significant leaps. It didn't really work out that way, as the RedHawks still finished 8th overall in the MAC (4th in the East). With a possible contract extension up in the air, Cooper has gone all in on this season, loading a roster full with transfers and JUCOs who are expected to contribute immediately. (There's only one player left who saw the floor when Charlie Coles was in charge.) There's pressure to win in Oxford, and this year's roster and schedule are the chance to do it.

2015-2016 schedule

Date Opponent Time (EST) Notes
4-Nov Ohio Midwestern 7:00 Exhibition
13-Nov at Xavier 7:00
17-Nov Kenyon 7:00
20-Nov Lipscomb 7:00 Men Against Breast Cancer Challenge
21-Nov Florida Atlantic 3:30 Men Against Breast Cancer Challenge
22-Nov Northeastern 2:00 Men Against Breast Cancer Challenge
24-Nov IPFW 7:00
28-Nov UCF 1:30
5-Dec at IUPUI 1:00
13-Dec Wright State 1:30
15-Dec Jackson State 7:00
18-Dec at Tennessee Tech TBD
22-Dec at Dayton TBD
2-Jan South Carolina State 3:30
6-Jan at Bowling Green 7:00
9-Jan Toledo 3:30
12-Jan at Kent State TBD
16-Jan at Ball State TBD
19-Jan Buffalo 7:00
23-Jan at Akron TBD
26-Jan Central Michigan 7:00
30-Jan Northern Illinois 3:30
2-Feb at Eastern Michigan TBD
6-Feb Bowling Green 3:30
9-Feb at Western Michigan TBD
13-Feb at Toledo 7:00
16-Feb Ball State 7:00
20-Feb at Ohio TBD
23-Feb Akron 7:00
27-Feb Kent State 3:30
1-Mar at Buffalo 7:00
4-Mar Ohio 7:00

The schedule is winnable

No bones about it: this is one of Miami's easiest OOC schedules in years. Yes, the Mythical Miami Valley League trio of Xavier, Dayton, and Wright State will prove tough—it always does—but those "fund the athletic program" body-bag games that Brad Bates forced on Charlie Coles are a thing of the past. Gone are the days of going on the road to Duke, Ohio State, and Kansas in one season. (That really happened in 2010-2011.) Instead, Miami gets Lipscomb, Florida Atlantic, and Northeastern at home as part of a "challenge" event. Under John Cooper and David Sayler, Miami has adopted a much more sensible scheduling philosophy: a few local rivalries, games against quality mid-majors, and an out-of-conference slate that provides a clear path to 20+ wins if the team performs well in MAC play.

Experienced senior leadership

There are no freshmen on this team. Not one. In fact, there are six (six!) scholarship seniors on the roster and one walk-on. Geovonie McKnightwho came in at #22 on our top 25 MAC players countdown, headlines this group, as he's the only player on the roster who saw the floor under Charlie Coles. Eric Washington, a guard who transferred from Presbyterian, has a chance to break into Miami's top-10 list for career assists after just two seasons thanks to an eye-popping 176 last year, earning second team All-MAC honors in the process. Guard Willie Moore, a Cincinnati Aiken product who transferred after one year at Oregon, can also be expected to contribute after playing in all 32 games last season, including 11 games in double figures. And the trio of L.J. Livingston, Kalif Wright, and Chris Bryant--again, all transfers, as Cooper has recruited a team built to win now--will split time in a deep front court that's among the most experienced in the conference.

Even the newcomers are experienced

But if there aren't any freshmen, how are there newcomers? Because they're also transfers. The big name here is Dion Wade, a guard who transferred after his freshman season at Auburn thanks in no small part to the staff's deep connections in SEC country. Wade graduated from basketball power Findlay Prep of Henderson, Nevada, and he was a nominee for the McDonald's All-American team his senior year. An injury left him the odd man out under new head coach Bruce Pearl's regime at Auburn, but the Tigers' loss is the RedHawks' gain, especially with Wade's ability to connect from long range.

Joining Wade is graduate transfer Jere Vucica, a Croatian national who graduated from Division II North Alabama last season and is eligible to play immediately. Last season, he averaged 30.4 minutes per game to contribute an average of 12 points from the small forward position. Vucica also played for the Croatian U20 national team, helping them to a European title in 2012.

Also seeing the floor at Millett Hall for the first time is Abdoulaye Harouna, a sophomore who previously played for the College of Southern Idaho. Harouna, a Nigerien (not Nigerian, there's a difference) national who prepped at South Kent High School in Connecticut, led Southern Idaho to the NJCAA Region 18 title and subsequently to the #3 overall seed in the NJCAA national tournament. For his efforts in the Region 18 tournament—which included twelve three-pointers over the semifinals and finals—he was named Region 18 tournament MVP. He led the Golden Eagles with 65 treys last season and figures to be a serious outside threat.

The bottom line

With no freshmen and the largest group of seniors in the MAC, Cooper has built the RedHawks to win, and to win now. This is easily Miami's most experienced team in years, and it faces a schedule that should, by all rights, get it into some kind of postseason play. The RedHawks were tabbed fifth in the east by the media, but if this veteran team jells—and Vucica's said in an interview that he's amazed how well everyone gets along together already, both on and off the court—then the rest of the conference should watch out. If Miami isn't in legitimate competition for the #4 seed (and that all-important bye) in the last week of the season, I think it's safe to say most will consider the season a disappointment. When you build a roster to go all in on 2015-2016, you'd better not come up empty.