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MAC Basketball 2016-2017 Preview: Miami RedHawks

Can John Cooper’s squad rebound from an inconsistent 2015-16 to make a run in Cleveland?

NCAA Basketball: Miami (OH) at Dayton David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

To say that last season was up-and-down for the Miami RedHawks would be an understatement, as the basketball team went 7-7 in non-conference play (including a 64-63 loss at Dayton) before kicking off the MAC season on a seven-game losing streak. Despite its struggles, Miami was able to hit another gear late in the season as it won three straight games over Akron, Kent State, and Buffalo, and won at Ball State in the first round of the MAC Tournament but fell to the eventual MAC champion Bulls in the following round.

The ‘Hawks have to be more consistent this season if they want to be real contenders in the MAC, which will be hard to do this season due to the departures of starters Chris Bryant, Geovonie McKnight, and Eric Washington. Some returners that saw a lot of playing time in 2015-16 include Abdoulaye Harouna (19.6 minutes per game and 14 steals in MAC play), Rod Mills Jr. (18.4 MPG and 4.3 points per game in MAC play), and Dion Wade (23.5 MPG, 5.6 PPG, and 5.1 rebounds per game in MAC play). The Red and White have a really young roster with one senior and seven freshmen, but that’s to be expected when you graduate eight seniors in one class as the RedHawks did.

Even though the problems with the youth are what they are, it’s still a make-or-break season for John Cooper this season. He has a record of 48-79 since becoming the head coach at Miami, and despite some of the good things he has done at MU (four players playing professionally, ranked in the top 35 nationally in steals in three of the last four seasons), he has to win games, particularly in the MAC. It’ll take a tremendous coaching job to get wins with this roster, but it’s a job that has to be done if you’re the head coach of Miami basketball.

The recruiting under Cooper has been pretty decent too, with the RedHawks having the best recruiting class in the MAC in 2014 per 247Sports.com with Mills along with three-star recruits Zach McCormick, and Logan McClane committing to the school. This season’s freshman class has a lot of length with four players coming in at 6’5” or taller, so it’s not like Cooper isn’t getting the talent to be competitive. At the end of the day, it comes down to player development and tailoring the scheme to fit the personnel because the odds are good that players are going to stick around for three or four years and you have to get the most out of them.

After starting this season with a bizarre 1 p.m. Friday game against Division III Muskingum on Nov. 11, Miami doesn’t really have a marquee non-conference match-up outside of Missouri on Dec. 6 so we won’t really be able to gauge how good Miami is until it hits conference play. The RedHawks will be tested early in MAC play with consecutive games at Toledo, at Ball State, and vs. Akron, and the end of the season is just as rough as five of the last six feature the Zips as well as Kent State, Buffalo, and Ohio.

For Miami to have a successful season, the defense has to win the day for them again. The ‘Hawks led the MAC in scoring defense with 69.2 PPG allowed and was tied for third in field goal percentage allowed with .438 a season ago. Although the offensive end will be hurt due to all it lost in graduation, all the length that Miami has will cause a lot of problems for MAC teams and it should continue to have success in turning teams over. This season will come down to turning defense into offense and the young guys playing sound basketball on that end of the floor, and if the RedHawks can do that, we might finally have that breakthrough season we’ve been looking for out of Cooper’s squad.