|More racially sensitive than their last mascot.|
One of Xavier's traditions during Chris Mack's young tenure as head coach has been to begin the season 8-5 with at least a couple of completely inexplicable losses thrown in. Last year, X fit the bill by heading to Miami of Ohio to face a mediocre team whose best win to that point was at home against IUPUI. The Muskies somehow contrived to lose that game by eleven. This year, the Red Hawks come to Cintas, and X should be geared up for a measure of revenge.
Charlie Coles seems like he has been at Miami forever, but he's actually "only" been there for fifteen years. He has had some good years - including a Sweet 16 run with Wally Szczerbiak - but times have gotten a little lean for him of late. One thing Cole's teams never are is in a hurry. Last year they averaged around 64 possessions per game, good for 281st in the nation. This stultifying pace is far and away the fastest they've been since Ken Pomeroy started tracking such things back in 2003. Beyond that, Miami has struggled to find a consistent identity as a team. Their offense has lingered between 100th and 150th, and their defense has been anywhere from 48th to 246th in the country. Shooting, assisting, rebounding, and ball security numbers have all experienced similar fluctuations in recent years.
Unlike some of the other upcoming opponents we've profiled, Miami lost a couple of key players from last season. Swingman Antonio Ballard and forward Nick Winbush both graduated (or at least ran out of eligibility), taking a combined 25/13.5/2.3 with them. From a team that scored 34.5% of its points from behind the arc last year (33rd in the nation), losing leading three-point shooter Winbush (68 3PM) will be an especially damaging blow. While Ballard missed almost the entire second half of the season with a wrist injury, he still managed to finish third on the team in rebounds. Winbush, for what it's worth, was second.
The team those two (and Sean Mock, who played 13 more minutes than I did last year) leave behind was not in great shape to begin with. The offense was plagued by turnovers on 21.8% of its possessions, 265th in the nation. They shot the ball okay (50.1% EFG, 118th), but they pulled in their own misses at a clip good for 288th nationally. The team was a shambles on the defensive end, ranking 240th in EFG, 270th in block percentage, 318th in steal percentage, and 332 in TO%. Despite the fact that they finished 16-17 last season, it's fair to say that the Red Hawks - with a barely mediocre offense and a miserable defense - rode their luck a little bit.
|Miami's team picture.|
It's not all bad news for Miami though; they do bring back their leading scorer, their leading rebounder, and their leading assist man. A cynic might point out that those distinctions all belong to the same player, 6'8" rising senior Julian Mavunga. Mavunga has - obviously - been the man for the Red Hawks, and he also led them in rebounding and was second in scoring as a sophomore. He brings back a shooting line of .451/.333/.705 to go with his 14.8/8.2/3.0. Guard Orlando Williams is the team's top returning three-point threat and their next-best offensive player, sporting a line of 9.8/2.8/1.9 on .419/.396/.610. He's also the team's second-best returning rebounder, which doesn't augur well for their chances of improving on the glass.
Forward Bill Edwards will join the team after sitting out last year as a transfer from Penn State, where his numbers were less than inspiring. At 6'6", 235, he won't do much towards shoring up Miami inside. Incoming freshman Jared Tadlock has the height (6'9") but not the breadth (200lbs) to help out on the glass. He's an agile big man with a decent jumper out to 17' or so, but he needs to add strength. Combo guard Brian Sullivan rounds out the Red Hawks new scholarship players for the upcoming season; the freshman is a good shooter but needs to improve his handle and ability to score in situations that aren't catch-and-shoot. He was Ohio Capital Conference Central Player of the Year as a junior.
On paper, the Red Hawks are not a good enough team to pose a threat to Xavier, but the same could have been said about them last year. With two key players missing from that team and no clear replacements stepping up to fill the gap, Miami could be looking at a step back from what was already a down year last season. With them coming into Cintas and last year's embarrassing defeat in the rear view, the Muskies should be able to make short work of Miami this time around.