February 14, 2005 CORAL GABLES Any preseason prediction of Miami as a candidate for the NCAA Tournament would have warranted a hearty laugh. But that's exactly where it appears the Hurricanes could be heading. Miami remained focused in mid-February on making the NCAA Tournament, which appeared to be a realistic goal if it can win two of its final five conference games heading into the ACC Tournament.
"I don't know that anybody's not gone (to the Big Dance) from the ACC that's 8-8," said UM coach Frank Haith, who in his first year as a head coach has worked miracles with a talent-depleted squad. "I would be shocked if we didn't. If you look at our resume, we've beaten three ranked teams. ... We just have to get a few more wins."
Since 1992, when Florida State joined the ACC, 56 of the 59 conference teams that finished league play at 8-8 or better have made it into the NCAA Tournament.
What was particularly impressive about Miami's recent run was that it was at this point during the previous two seasons that UM took a nosedive. The team lost 11 of 12 games at the end of last year, nine of 12 in 2002-03. One thing Haith's team has shown is resiliency, pulling out a number of its conference wins in the game's final minute.
However, the blueprint for beating Miami has been drawn up.
According to coaches who have defeated the Hurricanes, the formula doesn't center on stopping Miami's heralded guard play. It starts with limiting the impact of UM's big men. If that can be achieved, the impact the guards have on the game can be survived.
During a stretch in which the Hurricanes lost four of five games (three to teams ranked in the top 10), UM's post players found themselves limited by foul trouble or under attack. That was the case in losses to Duke, North Carolina, Wake Forest and Virginia Tech.
"We definitely need them on the court if we want to do well in the ACC. I hope they continue to do well and get better," junior guard Robert Hite said. "If you have an inside and outside game, you're going to have a good team. If they continue to be aggressive like they've been doing and keep rebounding, we're going to be alright."
Haith said the Hurricanes have trouble fighting through games when either of their starting forwards, Will Frisby and Anthony King, has gotten into foul trouble. Haith and his assistants have worked on helping his players make the necessary adjustments when the game plan has to be altered by their absences. When Frisby and King are on the court, Haith has instructed his team to pass them the ball more often.
King was five-for-five for a career-high 12 points in UM's loss to the Hokies, but his teammates weren't looking for him despite his hot hand. King, who is averaging 7 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.2 blocks, makes a number of baskets off put-backs, but his post moves steadily have improved to the point where he has established himself as a decent scoring threat. In UM's Feb. 12 win at Clemson, he contributed 14 points on seven-of-eight shooting. However, King has rarely taken more than 10 shots in a game, and he has hit that mark only once. He averages 4.7 shots, despite shooting 59 percent from the field.
Frisby, UM's most polished post player, continues to battle inconsistency. He has scored in double figures nine times this season and is shooting just under 50 percent from the field. Many of his baskets also come from offensive rebounds, a category in which UM is ranked atop the ACC.
"This is the second half of the season, things are getting tougher and a lot of things are on the line," King said. "We've still got a sense of urgency."
Hester Cleared After Sprint Probe
After a little-known website reported that a $2,000 match race took place between Miami football player Devin Hester and Washington Redskins wide receiver Antonio Brown, UM conducted an internal investigation but found no NCAA violations.
FlagMag.com reported that the race took place at the Willis McGahee Flag Football Tournament and Festival, an event held on Jan. 29 at Gwen Cherry Park in Miami to benefit the NFL YET Center. The website reported that Brown won the race and the bet.
"We are aware of what happened and have investigated it," Tony Hernandez, UM's assistant athletic director for compliance, told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. "We talked with Devin and others who were present. We don't believe a violation was committed. We don't plan to talk with the NCAA about it unless they want to talk with us."
In Article 10 of the NCAA Bylaws covering ethical conduct, sections 10.3 and 10.3.1 cover gambling by a student-athlete and the associated penalties. The rules focus specifically on intercollegiate and professional athletic activities and do not cover gambling of other types.
Hester admitted to the race in conversations with UM officials but insisted that no money changed hands, saying that it was held for purposes of ego and entertainment only. Apparently, a small crowd of spectators on hand for the football tournament had gathered around Hester and Brown, then egged them on about a head-to-head sprint, with some individuals calling out escalating money values in an effort to get everyone's attention.
Quarterbacks Facing Spring Battle
The word around the Miami football offices right now is that the competition for the team's vacant starting quarterback position isn't going to be as clear-cut as most people think. Apparently, Kyle Wright's slow development hasn't allowed him to put any significant distance between himself and Kirby Freeman.
Wright, the Gatorade national high school player of the year back in 2002, completed five of nine passes for 30 yards last season. A prototype NFL quarterback, he failed to impress last fall in mostly mop-up duty behind senior starter Brock Berlin. Wright has a great arm, and he routinely zips great-looking passes, but his biggest weakness is that he's not very accurate, especially when on the move.
Freeman, a SuperPrep All-American from Texas who redshirted last season at UM while working exclusively with the scout team, is much the opposite. His arm strength is only a little bit above-average, but he's very accurate. He also has some mobility to him, and he's fully recovered from December shoulder surgery on his non-throwing arm.
Look for the quarterback who has a better grasp of the offense and is on the same page with the receivers on route adjustments this spring to win the starting job. Both Wright and Freeman will get a lot of work, because there are no other scholarship quarterbacks on the roster, and that should speed up their development.
In retrospect, Miami's coaches said the team's 2003 spring QB competition which featured Berlin, Derrick Crudup (also a 2004 senior), Marc Guillon (now at Alabama) and Wright ended with too much splitting of snaps. None of the quarterbacks got enough repetitions to separate himself from the pack, and Berlin was named the starter mainly because the staff speculated that the team would have more of an upside with him at the controls.
UM coach Larry Coker usually likes to go into the summer with a clear-cut starter at quarterback, because he relies on that player to serve as a leader of the offseason conditioning program. His choice of Berlin ultimately worked out OK, but the coach's decisions apparently aren't getting any easier.