The Miami Hurricanes showed a lot of potential and hope during the ACC tournament last season, grabbing two upset wins and getting out to an impressive first half start against Duke before eventually losing to the Blue Devils. Miami only lost two starters from last season, and have quite a few incoming players that look to be strong contributors for the Hurricanes this year.

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The key for Miami this season is to win more games against conference opponents, as they ended up with an ACC-worst 4-12 record in conference play last year. While the ACC is one of the toughest conferences in college basketball, the Hurricanes have the potential to finish high enough in the middle of the pack to make a trip to the NCAA tournament this year.

Miami only plays one non-conference game versus an opponent that is ranked in the preseason, and that contest comes early in the schedule on Nov. 16 at 19th-ranked Memphis. The Hurricanes could definitely use a win in this contest, but the most important thing for them is to not slip up against their other non-conference opponents. Miami ended last year with a 16-1 record outside the ACC, but most of those victories came against inferior teams and led to them getting beat up in conference play.

Coach Frank Haith will depend on Durand Scott and Malcolm Grant to help guide his inexperienced team in an effort to improve from last season. While they may not be in contention to win the conference this year, they should play some fairly exciting basketball, as they have some of the most atheletic players in the conference.

Front Court: Julian Gamble and Reggie Johnson will be relied upon pretty heavily this season when it comes to defense and rebounding, as they look to fill the void that was left with the departure of Dewayne Collins when he left for the NBA after last year. At 6’9? and 6’10?, respectively, the duo is tall enough to match-up favorably against most of their opponents at the center position. Both players need to improve their shooting this year, however, as Johnson shot 52% from the field last year, while Gamble only made 48% on his attempts.

DeQuan Jones is an exceedingly explosive forward with good speed and athletic ability. He is best known for his ability to finish and his dunking skills, but he will need to improve on his outside shooting this season. He shot a horrid 23% from three-point range last season, making only 6 of his 26 attempts from long range.

The ‘Canes have Eric Swoope and Raphael Akpejiori joining their team this season. Swoope is another extremely athletic small forward that will be pushing Jones for minutes all season at the position. Akpejiori, at 6’9?, should be a solid contributor when it comes to hitting the glass, and at 230 lbs, should be a fairly strong force down low against smaller post players.

Donnovan Kirk will also be returning to the ‘Canes after being receiving a medical red-shirt last season when he only played in four games. He will need to help pick up some of the slack with rebounding on both sides of the court this season.

Back Court: The Hurricanes’ success this year largely teeters on their back court, which is headlined by Durand Scott and Malcolm Grant. Both players are coming off brilliant performances in the conference tournament, and the hopes are fairly high for them this year as they will be looked upon as leaders on the court.

Scott, a very impressive guard who is extremely athletic and very good at finding open shooters, will be the floor leader for Miami. Contributing 10.3 points per night last season, and scoring double digits in eight of their final nine games, Scott should raise his scoring average this year. Their success will not only ride on his ability to score, but also on how well he distributes the ball and his effectiveness at getting his team involved.

While Grant is smaller and shorter than Scott, he plays most of his minutes at the two. Although he was tops on the team with 3.5 dimes per contest last season, he will need to focus more on scoring this year after averaging just under 10 points per night last season. If he can be a consistent point producer this season, Miami surely could be one of the surprise teams to exceed their expectations.

Rion Brown will also play an important part in the Miami back court. The freshman shooting guard from Georgia is a Top 100 prospect and should be extremely productive for the Canes if he gets enough minutes this year.

Stephen’s Prediction-7th place in the conference: Miami has some extremely talented players on their roster, but unfortunately for them they play in a very deep ACC that has last year’s national champions, the Duke Blue Devils, who they go up against twice this season.

If they can get strong contributions from all of their players, they could move up the standings a position or two. However, I can’t picture Miami being able to make a jump into the top tier of the conference and finishing ahead of any of the four teams currently ranked in the Top 25 . While the Hurricanes could potentially be a bubble team late in the year if they have an impressive stretch during conference play, it is unlikely they will actually land a spot in the tournament when all of the dust settles.

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