Question 1: After a very tumultuous season involving injuries and suspensions, the Canes will once again be breaking in a bunch of new players. Which new players need to step up most for the Canes to have a successful season?
Thomson: Am I allowed to answer all of them? Last year, Miami lost so many close games because they literally ran out of scholarship players to put on the court. Nothing against the walk-ons that are vital to every program, but if you’re needing minutes from walk-ons in competitive games, you have a severe depth problem, and Miami had one. This year, there are plenty of question marks throughout the roster because so many roles are up for grabs, but whether a guy finds himself starting or coming off the bench, the key will be to get quality minutes from an ACC scholarship level player as opposed to just hoping the walk-on does not get abused. That’s a difference in close games. However, for purposes of this question, I’m going to say Kameron McGusty and Keith Stone, two transfers that should help ease the adjustment of the incoming freshmen. McGusty spent a year with the Canes after transferring from Oklahoma, and his ability to score and take pressure off Chris Lykes will be vital. Stone is coming off an injury, but the Florida transfer has plenty of experience that will be needed on the interior as the Canes returning players (Gak, Miller) have very little experience, though they will be counted on this year in bunches.
Parasuraman: It’s Rodney Miller. The Canes literally ran out of frontcourt players last year, and they still kept Miller on ice to save him for this year. He looks to be in better shape and can provide some scoring inside to balance out the offense. There were several new players to chose from, but the Canes have invested a lot in Miller. The Canes have other options at other positions, but if Miller struggles and is not at least a solid big, it’s hard to see the Canes having enough to get through the ACC schedule.
Question 2: How does opening the season against Louisville impact the rest of the season?
Thomson: It’s a pure measuring stick game to see how far and how hard Miami needs to go between opening night and the next conference game against Clemson on New Year’s Eve. With Louisville being one of the best teams in the country, it does not matter if this game was played Game 1 or Game 30, the expectation would be the Hurricanes lose this game. If Miami pulls the upset, it goes a long way come March. If Miami loses as expected, it sets a barometer that hopefully carries out throughout the non-conference schedule to ensure the team is ready to go by Clemson and the return of ACC play. I don’t love opening with such a tough opponent, but it does not hurt in the long run.
Parasuraman: If they win, it’s a big win that will be resume building. If they lose, it shouldn’t be a big deal. With that said, they need to flush it postgame regardless of result. This is so detached it’s almost like an exhibition game. After the Louisville game, the Canes ease into the normal season opening routine. The key will be to recover and win the next 3 games before heading to Charleston.
Question 3: What is the out of conference game you’re most looking forward to?
Thomson: Miami plays in the Charleston Classic in a few weeks time. If they win the opener against Missouri State, assuming Florida beats St. Joseph’s, then the Canes and Gators will face off in Game 2 with the winner going to the Championship. That will easily be the best non-conference game for me to look forward to, but if it were not to happen, I’ll settle for the road game against UCF next week.
Parasuraman: At Illinois. This will be another test for the Canes. The Canes have not been great in the ACC-B1G Challenge, and this will be after the opener with Louisville and the trip to Charleston. If the Canes have grown from those experiences, it will show up in this game. Illinois struggled last year but is predicted to be a borderline NCAA team. They will be favored in this game, but it’s also winnable. I’m excited to see what the Canes do here.
Question 4: What is the best case scenario for this team and how would you define success for this team?
Thomson: The ACC is brutal when you are a stacked team, much less when you are one that has been ravished by fake NCAA sanctions the past two years. Luckily the Canes get some very good fresh blood into the program this year, and hopefully the talent and depth is enough to win some of those close games from a year ago. With the conference expanding to 20 conference games, the opportunity will be there for the Canes to make the tournament if they can just win 10 of them. However, that will certainly not be an easy task. The best case scenario is the team somehow finds a way to win 10 conference games and make the tournament. I will define success this year to seeing Miami finish with a winning record and making the NIT. With a reliance on so many new players, building this team into a NCAA Tournament team next year should be the goal. If they make it this year, it’s a fantastic success.
Parasuraman: I suppose the best case scenario is a lot of the Canes’ newcomers seamlessly fit in and the Canes finish in the Top half of the ACC, going to the NCAA Tournament. With that said, if the Canes have some quality wins, compete, and have a season that sets them up for a big 20-21 season, I think that would be successful. I mentioned Illinois in the previous answer. If the Canes show enough where they’re expected to make the NCAA Tourney next year, like Illinois last year, that would be successful.
Question 5: How do you see the 2019-20 season playing out?
Thomson: Somewhat piggy backing off the last answer, I think making the tournament this year is a tough ask even though it is not unrealistic. The non-conference schedule is both challenging while also allowing Miami opportunity to notch wins and develop the roster. It will be imperative to win those close games against inferior/equal competition that all too many times resulted in losses last year. Unfortunately, the ACC schedule this year is brutal with home and away matchups against Louisville and Duke, which all but puts four losses on the record (even with Coach L’s magic). The season will likely be decided by a 5 game stretch in February of Boston College and Wake Forest at home, followed by road games to Virginia Tech, Notre Dame and Georgia Tech. All five are winnable games, and if Miami does that, it very well could be enough to push Miami into a winning conference record. I think it falls short. Miami goes 8-2 non-conference with losses to Florida and Illinois in the ACC-Big 10 Challenge. Miami goes 8-12 in the conference for an overall record of 16-14, and accepts an invitation to the NIT where the Canes notch a couple of post-season victories to spring towards a big year in 2020-2021.
Parasuraman: This feels like an NIT team, but it’s actually hard to make the NIT. With automatic bids and a smaller field, there are very few at-large opportunities in the NIT, so the Canes would need to be borderline on the bubble to get in. I just don’t see it. The ACC is so competitive that I think, while they show some growth, they finish in the bottom half of the ACC. Another season without a postseason appearance but enough fun moments to keep interest. I think Miami finishes below .500 overall in the ACC, with a series of tough losses and some blowouts as well. Feels like a 7-13 ACC schedule and 3 non-conference losses to take the Canes to 14-16 overall.