The Hurricanes were one of the best stories in college basketball this year. When Frank Haith left to take the Missouri job, the Canes had never once had a winning record in the ACC. Two years later and Miami just went 13-5 in the conference regular season, and then swept through the tourney for their first ACC Title.
In the NCAA Tournament, they ran into Marquette who may have played their best game of the season.
Now it's time to look ahead to next year.
The Canes had six seniors on this year's team. One – Garrius Adams – missed the year with a knee injury and should be back next season. They also had a freshman (Bishop Daniels) leave the program after playing just three games.
Daniels wasn't a big cog at all, but the five seniors were. Miami had four players play more than 1,000 minutes, and three were seniors. Just two of the top seven (in terms of minutes) are not graduating.
All told – and this assumes that Shane Larkin returns – the Hurricanes lose 64% of their minutes. Where does that leave them?
In the past two years only 2011 Boston College and 2012 North Carolina returned that few minutes in a season in the ACC. Which one is a better model for Miami?
Worst Case Scenario
The 2010-11 Eagles was head coach Steve Donahue's first team at BC. They had four senior starters and a junior in Reggie Jackson. They went 9-7 in the ACC and failed to make the NCAA Tournament.
After the season Reggie Jackson left, leaving the roster glutted. The following season they went 9-22 (4-12). That was also the weakest year in the ACC in recent memory, so the team was actually worse than the record indicates.
Miami isn't going to fall that far. But what if Shane Larkin decides to go pro? Suddenly Miami is losing 82% of their minutes, and in a much stronger ACC 5-13 would be considered an accomplishment.
Best Case Scenario
The 2011-12 Tar Heels spent much of the season considered as the favorite to win it all. But they underperformed, failing to win the ACC, and failing to advance to the Final Four. Then they lost four players who would be drafted in the first 17 picks of the NBA Draft.
All told they lost 65% of their minutes.
But – this is North Carolina after all – and this team simply reloads. They returned four players who had been consensus top-25 recruits, and brought in three more consensus top-60 recruits. The only team which could rival their depth was Duke. But the Tar Heels were young. They took months to gel. In the end they finished as an 8-seed in the NCAA Tournament and were knocked out in the round of 32.
Considering the talent they lost, this wasn't a horrible outcome.
The Canes could be in a similar situation, only they don't have the talent that UNC has. Rion Brown – who was the consensus No. 61 recruit in the nation – is the only top 100 player they have on their entire roster. The recruiting world obviously whiffed on Shane Larkin, but even if we quantify him as a consensus top-10 recruit, then the Tar Heels returned nine players who were ranked higher than Brown, to Miami's one.
Miami's recruiting class is solid, but it doesn't have any consensus top-100 players in it.
Best Case Scenario, Part II
To find another model for Miami, all you have to do is follow Miami's old coach Frank Haith. His inaugural Mizzou squad (a 2-seed, just like this year's Miami), lost (just like this year's Miami) five of their top seven players in terms of minutes. But they made the tournament this year as a 9-seed. So how did they do it?
The short answer is that they hit the lottery: the transfer lottery.
Haith landed Alex Oriakhi (UConn), Earnest Ross (Auburn), Keion Bell (Pepperdine), Jabari Brown (Oregon), and Tony Criswell (JUCO). All of them were among the most coveted transfers, and all picked Missouri.
Can Miami pull this off? It's too soon to tell, but at least Jim Larranaga can guarantee playing time. The problem is that high-end transfers are ridiculously competitive to get, and Miami isn't exactly a basketball hot bed.
Regardless, one of the best stories this year will certainly be an interesting story to follow next year. And if Larranaga can somehow get them back into the tourney, then go ahead and give him the Coach of the Year Award, again.