Florida Southern-Miami Preview

While Miami was pleased to find itself ranked in the preseason for the first time in nine years, the No. 17 Hurricanes are more concerned about what happens next.

Facing perhaps the highest expectations in school history, Miami opens its season Saturday against Division II foe Florida Southern.

Miami surprised many last season by going 23-11 and finishing fourth in the Atlantic Coast Conference, a stunning improvement after going 12-20 and a last-place finish in 2006-07.

The Hurricanes return four starters and their top five scorers from a team that reached the second round of the NCAA tournament, leading prognosticators to believe they can be among the elite teams in the ACC.

“We have a very good team, a team that is very deep and experienced,” coach Frank Haith said, “our most experienced team since I’ve been here.”

Haith is especially excited about what this season will bring for 2007-08 leading scorer, Jack McClinton, who finished fourth in the ACC with 17.7 points per game.

The senior guard transferred from Sienna at the end of the 2004-05 season, and he’s developed into one of the top players in the ACC. He shot 43 percent from 3-point range and 92 percent from the foul line en route to being the first Miami player to make the All-ACC first team.

“The sky’s the limit for Jack,” Haith says. “When a guy works as hard as he works, he’s going to be successful. He has continually proven people wrong, and I don’t think he’s going to stop working and think he’s got this thing whipped. He’s not that kind of kid.”

With all the talent returning, Miami was rewarded with its highest preseason ranking ever and just its second in school history. The Hurricanes were 25th in the 1999 preseason poll.

The Hurricanes are now focused, though, on making sure they are ranked at the end of the season. They recognize they can no longer sneak up on teams, and that’s why McClinton believes the team needs to play as if nothing’s changed from the program’s down years.

“Expectations are maybe different,” McClinton said. “We’ve got to still come at the season with a chip on our shoulder, knowing nothing is going to be given to us and we have to work for everything.”

Along with the core of returning players, Miami is also excited about the potential of freshman forward DeQuan Jones, one of the team’s top recruits.

“DeQuan is a bundle of energy, and he’s super confident,” McClinton says. “I think he’s really going to help us out this year. I’m real excited to see what he brings.”

The Hurricanes had the second-best scoring defense in the ACC last season, holding opponents to 67.9 points on 40.7 percent shooting.

Florida Southern (3-0) won the Disney Classic with a 77-69 win over Minnesota-Duluth on Sunday in the championship game.

The Moccasins, who went 24-9 last season as Division II’s Sunshine State Conference champions, return four starters from that team. Senior Rob Eldridge led them with 19 points Sunday, and Rion Rayfield added 18.

Florida Southern played two exhibition road games against Division I programs last season, falling 94-62 to Purdue and 82-61 to Illinois.

Miami leads the all-time series against Florida Southern 59-8. The Hurricanes have won 24 of the last 25, including a 104-61 victory last season— an exhibition game for the Moccasins. That was the first meeting between the two since Florida Southern’s 96-95 overtime win in 1971.

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Updated Friday, Nov 14, 2008