Miami entered this season with its highest preseason ranking in part because its top five scorers from last season returned. Based on the debuts of some of their newcomers, the Hurricanes have reason to be optimistic about climbing in the poll.
The 17th-ranked Hurricanes look to build on an impressive performance in a season-opening victory as they meet Southern Mississippi on Friday in the opener of the Paradise Jam tournament at the University of the Virgin Islands.
Miami welcomed back its top five scorers from last season in Jack McClinton, James Dews, Brian Asbury, Dwayne Collins and Lance Hurdle, who combined for 53.4 of the Hurricanes’ 74.8 points per game.
With such an experienced nucleus returning from a team that won 23 games and advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament, Miami earned its highest preseason ranking ever. It’s also the Hurricanes’ best ranking at any point in a season since they were No. 17 on Feb. 18, 2002.
The Hurricanes could easily move up if they continue to get the balanced offensive production that helped them to a 96-60 win over Florida Southern in their season opener on Saturday.
McClinton and Collins had 18 points apiece, and Collins added a career-high 16 rebounds in 25 minutes for his 11th career double-double.
“That’s the kind of big-boy stats you want,” coach Frank Haith said. “Having Dwayne play like that really helps us because we’ve got post presence, and I thought our guys did a good job of feeding it to him. But he was on the boards and he was very active. When he’s live like that, he’s a tough matchup for people.”
Perhaps more important for the Hurricanes was the strong play from newcomers Cyrus McGowan and DeQuan Jones.
McGowan, a transfer from Arkansas, had seven points and 10 rebounds in 15 minutes.
“I couldn’t wait for the season to start,” he said. “I think we have a great team this year. We’re hungry and ready to play.”
Jones, a highly touted freshman forward out of Stone Mountain, Ga., added seven points in 17 minutes off the bench.
“It was good to see DeQuan get out there and get his feet wet a little bit,” Haith said. “He was a little anxious early on, you could see that. It was great that he broke through that and was able to make some plays at the end because we are going to need him. We are going to need his ability.”
That’s how Southern Mississippi coach Larry Eustachy feels about junior guard Jeremy Wise, who scored 26 in the Eagles’ 74-61 win over Alabama State on Tuesday.
“He can hit a basket for you at any time and basically the name of the game is making baskets,” Eustachy said.
Wise has led Southern Miss (2-0) in scoring in each of its first two games, averaging 24.5 points and 6.5 rebounds while shooting 55.2 percent from the field. He’s also 4-for-8 from 3-point range.
Wise hopes to continue his strong start against Miami in the teams’ first meeting since the Hurricanes’ 85-78 win on Feb. 26, 1957. That evened the all-time series at one victory apiece.
The winner of this game will play the winner of Friday night’s contest between No. 2 Connecticut and La Salle.