Miami Hurricanes Basketball: Evaluating the Hurricanes A Month Into the Season

December 16th signals the end of final exams at the University of Miami, as well as just over a month into the college basketball season. Just like the teachers giving out their final grades to students, I evaluated each Miami player so far this season.

While it’s still early, the Hurricanes have had their fair share of games against opponents both strong and weak opponents, giving us a solid foundation to examine and rate each player’s performance.

Here are my ratings for the Miami Hurricanes so far on a 1-10 scale:

Sheldon McClellan – 9.5

Stats through nine games: 16.8 PPG, FG%- 59 percent, 3P%- 54.8 percent

As the unquestioned top scorer on the team, Sheldon McClellan has been spectacular to start the 2015-16 season.

Last season, the only critique of Mcclellan was his lack of aggressiveness at times. Nine games in this year, we’ve certainly seen that change.

McClellan has scored at least 14 points in seven games this season and had 27 and 24 points in two of the biggest games this year vs. Utah and Florida respectively.

Even with that aggressiveness, McClellan has still been an extremely efficient shooter with his field goal percentage up 11 percent and his three-point percentage up 19 percent from last year. Adding to that he’s averaged 4.6 free throws per game and is taking advantage of that by shooting 87.8% from the charity stripe.

For the Hurricanes to avoid any bad losses in the last three games of the non-conference and for them to thrive in the ACC, we’ll need to see similar production from McClellan the rest of the way. Going off of what we’ve seen so far, I don’t see him letting up and I wouldn’t be surprised if his name ends up in the ACC Player of the Year conversation.

Angel Rodriguez – 8.5

Stats through nine games: 12.9 PPG, 4.0 APG, FG%- 44.4 percent

His numbers haven’t been as flashy as they were last year, but with the way Angel Rodriguez has played so far, I’m sure the Miami coaching staff won’t mind.

The redshirt senior’s biggest issue last year was his impulse to force shots when the offense wasn’t producing and so far this season, he’s certainly gotten that more under control. While he’s still not perfect, Rodriguez has improved his field goal percentage by 11 percent compared to last year and is averaging a whole shot less during the game. That may not seem like much, but when Rodriguez is making smart decisions on his shot-taking, he’s a much-improved player.

Taking out the opening game of the season against Texas-Rio Grande Valley, the Puerto Rico native has shot at least 33.3% from the field in every other game and while he’s a very solid shooter, the Hurricanes offense runs much more efficiently when he is looking to pass first and take an open shot second.

Rodriguez’s knack for showing up in the big games is something he hasn’t changed from last year with his two best performances coming against Butler and Florida.

His 8.5 rating represents the few stretches like at the end of the Nebraska game where he forces long three-pointers or difficult layups inside when he has better options. Obviously no player is going to make every shot, but if he becomes a more efficient and effective decision-maker than he already is, that rating would go up and he would control the keys to one of college basketball’s top offenses.

Ja’Quan Newton – 8

Stats through nine games: 11.0 PPG, 3.0 APG, FG%- 46.8 percent

While his last game vs. Florida was his worst this season, Ja’Quan Newton would certainly qualify as the Hurricanes most improved player from last year.

The sophomore point guard has backed up Angel Rodriguez this season and still is the third-leading scorer on the team with all his numbers from last year up to start this year.

What perhaps has been most impressive is Newton’s improvement shooting the basketball and his willingness to attack the hoop even more this season. Like McClellan, Newton has gotten to the line often, but the sophomore is averaging even more attempts at the free-throw line per game with 5.7 a night. After shooting 64% from the line last year, Newton has improved all the way to 76.5% this season.

The backup point guard has finished with double-figures in scoring in seven games this season after only doing it in four games last year and has been a huge weapon for Coach Larranaga off the bench.

My only concern from the sophomore’s game thus far has been his performance against Utah and Florida in which he scored just five and three points respectively. Newton did have 17 points vs. the Butler Bulldogs, but it will be interesting to see as we move into the ACC whether or not Newton can keep his production up as the Hurricanes meet tougher opposition.

Tonye Jekiri – 8

Stats through nine games: 9.2 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 1.6 BPG

Tonye Jekiri is close to averaging a double-double, but the scary thing in my opinion for the rest of the country and the ACC is he still hasn’t played his best basketball yet.

Yes, he was phenomenal against Utah and Butler with double-doubles in each of those games, but in the other games I feel he still has potential to dominate even more.

Theres no doubt though that his rebounding has been excellent so far as he’s grabbed at least ten boards in seven games already this season, but he has only managed two games with double-figures in scoring.

Don’t get me wrong, he’s been fabulous so far, I just feel he can take even another step up because I have that much faith in the improvement he’s shown over the course of his career. It wouldn’t shock me at all to see his averages climb into double-double territory as we move along in the season.

Kamari Murphy – 7.5

Stats through nine games: 6.3 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 0.8 BPG

While Kamari Murphy will likely never get the accolades, his role on this team is so important.

Following his three-game suspension to start the season, the Oklahoma St. transfer struggled to make an impact while coming off the bench. After the team’s lost to Northeastern, it was obvious it was time to insert Murphy into the lineup and the team has looked different ever since.

Murphy provides another defender who can not only guard on the interior with Jekiri, but go out on the perimeter as well. If you watched Miami’s game with Florida, you could easily see the impact he had for the team while guarding Dorian Finney-Smith.

He has grabbed at least five rebounds in four of his six games this season and while his numbers right now seem quite low, he’s averaged 9.6 points and six rebounds a game when starting. There’s no doubt in my mind he’ll be in that starting five for the rest of the season and that production will continue to increase.

If it wasn’t for a rocky start to the season, his rating could be even higher.

“Amp” Lawrence Jr. – 7.5

Stats through nine games: 6.5 PPG, 0.3 TPG, FG%- 52.9 percent

He’s still just eight games into his college basketball career, but Amp Lawrence Jr. not only looks like a special player for the future, but an integral part of this year’s team as well.

His numbers certainly don’t jump off the page, but the freshman from St. Petersburg, FL has been a spark plug for Coach Larranaga off the bench this season. He provides another big body for a Miami team lacking them and has displayed a fairly versatile offensive game as well.

He’s scored at least seven points in five games this season and has really become one of the mainstays in the rotation.

For Lawrence the rest of the way, it’ll be interesting to see how his game translates to the ACC and whether he can become a consistent threat each and every night.  For now though, it’s been pretty darn good.

Davon Reed – 7.5

Stats through nine games: 10.9 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 3P%- 37 percent

Davon Reed may be the hardest player to rate so far. While he’s logged four games with double-digits in points, those have all come against Miami’s “weaker opponents”. In those games against the “stronger” teams, his impact has been harder to evaluate.

Let’s make it clear that the junior small forward is rarely going to be asked to score in heavy volumes on this current Hurricanes squad. His role as another three-point shooter, a defender and an extra rebounder is what makes him so important to this team.

In the last game against Florida, Reed had just five points, but also managed four rebounds, three steals and two blocks. That’s the kind of game the Miami coaching staff wants from the Ewing, NJ native if he isn’t putting up big points.

If we can see more games like that or his seven-point, five-rebound and three-assist game against Butler, this team will be very successful.

Reed is shooting 37% from the three-point line this season which isn’t awful, but if he can improve that number as a secondary scoring option for this Miami offense, that rating will skyrocket come February.

Ivan Cruz Uceda – 7

Stats through nine games: 7.1 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 3P%- 50 percent

After beginning the season as the team’s starting power forward, Ivan Cruz Uceda has found his way into the scoring role off the bench that I expected he’d fill at the beginning of the season. The Spaniard’s only issue is he’s struggled adjusting to that role.

Cruz Uceda started the year with three straight double-digit scoring games, but has done that just once in the following six games.

The 6’11” power forward has shot 50% from three-point range this season, but has to find a way to make an impact on the game from the bench which he has failed to really do after Murphy entered the starting lineup.

On the defensive end, Cruz Uceda has been ok guarding in the interior and rebounding the basketball, but that’s not his biggest strength. We saw a bit in the Florida game when Tonye Jekiri went out that the Hurricanes began to struggle rebounding the basketball with just Murphy as the only primary rebounder.

If Cruz Uceda can find a way to get hot right off the bench and make a few three-pointers for the second unit, this team is going to be hard to defend for 40 minutes.

James Palmer – 6.5

Stats through nine games: 4.7 PPG, FG%- 42.1 percent, 3P%- 46.2 percent

This season has certainly had to be frustrating for James Palmer so far.

The sophomore wing-player has struggled to establish himself in the rotation with the emergence of Amp Lawrence to start the year. Palmer has logged 20+ minutes in just three games this year and has had five games in which he’s scored two or less points.

Even from behind the arc where I think Palmer could make a big difference for this team coming off the bench, he’s shot 46.2%, but has attempted only 13 three-pointers in nine games.

With Ja’Quan Newton often coming into combine with Rodriguez and the “3” spot being occupied by Reed and Lawrence, Palmer is going to have to find a way to earn more minutes coming off the bench behind McClellan.

As I said, I think the sophomore’s best asset is his shooting, but he also showed glimpses last season of an ability like Newton to slash and finish in the paint. With the rotation likely to tighten up as the Canes enter ACC play, Palmer is going to have to find a way to distinguish himself moving forward.

Ebuka Izundu – 6

Stats through nine games: 2.5 PPG, 1.8 RPG, FG%- 40 percent

Ebuka Izundu has lots of potential. I saw it in practice early in November, Coach Larranaga has talked about it and even in the Mississippi St. game you could see it, but after this early stretch, we likely won’t see that potential starting to be fulfilled until next year.

The freshman center has had a tough time adjusting to the college game and has seen little action so far this season. Thankfully for Miami, he has a good role model to look up to in Tonye Jekiri who made steady improvements throughout his career, leading to a place where he now averages close to a double-double.

It’s hard to evaluate Izundu so far because of his limited action, but he just has looked a bit rushed, as freshman usually are towards the beginning of the season.

What’s important for Izundu is not his evaluation now, but his evaluation in how much he improves before next year when he can really begin to blossom.

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