Josh Messerly

The Miami men’s basketball team might be like the middle child in a family. It doesn’t undergo the constant scrutiny of the oldest child (the football team) nor does it get all the praise the youngest child gets (the hockey team). Instead, the team quietly goes about its business waiting for recognition. Friday, the basketball team begins the 2009-10 campaign with a game at Towson.

Before we look ahead to this season, we should look back at how the RedHawks finished the 2008-09 season. It was a successful season in that Miami finished the year above .500 with a 17-13 record and 10-6 in the Mid-American Conference. Good enough for the fourth seed in the MAC Tournament. However, Miami was knocked off by Akron in the MAC Tournament Quarterfinals.

It is somewhat amazing that the team did so well considering several players missed time throughout last year due to injury. The most notable was Kenny Hayes who only played in eight games due to a wrist injury. Eric Pollitz also missed time at the end of the season with a leg injury. The good news is that Hayesreceived a medical redshirt from the NCAA and will be back again this year.

As for this year’s team, the Red and White will have some big shoes to fill. Miami lost Tim Pollitz, Tyler Dierkers, Isiah Carson, Carl Richburg and Michael Bramos to graduation. The biggest question for the 2009-10 ‘Hawks will be how do you replace the 2009 MAC Player of the Year Michael Bramos?

There may be no simple answer to that question. I will argue that it is nearly impossible for one person to accomplish that task alone. Bramos’ 17.9 points per game average will be hard enough to replace, but his senior leadership will also be hard to replace. Being one of the guys who has been there the longest, Hayes will have to shoulder some of the responsibility of being a leader on this team. To replace the production of Bramos, Miami is going to have to rely on guys like Antonio Ballard, Rodney Haddix and Kramer Soderberg to pick up the slack.

In addition to this team needing someone to fill Bramos’ spot, they will need a healthy Kenny Hayes to return to 2007-08 season form. Adam Fletcher will have to carry the load in the low post, as well as Julian Mavunga. There will also need to be an unlikely player to step up. This might be a freshman like Allen Roberts or Orlando Williams; both showed promise in the exhibitions.

This team should be more athletic than it has been in the past few seasons. While in the Charlie Coles system that probably won’t translate into a running team, they should be better in the transition game which has been a problem at times in the last few years. Another trademark of the Charlie Coles system, tough defense, will also be vital to the success of this team.

The schedule sets up better early in the season for this team. It is not a typical Miami schedule where the first two months are a meat grinder, but this one has its challenges. Four out of the first six games are winnable for this team. This team has an equivalent of taking a midterm or final exam in the second class of the semester Monday when they face No. 4 Kentucky at Rupp Arena. Other non-conference games against area teams such as Cincinnati, Xavier and No. 21 Dayton will be difficult as well. At least the Dayton game Dec. 2 is at Millett Hall, which should help.

The media selected the RedHawks fourth in the MAC East preseason poll behind Akron, Kent State and Buffalo. Those three teams will be the biggest challenge to Miami, as well as an improved Ohio team. Two of the biggest games in the conference schedule will be Jan. 9 when Miami opens MAC play at Buffalo and Jan. 20 when they travel to Akron, one of the hardest places to win in the MAC.

I think this team has some young talent that should improve gradually as the season progresses. Charlie’s men should be contending for the MAC East; protecting the home court will be the biggest challenge. The early non-conference schedule provides equal challenges as well as opportunities for wins. Regardless of how well this basketball team plays during the regular season, we all know it is about peaking during the MAC Tournament. If that is case, then there is no doubt the ‘Hawks will be dancing in March.