Patrick Murray

So close.

Such has been the refrain of Miami University RedHawk basketball fans throughout the season. But as the year wears on, good losses and moral victories no longer will cut it for Charlie Coles’ squad. As the team has entered conference play, the need to win now becomes even greater.

Ironically, this basketball season is in some respects a mirror image of how the Miami football team constructed its season earlier this year. Whereas the football team struggled early on to find its identity, suffering dismal out of conference losses along the way to Cincinnati and Colorado, it was able to band together in time for conference play. Through its success in the Mid-American Conference, the team advanced to the conference championship game-putting a good cap on a season that at one point seemed to be in danger of slipping away.

As students come back to Oxford for the start of second semester classes, the perceived potential in the basketball team is higher than it was early on for Shane Montgomery’s squad, but suspect play in conference has given rise to issues that must be fixed if Miami is to return to the Big Dance.

So how should the team go about fixing some of the issues that have presented themselves during the current four-game skid? The answer seems to be to do what good teams do in times of trouble-look to your leader for production.

In the case of the RedHawks, that leader is senior Tim Pollitz. In many of the games in which Miami has come up short, the RedHawks have relied too much on the outside shot to provide points. In the University of Dayton loss, more than half of Miami’s points came from beyond the arc. Against the University of Southern California and the University of Kansas, well over 40 percent of Miami’s points came via the 3-ball.

Especially in the latter two cases, the RedHawks were matched up against teams with players large enough to frustrate Miami’s inside game-this transformed Miami’s usually balanced attack into a one-dimensional offense that is much easier to defend against. Although it is probably too much to ask of Miami to pound the basketball inside against national powerhouses, more commitment to the inside game within the MAC conference should pay dividends for the RedHawks down the road.

If recent history can teach us any lessons, one should be that what matters most for the RedHawks is their performance in the MAC tournament once the regular season is over. Over the past four seasons, only one team from the MAC has been included in the NCAA Tournament-the team that won the conference tournament and was thereby granted the automatic bid. Even last season, when Miami (15-14) snuck into the Dance fresh off Doug Penno’s banked 3-pointer; the RedHawks were the only MAC team to continue its season. Even Akron, a team that won the regular conference season and compiled 26 victories, was excluded.

This is of course not to say that the regular season does not matter for Miami. The regular season matters precisely because this must be the time of the year during which the team learns to win. By the time March rolls around, even with a very good regular season, the margin of error for any MAC team will be miniscule. So even though the RedHawks could count on a shot for the ages to get them back to the tournament, a better bet is to develop a multi-pronged attack-inside and out-that should aid them the most in March.