Déjà vu. A year ago at this time, the Miami University RedHawk basketball team was preparing to play the Towson University Tigers. As they peered on Tiger tape, everyone knew another cat was on the prowl. Three days later, they would travel to Lexington and battle the No. 4 University of Kentucky Wildcats. The RedHawks’ defense flattened the Tigers that November, Friday the 13th, 82-71, spurring a three-game losing skid.
Friday, the Red and White open up the season slate with those same Tigers. This time, they want to keep their eyes focused on a good start at Millett Hall, even if the next team on the schedule is the 2010 national champion Duke University Blue Devils.
A Durham diversion won’t keep Head Coach Charlie Coles’ team from being focused this time.
“We can’t worry about going to Durham,” Coles said. “A lot of people are excited not because they think we can beat Duke, but just because we are going down there … We have to make sure that we know who we are and that we are solid defensively.”
The Red and White were anything but solid in Maryland last year, allowing the Tigers to shoot more than 50 percent from the field and see their star Calvin Lee score 25 points.
“We are definitely going to have to redeem ourselves,” Coles said. “First of all, the same thing that bothered us last year when we played Towson is the same thing we face again this year. They are a very confident group of guys despite their record last year. This may be the most confident team that I’ve seen in a while and they didn’t have a great record the last two or three years, but this year they have a chance to be really good. They are very good athletes. Their athleticism is as good as ours or better.”
Towson brings “tough East Coast kids” to the court, according to Coles.
The ‘Hawks’ muscle will flex this season without their former leader, Kenny Hayes, who walked to a diploma. Three seniors, Nick Winbush, Antonio Ballard and Sean Mock, have to fill that void and vocalize headship. Ballard will start out doing it from the bench, as he is at least two weeks away from action with an injury.
Winbush led by example in Saturday’s exhibition with 19 points. The arc ace was 5-6 from three-point land and wants netting nylon Friday.
“Kenny was a great player and we are definitely going to miss him this year,” Winbush said. “I think we have some pieces where we can definitely fill in for him. We have some good guards and good players all around. I think we are going to make the adjustment just fine.”
Coles said freshman Quinten Rollins and big men Vince Legarza and Drew McGhee look promising heading into the season. Rollins is one of the “best defenders that the program has had in a while,” Coles said.
“I think we’ve got the potential to be really, really good on defense,” Winbush said. “Everybody sees that as really important to our team.”
Tiger forward Robert Nwankwo could clog the paint. Nwankwo is the best returning starter, averaging 9.9 points and 8.9 rebounds per game in 2009.
“We definitely have to make some adjustments,” Winbush said. “Looking back to last year, we let them penetrate too much. We have to do a better job in the middle as well as the post play. I think we are scouting them pretty good, so hopefully we come out with a ‘W’ on Friday.”
Tip off is set for 6 p.m Nov. 12 at Millett Hall.
Coles knows his players are aware of what they have to do.
“I’ve always said it to them, so I don’t need to say it no more,” Coles said. “They know what we need to do. We have to come out of that game 1-0. We have to go out there and win it. That’s as simple as it gets.”