Barry Jackson

UM president weighs in as FBI probe, disappointing start blunt basketball team’s momentum

Miami Hurricanes coach Jim Larranaga shouts instructions during Monday’s game against Duke.
Miami Hurricanes coach Jim Larranaga shouts instructions during Monday’s game against Duke. ctrainor@miamiherald.com

MILWAUKEE -

Some Hurricanes notes on a Tuesday:

• Coach Jim Larranaga and his staff have done a wonderful job with men’s basketball, but the program is navigating through choppy waters now, with an FBI investigation and a disappointing start to the ACC schedule dealing the Canes their largest dose of adversity in quite a while.

First, on the FBI front, Larranaga has denied any wrongdoing in the wake of UM confirming in late September that the school is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice as part of its ongoing probe into corruption within college basketball.

"While we are alarmed and disappointed, we are steadfast in our belief that we must also act with the highest level of integrity and commitment to the pursuit of truth," UM president Julio Frenk said then.

When I saw Frenk recently, I asked him about the cloud the investigation has created over his program and if there’s anything he can do about it.

He said there is not.

“I am very confident facts and justice will prevail,” he said on a downtown Miami street. “I am confident the truth will prevail. I will wait for the investigations to follow their course."

Here’s the problem: The FBI doesn’t make a habit of publicly clearing individuals or institutions that have been investigated. So the cloud will remain for a while, even if – as Larranaga said – UM did nothing wrong.

One UM official said the ongoing FBI investigation has been damaging to recruiting and a big reason why UM hasn’t signed any player in the early recruiting signing period that began in November.

• On the court, there are a bunch of reasons for UM’s 2-3 start in ACC play. Miami is 13-4 overall after losing its most anticipated home game of the season against Duke on Monday.

Offensively, UM ranks 170th of 351 schools in assist to turnover ratio (a poor 1.06 to 1), 337th in free throw percentage (63.8), and 208th in scoring (73.2).

Zone defenses have flummoxed the Canes.

Bruce Brown, rated by one draft analyst as the second-best NBA shooting guard prospect heading into this season, has seen his shooting percentage dip from 45.9 as a freshman to 41.0 this season and his free throw percentage from 74.4 to 63.2.

What’s more, his three-point shooting has dropped from 34.7 percent last season to 25 percent (12 for 48), including 2 for 12 in ACC play.

And here’s the other issue: Starting point guard Ja’Quan Newton, as everyone knows, isn’t a prototypical point guard.

He has 48 assists and 34 turnovers (now 272 and 237 in his career) and his scoring is down from 13.5 to 8.5 per game.

Freshman point guard Chris Lykes has had some very good moments offensively but has more turnovers (27) than assists (26).

Bottom line: This team isn’t yet playing up to its talent level, rare for a Larranaga-coached team. Youth and offensive inefficiency are two big reasons.

• UM’s ACC football schedule will be announced Tuesday, but the non-ACC schedule has been widely reported: 

LSU Sunday night, Sept. 2 in Arlington, Tx.

Savannah State Sept. 8 at Hard Rock Stadium

Toledo Sept. 15 in Toledo, Ohio

FIU Sept. 22 at Hard Rock Stadium 

UM has confirmed the LSU and FIU dates.

• Four-star Kissimmee-based defensive end/tackle Dennis Briggs, a key remaining UM recruiting target, liked his UM visit last weekend but will visit South Carolina and FSU before deciding.

He told The Herald before his UM visit that Miami was his front-runner.

Marlin Roberts, Briggs’ coach at Gateway High, told Canesport’s Matt Shodell that "the trip to Miami went great for [Briggs and his family]. He just wants to see those other two schools before he pulls the trigger just to make sure he’s not missing out on something."

Here’s my Tuesday Heat post with the latest on the Heat’s worrisome predicament at shooting guard.

Here’s my Tuesday Dolphins post with a look at available free agents at need positions.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

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