Review of 2022-23 season finds progress
By MIKE SMITH
How do you evaluate the success of a season?
Any answer, of course, would have to depend on how one defines success. Is it a national championship? It is a conference championship? Is it 20 wins ... 18 wins ... ??? How about partial credit for beating a bitter rival?
Gauging the recent Miami RedHawks men's basketball season is especially difficult. It depends on coaches and specific situations, but quick fixes for mid-major programs can be elusive and/or fleeting.
Upon taking over a somewhat struggling program in March of 2022, Travis Steele combined a few transfers with several returning players and some young talent to fill out a roster.
Especially given Steele's strong foundation approach, one of the . . .
. . . best ways to judge Miami success would be to watch the future. What are the RedHawks doing next year or the two years after that?
Still, it's fair enough to look at the past season and make a few observations.
If you saw even a few Miami games this year, you know enough to be especially thankful for the offense's big three.
~~ Steele has often expressed his own appreciation for point guard Mekhi Lairy sticking with the program for his final season. The 5-8 senior earned All-MAC Third Team honors and led MU scorers with an average of 17.3 ppg. That was tied for fifth among MAC scorers. He was fourth in minutes played (34.5 mpg).
~~ Junior Morgan Safford, a 6-5 swing player who transferred in from Wofford, was everything Steele projected even before the season began. He was the team's second leading scorer (15.4 ppg) and led the team in rebounding (5.9 rpg). He was also a consistent model of the hustle, drive and focus that Steele is striving to get across the roster.
~~ Senior Anderson Mirambeaux turned out to be a very large diamond (6-8, 305) in the rough. He barely played during the previous season at Cleveland State, and few could have predicted his production at Miami -- 14.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 2.6 apg. He reportedly dropped more than a few pounds before playing his first game as a RedHawk, but he was still a nearly immovable force inside. He averaged 25.4 minutes per game, and probably could have done more had MU had the depth to help him more on defense.
-- Making a splash in the MAC is no easy task. Freshman guard Ryan Mabry did enough to earn a spot on the All-MAC Freshman Team. He averaged 8.4 ppg and gained a bunch of experience by averaging 27.6 minutes per game. Mabry was second on the team in 3-point goals (54) and first in attempts (166).
~~ Jaquel Morris is a 6-8 forward who is uber-athletic. He is also very raw. Hence his shining moments were mixed in with considerable time on the bench. Even after he began to earn more playing time, he sometimes had difficulty staying out of foul trouble. That not only stifled his own production, it left MU very vulnerable to teams who could drive the lane and/or otherwise get inside. Learning to avoid "cheap" fouls and further developing his inside offense are keys to what could be an exciting future.
-- Steele played a lot of people early, trying to see what he had and who could rise to the top before conference play. Miami went 6-7 during those early trials, taking its lumps on several occasions.
~~ The road got tougher when MU embarked on its MAC schedule, and the RedHawks dropped nine of their first 10. They broke a seven-game losing streak Feb. 7, knocking off Western Michigan at home. After two more losses, Miami then reeled off four straight wins (two on the road) before falling at Buffalo in the regular season finale. It was enough to secure the final MAC Tournament berth. Miami then lost to top-seeded Toledo 91-75 in quarterfinal action.
~~ The RedHawks finished eighth among MAC teams in scoring (73.7) and seventh in scoring defense (74.5 ppg). They were fifth in field goal percentage (45.7%), seventh in 3-point goal percentage (34.0%), first in free throw percentage (78.7%), 11th in rebounding (31.9 rpg), ninth in turnovers (13.6 per game) and seventh in turnover margin (-0.31 per game).
~~ There were many areas that needed work at the beginning of the season. It took a while, but the coaching staff's work on transition defense finally yielded dividends. Up-tempo pace of play isn't going away, so this will remain an area of emphasis going forward.
~~ Steele values tough man-to-man defense and work on that will continue. Toward the end of 2023, however, foul issues and some opponents pretty much forced MU to mix in some zone.
~~ After struggling a bit against the press late in the year, Miami can expect to see plenty more of it next year (especially with Lairy's departure). Beating presses is bound to be an area of emphasis for next season.
~~ Getting an effective and productive inside game has been a struggle for ... well, a long time! Mirambeaux embraced the interior, and future recruiting will need to find some similar mindsets. That would include forwards/guards who are willing to make strong drives to the basket. Even if they don't score, they've got a decent chance of getting fouled, and MU proved to be an outstanding free throw shooting team this year. Mabry showed occasional willingness to attack the rim, and more of that would help balance his perimeter skills.
~~ The RedHawks' need to improve on the boards. As coaches always stress, its a lot more about position than jumping. Teams that find opponents and box them out are going to be successful on the boards.
~~ Miami talent/depth during a rebuild leaves a small margin for error. Rebounding and turnovers (especially live ball turnovers) can determine games. Steele will be attempting to clean up both areas even as he continues to build the roster.
A coaching change means a new staff and new systems. Add to that a significant personnel turnover. Some portion of the season will be spent learning, integrating and teaching the roster.
Miami's late season winning streak reflected improvement and was the best kind of reward -- EARNED! Still, there is plenty of work ahead. The most critical challenge is probably replacing Lairy at point guard.
As of March 15, three RedHawks were listed in the transfer portal: Will Stevens, Bryson Tatum and Javin Etzler.
Meanwhile, the incoming class of freshmen are guard Mekhi Cooper (6-0, Bolingbrook HS, IL), guard Evan Ipsaro (5-10, Cov Cath HS , KY), center Reece Potter (7-0, Lex Cath HS, Ky), forward Elan Elmer (6-6, Taft HS, OH)) and forward Jackson Kotecki (6-9, St. Ignatius HS, IL). There is something of about everything there, but they will still be freshmen.
Click HERE for more on incoming freshmen.
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Editor-Publisher Mike Smith
Mike grew up in Mid-American Conference football and basketball territory and returned there after military service. He has been covering MAC football and men's basketball for much of the last several decades.