CORAL GABLES (CBSMiami/SportsDirect) – There is a lot of optimism surrounding the Miami Hurricanes basketball team heading into the 2015-16 season.
With four seniors and an experienced junior in its starting lineup, Miami opens its season at home Friday against Texas Rio Grande Valley with expectations of reaching the NCAA Tournament after a two-year absence.
The Hurricanes look to build on the momentum and experience gained by their run to the NIT final last spring, which ended with an overtime loss to Stanford.
Upset home losses to Green Bay and Eastern Kentucky early last season probably cost the Hurricanes an NCAA berth.
That should provide coach Jim Larranaga all the ammunition he needs to have his team focused against the underdog Vaqueros.
One player certain to be ready is Oklahoma State transfer Kamari Murphy, a 6-foot-8 forward who is expected to provide a big lift off the bench after sitting out last season.
"Kamari is a tremendous defender and the best thing about him is that he knows his strengths and weaknesses and fits in beautifully on our team," Larranaga told reporters.
TV: 7 p.m. ET, ESPN3
ABOUT TEXAS RIO GRAND VALLEY (2014-15: 10-21): Coach Don Hipsher's team finished tied for last in the Western Athletic Conference at 4-10 last season.
There are eight new players this season including graduate student transfers J.J. Thompson (Southeast Missouri State) and Dakota Slaughter (Alabama), junior college All-American Nick Dixon and promising freshman guards Walter Jones and Antonio Green.
The top returning player is 6-10 WAC all-defensive team member Dan Kimasa while the biggest loss is Janari Joesaar, who was second in the league in scoring last season.
ABOUT MIAMI (FLA.) (2014-15: 25-13): The Hurricanes are led by one of the nation's top starting backcourts.
Point guard Angel Rodriguez, whose struggled with his shooting and fought various injuries late last season, is an excellent floor general and pesky defender while Sheldon McClellan is one of the nation's most athletic players and can score at the rim or from behind the arc.
Junior forward Davon Reed is a dangerous 3-point threat while center Tonye Jekeri led the ACC in rebounding (9.9 per game) and has shown year-to-year offensive improvement.
- The Hurricanes had three players - Manu Lecomte, Deandre Burnett and Omar Sherman - transfer out, but the addition of Murphy and continued growth of promising sophomore guards James Palmer and JaQuan Newton should provide adequate depth.
- Filling the 7,000-plus Bank United Center on a consistent basis has been a challenge for Miami, but season-ticket sales are up 35 percent thanks to this year's high expectations.
- Media covering the ACC picked Miami fifth in the 15-team league behind powerhouses North Carolina, Virginia, Duke and Notre Dame.
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