Team preview: Miami-Ohio

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(Information in this team report is as of October 1.)

When was the last time a team ranked last in the conference in scoring offense and won the regular season championship?

The Miami RedHawks turned the trick in 2004-05 averaging a league-low 65.7 points per game and finishing 19-11 overall, 12-6 in the MAC.

Look at the statistics and the conclusion might be that "Professor Hoops" knows an awful lot about basketball.

At a time when college players want to run up and down the floor and dunk and have their highlights in the Top 10 plays, clever Charlie Coles, the MAC's coach of the year in 2005, continues to preach a winning style of basketball that resists the temptation of individualism. Make it a half court game, play hard-nosed defense, out-execute the opponent, and win by playing tougher and smarter. How else do you explain it?

For four straight years, Miami has been last in the MAC in scoring. The RedHawks' composite conference record over that period: 44-28. Go figure. The last three seasons, Miami is 12-7 in games decided by three points or less and overtime.

Miami was a senior-led team last season. Forward Danny Horace (15.4 ppg, 9.5 rpg) and guard Chet Mason (13.4 ppg, 7.6 rpg) were first-team All-MAC selections. One of those rare close losses came at home in the first round of the NIT—a 60-58 decision to TCU. Miami finished 13-1 at Millett Hall.

Miami ranked first in the MAC in scoring defense (61.3) and rebounding margin (+6.5), and second in field-goal percentage defense (40.7). Oddly enough, Miami ranked last in steals (5.2) and turnover margin (-2.6).

Coles, 63, is an old-school coach who connects with modern-day players. He is a fatherly figure, demanding fundamentals and discipline from his squad.

"There is a certain comfort level with [Coles] even if you've just met him … like you've known him your whole life," former Miami star Damon Frierson said.
One of the more popular coaches in the MAC, Coles continues to teach a nine-week course in Basketball Theory and was dubbed "Professor Hoops" by Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl. The Miami media guide refers to Coles as "The Bill Cosby of College Basketball."

Coles averaged 42.1 points per game as a high school senior and graduated from Miami in 1965. He almost died in 1998 from cardiac arrest during Miami's win over Western Michigan in the quarterfinals of the MAC Tournament in Kalamazoo, Mich. Once healthy, he returned to lead Miami to the NCAA Sweet 16 in 1999. In Coles' nine seasons at Miami, the RedHawks have reached the MAC Tournament quarterfinals each year, including five straight berths in the championship game (1997-01, champions in '97). He directed Central Michigan to a MAC Tournament title in 1987.

The question in 2005-06 is can Charlie reach into his bag of tricks and do it again?

"Losing our top two scorers in Danny Horace and Chet Mason, obviously we are going to need to have players step up and find a way to score some points," Coles said. "But I definitely believe it is possible from this group.

"If you look at it, we've got a lot of experience with several players who have been able to play significant minutes over the past few years, which I hope will be an asset."

The starters returning fill key positions. Senior William Hatcher (10.0 ppg, 2.9 apg), a 6-2 point guard, is a great place to start. Athletic junior Nathan Peavy (7.0 ppg, 3.9 rpg) is a prototypical 6-8 small forward. Bulky junior Monty St. Clair (6.0 ppg, 2.5 rpg), a 6-9, 248-pound center, can shoot from long range, but is a physical presence in the middle.

Hatcher took over the point-guard duties last season as Mason moved to the off-guard slot and Josh Hausfeld was used coming off the bench. Renowned as a clutch three-point shooter, Hatcher had eight games with at least three-point baskets, including a five-for-six game against Buffalo.

"I'm used to having a point guard play a lot of minutes," Coles told the Cincinnati Enquirer last February. "[Hatcher's] endurance has to get better, and he's got to get consistent."

Hatcher, out of Flint, Mich., was Miami's Most Improved Player as a sophomore. Rutgers and Miami were his final two schools in his recruitment. His cousin, Charlie Bell, won the NCAA title with Michigan State in 2000.

Peavy is a Dayton, Ohio product and a special athlete who will blossom the next two seasons. He shot better than 50 percent from the floor and demonstrated an ability to make three-point shots. He had 15 blocks and a team-high 15 points in the MAC semifinal loss to Ohio. His father, the late Terry Peavy, was one the greatest prep players ever to come out of Dayton and was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers. He wears No. 31 in honor of his dad.

St. Clair, like so many big guys these days, can step beyond the arc and knock down three-point shots (58-for-144, 40.3 percent career). He'll need to improve his free-throw shooting, rebounding, and his footwork on defense. St. Clair and his teammates at Roger Bacon High denied LeBron James a run of four Ohio high school state titles.

"I think one of our biggest assets is having a lot of depth," Coles said. "Last year we had good depth and were able to play more players for longer. I think we can go farther with that this year."

One player who might step into Horace's spot at forward is Tim Pollitz (2.1 ppg, 1.4 rpg), a 6-5, 235-pound sophomore, who won a state championship at Ottawa-Glandorf (Ohio) High School.

"We are expecting good things from Tim Pollitz," Coles said. "He's unique. He's a little bit of everywhere [in terms of where he can play on the floor]. He doesn't look like he can run, but he runs like crazy."

Pollitz's fraternal twin, Eric Pollitz, opted for a red-shirt last season. He's a 6-5, 216-pound swingmn.

Senior Nate VanderSluis, a 6-11, 284-pound center, will back up St. Clair. VanderSluis had eight points and four rebounds in a 65-58 win over Wichita State last winter.

Three veterans will vie for the starting two-guard position. All three have three-point capability. Josh Hausfeld (5.7 ppg, 1.4 rpg), a 6-3 senior, started all 29 games in 2003-04, but battled nagging injuries and wound up coming off the bench last year.

Doug Penno, a 6-5 junior, had a 21-point game at Eastern Michigan and is a deadly three-point shooter (29-for-60, 48.3 percent last season). He needs to add strength so he can become a more effective defender.

Another three-point marksman is Chad Troyer (1.4 ppg, 0.8 rpg), a 6-4 sophomore, out of Seattle, Wash. Troyer is a combo guard and had 11 points [three treys] in a season-opening win over Purdue.

Troyer is the prime candidate to backup Hatcher at point. "Chad is also probably the best passer on the team," Coles said. "I think you'll see a big improvement in [Troyer]. He plays with great confidence. I think he'll have some big scoring nights for us."

Red-shirt freshman Lawrence Ross, a 6-3 guard from Battle Creek, Mich., is blessed with a 41-inch vertical jump and could figure into the mix. "Other than Danny Horace, Lawrence Ross is our most explosive player," Coles said.

"I expect at least one of [our freshmen] to be among our top six players," Coles said.

Michael Bramos, a 6-5 guard, would seem the one most capable of playing at that level. Runnerup for Michigan's 2005 Mr. Basketball out of Harper Woods, Bramos "has a good chance to start. If he's healthy, he's going to play,'' Coles said. "He shot the ball really well this summer."

From a strength and development standpoint, Tyler Dierkers, a 6-8 forward-center, and Adam Fletcher, a 6-9 forward, are probably a year away. The best one of the two may play behind Pollitz at power forward.

Blue Ribbon Analysis



In a span of one year, Miami went from being the MAC's weakest three-point shooting team to being one of the best (207-of-552, 37.5 percent, fourth in the MAC). The RedHawks return most of these long-range bombers, five players who hit at least 16 triples last season, not including Troyer, another potential shooter. This will make MU extra difficult to guard as Coles' team grinds through possessions and patiently waits for an open look on the perimeter.

Miami's roster is guard heavy. The RedHawks lack a true post threat. St. Clair and VanderSluis will take turns at center. Both play hard but are slow up the court and foul too much. It's really not an option to play them at the same time. Consequently, the development of Tim Pollitz is key to Miami's season. His size and ability are needed at power forward.

Expect Hatcher to have a solid season. Peavy and Bramos are budding stars. There is plenty of depth on the perimeter.

The RedHawks will play sound defense and frustrate their opponents. It would be a bonus if Miami could turn its foes over more than 11 times per game.

Coles' nine-year MAC Tournament record at Miami is 16-8, and come March you have to figure the RedHawks to be in Cleveland. Tradition is Miami's biggest intangible and that comes from being the MAC's most successful program over 58 seasons (21 titles and a 536-305 mark, 63.7 percent).

For the most comprehensive previews on all 326 Division I teams, order the "Bible" of college basketball, the 25th anniversary edition of Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, at www.blueribbonyearbook.com or call 1-866-805-BALL (2255).