Basketball is heating up in Coral Gables

Junior guard Shenise Johnson runs a sprint drill in practice Thursday. Johnson was named first team all-ACC after her 2009-2010 sophomore campaign. Alex Broadwell // The Miami Hurricane

It’s time for the University of Miami to no longer be considered for its college baseball and college football prowess.

Basketball shouldn’t just be relevant in South Florida because of the Miami Heat’s big three; Coral Gables has a plethora of talent on its own.

The University of Miami men’s and women’s basketball teams are poised and destined to qualify for the NCAA Tournament once March rolls around. Both squads finished last in the ACC regular season last year but each made a great run at the end of the year and hopes to carry that momentum into the 2010-11 campaign.

The women upset top 25 opponents like Florida State and North Carolina last year and came close in a lot of contests. The Lady Canes lost seven games by five points or less last season. The team only lost two games by double digits. The core of the team got its feet wet and is now ready to swim in the deep end of the pool.

Miami won five games in the WNIT and had to travel across the country in less than one week to do it. They had stops in Rhode Island, Michigan, Illinois and California.

“I think we have the smartest team I’ve ever had,” sixth-year head coach Katie Meier said. “The basketball IQ of this team is very high. I think that we are going to combine those two. Let’s let the other teams adjust to us. That was a big reason or our success in the NIT.”

Guard play is what wins in college basketball and the Canes may have the best back court in the country with juniors Shenise Johnson who could be a lock for a triple-double every night and Riquna Williams who has always been known to be a dynamic scorer but over the summer worked on being more of a facilitator.

Plus teammates rave about sophomore forward Morgan Stroman who can stretch the floor and plays with a blue-collar mentality.

For the men the same story can be said. The team struggled to find its niche last year until the waning games of the season. Miami waltzed through an easy nonconference schedule but struggled mightily in the ACC going 0-8 on the road and was unable to be consistent at home.

But in the ACC Tournament in Greensboro, N.C. something clicked and this team came together even without eventual second round draft pick Dwayne Collins.

Ball movement was better and the unit was cohesive. Sophomore Durand Scott was able to penetrate and become the play maker that seventh-year head coach Frank Haith expected while redshirt sophomore Reggie Johnson opened up everyone’s eyes with his soft touch on the low blocks.

As previously mentioned, guard play is what prevails in the NCAA Tournament and the Canes not only have a stud in Scott but also in Villanova transfer, redshirt junior Malcolm Grant. Grant lost 10 pounds this summer and became more quick and elusive. He’s a vocal leader and a threat from beyond the arc.

“[Grant’s] playing unbelievable right now,” Haith said. “It’s a great learning experience for all of our guys to see him play this way because he is the one guy who this summer was here every single day with our strength coach.”

As the floor general Grant expects to thrive in Haith’s new look offense. Haith tweaked his team’s offensive game plan and made it more of a motion offense with more cuts, passing and penetrating to try and maximize the talents of athletes like a Scott and junior DeQuan Jones.

The schedule is a lot harder for the men as they have tough nonconference games against Memphis, Ole Miss, West Virginia and Rutgers. This will set them up for ACC play.

“I feel like the vibe is different this year,” Grant said.

The reputation of UM basketball will be different too.

Justin Antweil may be contacted at