Miami Vice: Hurricane Stars Clamp Up in Conference Play

Posted by mpatton on January 11th, 2012

Matt Patton filed this report from last night’s UNC-Miami game in Chapel Hill.

After last night’s UNC-Miami game, Roy Williams mentioned all of the Hurricanes’ pieces. Most of the compliments went towards the frontcourt of Kenny Kadji and Reggie Johnson, who both held their own offensively against the Tar Heels. But in the end, Williams pointed to Malcolm Grant and Durand Scott as the engine that makes Jim Larranaga’s team run. Yet Grant and Scott combined to go 6-20 from the field in Miami’s’ 73-56 loss. A 9-0 North Carolina run to close out the first half knocked Miami flat the rest of the way. But this isn’t about one loss. It’s bigger than that. It’s Larranaga failing to adapt to North Carolina’s strengths and weaknesses, allowing the Tar Heels to run with abandon for much of the first half. Sure, a 10-3 foul discrepancy in favor of North Carolina didn’t help matters — nor did the Tar Heels’ suffocating defense — but Miami played itself out of this game.

Reggie Johnson was a moderately Bright Spot in Miami's Loss to North Carolina

Every year I overrate the Hurricanes. Scott and Grant are (on paper) one of the best backcourt duos in the ACC. Scott combines sick athleticism with size to take contact around the rim while Grant knocks down shots and can also create for himself. Juxtapose the talented backcourt with Johnson and the rapidly-developing Kadji, and the Hurricanes have a strong starting five. Shane Larkin also appears to be growing into his role as a spark plug off the bench at point guard. Oh, and Larranaga is an accomplished coach with Final Four experience. But things still haven’t come together. The team still looks like it will finish somewhere in the middle of the pack before making a mini-run in the ACC Tournament.

So what’s wrong?

For starters Johnson absolutely needs to see more minutes, but his lack of conditioning and knack for getting in foul trouble really limits his minutes. The conditioning is not at all his fault: He’s only been back with the team for around a month after a knee injury sidelined him. But let’s not pretend he was in perfect shape before the injury either. Johnson is an uber-talented player, who maxed out last season playing just over 25 minutes a game. His size is both an asset and a burden. It’s also partially to blame for his foul-prone nature. When a 260-pound player collides with anyone else, it’s going to look like a foul. Johnson did a very good job (other than a short stretch in the second half) avoiding fouls against the quick North Carolina bigs. But his team’s offense is significantly worse without him on the floor to keep the defense anchored around the middle.

Secondly, the team has horrible body language. The Dean Dome isn’t the easiest venue in which to play, and I could have counted the number of Miami fans present on two hands (insert joke about Miami home attendance). But it also wasn’t the loudest arena either. Scott and Grant in particular compounded their struggles by not getting back on defense, failing to box out, and taking ill-advised shots. A lot of credit certainly should go to the North Carolina backcourt for shutting down the Miami duo, but it was tough to watch Miami’s collective body language as the game progressed.

The bottom line is that the team I saw play North Carolina Tuesday night was not an NCAA Tournament team. It lacked the fire needed to face adversity on both ends of the court. Sure, Miami could turn things around in the next two months, but an 0-2 start to conference play digs quite a hole for a team with no marquee wins.

mpatton (576 Posts)

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