Miami’s Reggie Johnson Out For 6-8 Weeks: What It Means For the HurricanesPosted by KCarpenter on December 31st, 2012
Confirming a story first reported by CBS Sports, the Miami has announced that senior center Reggie Johnson will miss the next six to eight weeks due to a broken left thumb. Johnson had missed the past two games against Arizona and Indiana State, games that the Hurricanes lost. Miami had seemed poised for a breakout year after reeling off seven straight wins subsequent to an early season stumble against Florida Gulf Coast, including a marquee win against Michigan State at home. The loss of the dominant big man and the playing slump of Kenny Kadji have made the formidable Hurricanes front line seem very vulnerable indeed.
How badly will head coach Jim Larranaga miss Johnson? When he’s on the court, the 6’10” Johnson bullies opponents with his 290-pound body. He is a fantastic rebounder and one of the nation’s very best on the glass. With a 26.9% defensive rebounding rate, he leads the conference while also posting a respectable 13.6% on the offensive boards. On the defensive end, he is a capable shot blocker (fifth best in the conference by percentage) and an imposing presence beneath the rim. Despite all of this, however, Johnson will be missed the most on offense. When he is on the court, the center uses 28.7% of all of Miami’s possessions, a usage rate that is only surpassed by the one-man team of Erick Green at Virginia Tech. While Johnson has sometimes struggled with his shooting from the field this season, the area where he truly excels is getting to the free throw line. Outside of Mason Plumlee, no one in the conference gets to the stripe more than Johnson, who converts a very respectable 71.4% of his free throw attempts. Miami has numerous effective scorers, but the loss of Johnson really hurts.
With a return targeted for February 13 against Florida State, Miami will have to figure out how to perform without its senior center for the first chunk of ACC play. The first key to solving that riddle is Julian Gamble. Gamble missed last year with an injury, but the 6’10” big man has launched a credible comeback. So far this season, Gamble has managed to match Johnson in offensive efficiency and has been an effective rebounder on both ends. It’s unlikely that Gamble would be able to match Johnson’s high usage rate and he’s certainly not a guy who gets buckets at will, but, on a per-possession basis, there is a strong argument to be made that Gamble can match Johnson’s production while he’s out of the lineup.
The problem for Miami comes a little further down the bench. Without Johnson in the rotation, Miami only has six players who receive regular playing time. The seven-foot freshman Tonye Jekiri is the only other true big man on the roster and he hasn’t looked good in the limited playing time that he has seen. Instead, 6’6″ Erik Swoope will have to suffice in filling out the remaining minutes. Swoope was recruited as an undersized power forward but has been rarely used in his first two years at Miami. Very quietly and in limited minutes, however, he is having a nicely efficient season. If he can serve as the third big man in the rotation at anything close to his current rate, Miami should get solid (or at least replacement-level) production.
Two straight losses without Johnson makes the Hurricanes’ situation appear dire, but Miami may be better off than many now realize. There is no shame in losing to a team as good as Arizona, and Indiana State isn’t exactly a cupcake this season. These aren’t “good losses” but they aren’t catastrophic either. Certainly the loss of Johnson hurts going forward, but Gamble and Swoope are having solid seasons and have the potential to play well in Johnson’s absence. Miami may stumble somewhat in January, but don’t be too surprised if this team stays on its collective feet and recovers in February to make a strong push to the NCAA Tournament.