Miami has finished its out of conference schedule at 9-4 and the season so far has been nothing short of intriguing. Today we take a moment to analyze the first half of the year as well as look into what appears to be a very bright future.
Steadiest Performer: Trey McKinney-Jones. TMJ may not lead the ‘Canes in scoring every night, but he has been their most consistent performer. He makes open shots, handles the ball, rebounds and defends well above average. And no one looks smoother executing a jumper off one dribble. Here’s a little of what TMJ can do:
(special thanks to Ed Schmitt, TMJ’s step dad for the video)
MVP:Reggie Johnson. The entire feel of the team changed when Big Reg
returned to the lineup. His inside presence has changed everything. Is it any coincidence that UM’s perimeter players (Durand Scott and Rion Brown especially) have improved dramatically since Johnson returned? A close second would have to go to fellow big man Kenny Kadji who is rapidly improving. K2′s last outing against UNC-Greensboro (30 points, 12 rebounds) was dominant.
WINGSPAN: John Salmons would be very proud of UM’s current group of wing players. McKinney-Jones is both explosive and versatile. Rion Brown maybe their best shooter outside of Malcolm Grant. DeQuan Jones is an NBA slam dunk contestant in waiting, and is big enough to play some at the four spot. Garrius Adams has missed some time with injury but could be the best passer of the bunch. Miami’s group of small forwards started the season slow, but right now it looks like the ‘Canes have an embarrassment of riches at the three. TMJ, DQJ, Brown, and Adams are all outstanding options for Coach Larranaga going forward. Getting them all enough PT and touches may be the biggest challenge of all.
A Tale of two teams: In UM’s first 9 games (minus Reggie Johnson/DeQuan Jones) they averaged 67 points a game. In their last 4 they
averaging a touch over 88 points a game, including 2 in which Malcolm Grant did not play. Their shooting has been blistering (117-210 55% as a team) since Johnson returned. Clearly the inside presence of Big Reggie along with the dramatic improvement of Kadji has made Miami into a completely different team. The bad news? In the same stretch they gave up 89 to UNC-Greensboro and 90 to FAU. The defense needs to pick up for the ‘Canes to thrive in the ACC.
Slam Dunk Opportunities: Saturday January 7, at Virginia. Tuesday January 10 at UNC. Sunday February 5 at Duke. Wednesday February 15 UNC. The NCAA Tournament Committee has not historically been kind to slow starts due to injuries or suspensions. So Miami needs a “signature” win. When the Tar Heels visit the Bank United Center 2/15, UM will have its best chance to duplicate what they did in 2007 when a win over Duke at home likely vaulted them to their last NCAA Tournament appearance. Hopefully the BUC will be rocking giving the ‘Canes a true home court edge. Miami played Carolina tough twice last year, so a win at home against UNC isn’t too unlikely.
Key Statistical leaders:
Malcolm Grant 14.5 pts, 36.7% 3pts.
Durand Scott 13.3 pts, 4.5 rebs, 3.5 assts.
Reggie Johnson 10.8 pts 6.5 rebs 2.2 blks 2.2 assts
Kenny Kadji 10.6 pts 5.6 rebs 1.8 blks
Shane Larkin 8.8 pts 2.7 rebs 2.4 assts 1.8 stls
Trey McKinney-Jones 8.5 pts 4.5 rebs 2.0 assts
Dequan Jones 7.0 pts 5.3 rebs
Rion Brown 6.4 pts 40.4% 3 pts
Garrius Adams 5.7 pts 3.3 rebs
Erik Swoope 3.9 pts 2.7 rebs
Prediction: Miami has everything it needs to kick some serious butt in conference play. Any coach in the Conference would love to have the guard play of Malcolm Grant, Shane Larkin, and Durand Scott. Reggie Johnson is a force. His return has made all the difference this year. And Kenny Kadji gives Johnson the protection inside he’s never had. 10-6 (3rd place) in the ACC and an at large bid in the NCAAs is my conservative estimate, knowing the some teams that are struggling now may improve by season’s end. Additionally, this would give UM a first round bye in the ACC Basketball tournament and allow Josh and I an extra day of drinking in Atlanta (like we need it). Then on to the NCAA Tourney, where with Coach Larranaga at the helm, a deep run is very possible.