Kenny Kadji #35 of the Miami Hurricanes shoots over Stan Simpson #32 of the Memphis Tigers during a game at the BankUnited Center on December 6, 2011 in Coral Gables, Florida.
Analysts have been dividing into two parts; with and without Reggie Johnson. Johnson, the 6'10" center, was the Hurricanes' best rebounder and defender last season, hampered only by a propensity to foul. He spent the offseason rehabbing from surgery to repair a torn meniscus, and didn't take the four until a mid-December game against Florida Atlantic. Since returning, he has taking over as a presence inside, an already leads the team in rebounds per game.
On the whole though, the team isn't much different. With and without Johnson, they won the easy games and dropped the tougher ones, especially on the road. West Virginia, Purdue, and Memphis were all respectable losses in the early months, and Saturday's heartbreaker against an excruciatingly slow Virginia team fell along the same lines – the team shot poorly, especially from the outside, and couldn't recover.
This year's team is very similar the one that played UNC close in two losses last year, with one glaring exception – coach Frank Haith has moved on to Missouri, and George Mason's Jim Larranaga has taken the reins. You'll remember Jim from the 2006 NCAA tournament, of course, where their quick defense and UNC's inexperience sent the Tar Heels packing. This team isn't the offensive powerhouses the Patriots were; they put up lackluster numbers on that side of the ball, and although they rebound well, are pretty susceptible to being burned by the three.
Miami excels more on the offensive end; they have the 33rd most efficient offense in the nation at the moment. That's mostly shooting prowess, and ball-handlers that don't turn the ball over. Malcolm Grant is the one who's been grabbing the most attention. You may remember from his 33 points in two meetings against UNC, mostly from shooting behind the arc. He takes vastly more shots than anyone on the team, and although he's been a bit cold of late, can kill you. Durand Scott is the more dangerous backcourt member though. Nominally the point guard (he and Grant can both handle the ball well) if he can be baited into taking threes it'll go well for the Heels, as he's a pretty poor outside shot. He's much better on the dribble-drive, which he may try a lot if he's facing Kendall Marshall.
While Miami returns almost everyone from last year's team, two new faces have rounded out the starting five. Kenny Kadji, transfer from Florida, joins Johnson in the paint. He's the team's leading shot blocker, and has the best shooting percentage, when the guards can get him the ball. Built like John Henson, he should struggle against Carolina's front line. On the wing there's Trey McKinney Jones, a transfer from UMKC. The fact he's in the starting lineup despite the numerous wings who were in front of him when he arrived on campus says a lot. Although he doesn't get nearly the shot opportunities of his teammates, he makes the most of them. It'll be interesting to see if Harrison Barnes can shut him down.
UNC should be able to handle the Hurricanes. Miami hasn't imposed a tempo on their opponents, and Carolina's fast break should cause problems. Couple that with Miami's poor road performance, and the game should go UNC's way. But this is a coach who has beaten a (younger, less-experienced) Roy Williams team before, and they definitely had the talent to keep pace with the Heels last season. Carolina can't afford another sputtering start like against Boston College, and they need to close out better than they have been doing. After this comes a tough road stretch, so now isn't the time to stumble.