Miami comes to Chapel Hill and will present the Tar Heels with quite a challenge. We talked to Jerry Steinberg at State of the U about what we can expect from the Hurricanes.
THB: What is the impact of having Reggie Johnson out of the lineup?
SOTU: First and foremost Miami loses their best low post threat. Julian Gamble and Kenny Kadji have done their best to provide some pop down low, but their is no replacing Big Reg. He draws a ton of fouls and is a beast on the offensive glass. I think the one positive is the team actually gets a touch quicker minus Johnson(especially when Tonye Jekiri is in the game). So far this year Miami is 5-0 when they have their projected starting line-up in place, and Reggie is a big part of that equation.
THB: Looking at Kenny Kadji's stats it appears his shooting is down from last season but his rebounding is up, is he doing what Miami expects of him or should he be having a greater impact?
SOTU: The best comparison of an NBA player to Kadji is Chris Bosh. He is an athletically gifted, very tall, and skilled 3 playing the 4 spot. Minus Reggie Johnson he is forced to go down low more often. This in turn has helped his rebounding numbers increase. As far as his shooting numbers, he is just missing shots he normally makes (especially good looks from deep). Kadji is too good of a shooter for that to continue. Last year we attended an open Miami practice prior to the ACC Tournament, and we lost count on how many consecutive threes Kadji hit in a row during a shooting drill. Two things that have really improved in his game this season are his defense, and how he runs the floor. With the way he is playing, we expect his numbers to improve in ACC play. Don't be shocked if he is part of an NBA rotation next season as well.
THB: Who are some of the key contributors on this team that no one really talks about?
SOTU: Trey McKinney Jones aka "The Swiss Army Knife" (because he can do it all) is the first person who comes to mind. Everyone thinks of TMJ as a shooter, and he is one of the best on the team. But Trey is also a solid defender, handles the ball well, rebounds when needed, and is an underrated passed. He is just a solid all around player as well as a clutch shooter. Additionally, Julian Gamble has really stepped up in Johnson's absence. Game to game his numbers will not wow you, but he is a tough, smart player, and a leader on the team.
THB: Assuming Reggie Johnson returns in a reasonable timeframe what is the ceiling for this team? Will there be time to pull things together and make some noise in the postseason?
SOTU: Absolutely. In the ACC Coaches teleconference yesterday, Coach Larranaga mentioned that Johnson was using his off time to get in the best shape of his life. Again Miami is 5-0 (including the win over Michigan State) with their full line-up in tact. The ceiling for this team is an NCAA birth of course, and once there make a lot of noise. Larranaga has experience in that department with George Mason. Miami starts 4 seniors, and has the kind of talent to make a special run. Johnson's effective return of course would be a significant boost to those hopes.
THB: What concerns Miami most about playing UNC?
SOTU: First, getting run out of the building. Not to the extent of Virginia per se, but Miami does like to play a slower tempo. If they don't take care of the ball and the Heels turn it into a track meet, Miami will be in trouble. Second, Bullock and Hairston. I've caught quite a few UNC games in the past two years, Hairston is a real x factor. When his shots are going in, and Bullock is up to his usual, UNC is real tough to beat. Miami has to hope at least 1 of the 2 has an off shooting night. They are a lot like UM's Trey McKinney Jones and Rion Brown, two deep shooting wings who can go off. Finally, the defensive glass. If Reggie Johnson was playing, this is less a concern. But minus the big fella, Miami needs to be diligent about keeping James Michael McAdoo and Joel James amongst others off the glass.
THB: Give me your prediction and final score.
SOTU: I see Shane Larkin giving Marcus Paige fits. Nonetheless, behind a feisty home crowd and a fired up Roy Williams, I look for the Heels to ratchet up the intensity. This should be real good, hard fought game. It seems almost impossible that UNC could start the season 0-2 in the ACC. But I think at this stage of the game Miami is the better team, Unless the 'Canes turn the ball over a ton, or there is a huge free throw discrepancy, I expect them win. Miami shocks the Heels 69-63.