Miami set out for the Diamond Head Classic minus its most precious jewel in game-ready shape. The Canes returned home late Christmas night in a not-so-festive spirit, greeted by a lump of coal in their stocking as a reminder of how valuable that jewel is.
In Coral Gables, the gem is best known as Reggie Johnson, the imposing, wide-bodied center and lifeblood of Miami basketball who missed the three-game holiday tournament after jamming his left thumb in practice last Friday. Games played without Reggie Johnson are best known in southeast Florida as accidents waiting to happen.
Honolulu (HI) felt the brunt of Miami’s latest spill, playing host to the Hurricanes as their storm veered off course. Taking the floor without Johnson, Miami stumbled through a sloppy first half against the host school Hawaii, floundered against Arizona in a 19-point rout, then came undone in an overtime loss to Missouri Valley Conference dark horse Indiana State.
As the Canes transition from one holiday to the next, head coach Jim Larranaga is trading in his Christmas list for one pivotal New Year’s resolution: to keep No. 42 healthy.
You see, Johnson is the ACC’s most indispensable player, more valuable to Miami than any other player in the conference is to his respective team. Mason Plumlee may be the league’s best center—best player, even—but Johnson means more to the Canes than Plumlee does to Duke given Miami’s parasitic supporting cast, which becomes unhinged without its man in the middle.
Remove Plumlee from Duke and the Blue Devils, while no longer elite, remain an even-keel, well-coached and battle-tested team replete with veteran leaders (Seth Curry, Ryan Kelly), a stellar point guard (Quinn Cook) and a host of other blue-chip talent at Mike Krzyzewski’s disposal. Substitute Julian Gamble, an edge piece, for Johnson, a centerpiece, and the Miami basketball puzzle falls completely apart.
Let’s start with the direct implications.