Miami v North Carolina

Miami wins at UNC without Reggie Johnson; Canes for real?


On Wednesday night, Minnesota staked their claim to being one of the Big Ten’s best teams by going into Champaign and knocking off Illinois.

On Thursday night, it was Miami’s turn to make a statement, as they rolled through the Dean Dome and picked up their third straight win, knocking off the Heels 68-59.

There was quite a bit of concern about Miami’s season and tournament hopes after their starting center, double-double machine Reggie Johnson, went down with a broken thumb a couple of days before Christmas. But after a disappointing showing out in Hawaii at the Diamond Head Classic, the Canes have come on strong.

They beat a better-than-you-think La Salle team last week and followed that up with a win over in their ACC opener on Saturday. But going into the Dean Dome and knocking off North Carolina — even if this UNC team is closer to being a carbon copy of 2010 than a true ACC title contender — is impressive. Doing it without Johnson is even more so.

How is Miami surviving without their big fella in the middle?

Well, it helps when Kenny Kadji is kicking in 18 points, nine boards, four blocks and three assists. It’s even more helpful when Julian Gamble, who is starting in Johnson’s place, is going for 14 points, six boards and three blocks. More to the point, Miami still have a talented group of individuals that understand their roles. They have a point guard in Shane Larkin that is as underrated as anyone in the ACC. They have a slew of shooters on the perimeter. Kadji and Gamble have enough size and bulk to manage in the paint.

And then there is talented veteran Durand Scott, who does whatever he team needs him to do on a given night.

The bottom-line is this: the only known quantity on the ACC is Duke. Everyone else is entirely beatable. NC State, Maryland, Florida State and North Carolina — obviously — have their flaws. The conference is way down this season, so even without Johnson, Miami will be able to win a lot of games.

What’s more? They already have. They are a top 10 team in the RPI thanks in large part to six top 100 wins.

And now the scary part: they’ve spent less than a month of the season at full strength.

Chew on that.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

No. 14 Cal goes 0-2 in Las Vegas Invitational

Jaylen Brown
AP Photo/Ben Margot
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After midnight on the east coast on Thanksgiving, No. 14 Cal blew a 15 point second half lead against San Diego State, allowing the Aztecs to use a 30-6 run to put away the game and advance to the final of the Las Vegas Invitational. That’s the same San Diego State team had scored 43 points in a loss to Arkansas-Little Rock last week.

Not 24 hours later, the Golden Bears were shredded defensively by the Richmond Spiders, losing 94-90 in the consolation game of a four-team tournament they were considered to be the heavy favorite in.

It’s a disappointing two-game stretch for Cal, who entered the season as a Pac-12 favorite and had looked the part for the first four games of the season.

And the issue appears to be on the defensive end of the floor.

Richmond is a good Atlantic 10 team. Terry Allen and Marshall Wood are high-major big men, Shawn’Dre Jones is a jitterbug at the point and Chris Mooney runs a Princeton-esque system that is very difficult to prepare for without a day in-between games. So it’s not really surprising that the Spiders gave Cal a fight.

But 94 points?

On the heels of giving up 44 points in the second half against the offensively-challenged Aztecs?

That’s a problem, one that I’m sure that Cuonzo Martin is going to address this week in practice. Martin has managed to put together a roster that is build for small-ball, with four talented perimeter players surrounding a first round pick in the post. But that’s not the style that he’s known for. Martin played his college ball at Purdue in the Gene Keady days. He cut his teeth as a head coach at Missouri State in the Missouri Valley. His team’s at Tennessee were known for being tough and physical defensively.

That’s how Martin coaches, which is part of the reason Cal had such hype entering the year.

The talents of Tyrone Wallace, Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb, Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews on a team with a coach that gets teams to defend the way Martin does? It’s no surprise that pundits would be optimistic.

But as of now, they have some work to do defensively if they want to live up to that hype.

Tyler Ulis injured as No. 1 Kentucky beats South Florida

Tyler Ulis, Ky Howard
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MIAMI (AP) Jamal Murray had 21 points and No. 1 Kentucky scored the final 15 points of the first half on the way to beating South Florida 84-63 in the HoopHall Miami Invitational on Friday.

Skal Labissiere added 17 points for the Wildcats (6-0), who led by as many as 31. Charles Matthews scored 11 points and Isaiah Briscoe finished with seven assists for Kentucky, now a winner of 37 consecutive regular-season games and 39 in a row against unranked opponents.

Chris Perry scored 14 points for USF (1-5), which has lost 18 consecutive games against teams ranked in the Top 25. Jaleel Cousins added 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting, and Jahmal McMurray scored 11 points for the Bulls.

Kentucky played the second half without starting guard Tyler Ulis, who departed with a right elbow injury after getting hurt while fighting for a ball loose on the floor.

Kentucky announced after the game that the injury was a hyperextension of the elbow and that he will be day-to-day.

The Bulls were within 27-21 with 6 minutes left in the first half after McMurray banked in a 3-pointer only a few feet away from where John Calipari was standing, and the look of anguish on the Kentucky coach’s face was clear.

It didn’t last long.

The Wildcats scored on seven of their next nine possessions and the game was over by halftime, Kentucky going into the break with a 42-21 lead.

It was a reunion for plenty of people on both benches. Calipari squared off with his former assistant Orlando Antigua, now in his second year leading USF. Antigua’s staff includes another former Calipari assistant in Rod Strickland, plus former Kentucky basketball staff members Mike Malone and Dominic Lombardi.

So the staffs have plenty of familiarity. On the court, there was plenty of disparity. Kentucky finished with a commanding 23-6 edge in points off turnovers and finished with 16 assists to the Bulls’ six.