WASHINGTON, D.C. — The biggest news coming out of the East Regional has less to do with the players that will be taking the court on Thursday night and more to do with the guy that didn’t make the trip to Washington DC.
Reggie Johnson, Miami’s starting center and a constant double-double threat, injured his knee in Miami’s win over Illinois on Sunday night. He’s out for this weekend, and may miss the rest of the tournament.
Johnson hasn’t played well since returning from a broken thumb in January. In the last eight games, he’s averaging 1.9 points and 5.5 boards while shooting 20% from the floor. That’s not good, but it doesn’t change the fact that Johnson is a big body and a veteran front court presence. Is this the kind of injury that could influence the outcome of the No. 2 Hurricane’s Sweet 16 game with No. 3 Marquette?
“Our gameplan isn’t going to change,” Miami’s new featured center Julian Gamble said. “A lot of guys have to step up. … Me specifically, just staying out of foul trouble is important and to be relentless on the boards and try to be more aggressive and hold the interior down like Reggie did, that’s going to be important for me. To be able to help my guards in, setting screens and doing anything they need me to do.”
The interesting part here is that Johnson’s thumb injury has become a blessing in disguise. Miami has played without Johnson in the lineup. They’ve won games without Johnson in the lineup. At this point, they should be comfortable without him on the floor simply because they’ve been through it before.
And, frankly, it’s not like Gamble is a bad basketball player. He’s really developed this season, and at times has been more effective that Johnson. He’s not as good on the glass as Johnson is — “Reggie Johnson is our best rebounder at both ends of the court,” head coach Jim Larranaga said — but he can hold his own. More than anything, the biggest loss will simply be depth. Instead of having two big bodies to throw out there, Larranaga is only going to have one. It may also limit lineup versatility, as he won’t be able to play as big.
“Just one less wide body,” Marquette head coach Buzz Williams said. “I don’t think — maybe it will — I don’t think that it will necessarily change how they play.”
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.