College Basketball Nation: Durand Scott

WASHINGTON -- Reggie Johnson is replaceable.

But his gregarious personality may be hard to duplicate.

Johnson suffered through the losing seasons at Miami, and has been there during this season's sudden surge. And then, after Sunday's victory over Illinois -- a game that had propelled the second-seeded Hurricanes (29-6) to the Sweet 16 and on the path toward a potential first Final Four -- the school announced that Johnson was out again due to a knee injury.

Johnson’s role had been diminished a bit of late; he was held scoreless with five boards in 18 minutes against the Illini.

Still, his absence is significant.

His knee injury is severe enough that Johnson was told he couldn’t play this week, so the decision was made for him to undergo surgery, with the chance that he could return, maybe, for the Final Four.

[+] EnlargeReggie Johnson
Ray Carlin/Icon SMIReggie Johnson -- at 6-foot-10, 292 pounds a massive force inside -- couldn't even travel with Miami to the Sweet 16.
But Johnson couldn’t travel -- and his absence was felt in the Hurricanes’ locker room Wednesday at the Verizon Center.

"It affects us on and off the court," said Miami point guard Shane Larkin. "He is a huge part of our team. He’s been supporting us. He talks to us and tells us to stay calm. He’s that type of player that would do anything for the team. Even though he’s not here, he can help us fight through adversity. He’s had the experience."

Johnson missed December's Diamond Head Classic with a thumb injury. So the Canes have experience playing without him, and while they lost to Indiana State and Arizona in Hawaii without their big man, they might be able to move a bit better offensively.

Still, against a physical team like No. 3 seed Marquette (25-8), the Canes could use an immovable force inside such as Johnson, especially if the game gets into the half court.

"We know this is going to be physical and Coach told us to prepare for a street fight," Miami senior Kenny Kadji said. "There are no rules for a street fight. We can be a physical team. Me and Julian [Gamble] and Tonye [Jekiri] are pretty big. We’ve seen a game like this before against Michigan State and did a great job of controlling the paint."

Still, Kadji concedes Johnson will be missed.

"People think twice before coming in the paint [with Johnson]," he said. "It will be different. Our guards will have to rebound. You can’t replace a guy like Reggie."

Kadji said Johnson was there to do the little things, and to push people out of the way and not allow drives to the basket.

"He could take charges and do all the little things," Kadji said. "It’s very sad, very sad for him. He’s been here five years and seen the highs and lows at Miami. It’s unbelievable that he can’t even travel. It’s hard. It’s motivation for us to get two wins to get to the Final Four."

Marquette’s Davante Gardner, who will now need to chase Kadji more on the perimeter than hunker down in the post, said he was unaware that Johnson would be out, but it still wasn't his main focus.

The Golden Eagles simply need to concentrate on getting over the Sweet 16 hump, something they haven’t been able to do the past two seasons.

That’s Marquette’s quest. Miami is on a path of its own, to continue a magical season the Canes are hoping won’t end because Johnson isn’t available.

"It’s definitely tough not having him here," Miami senior Durand Scott said. "Him not being here will motivate us. It’s hard not to see him out on the court. He’s a leader for us. But we’ll go out there and play as hard as we can to win."
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AUSTIN, Texas -- Miami had little trouble with No. 15 seed Pacific, winning 78-49. Here are a few thoughts from the game:

Overview: Bob Thomason decided a little less than a year ago it was time to say goodbye to coaching after 25 years at Pacific. But despite the long goodbye, the ending was rather sudden thanks to Miami in the second round of the NCAA tournament on Friday.

The No. 2 Hurricanes, clearly not ones for sentimentalities, burst out to a 24-point first half lead against the No. 15 Tigers and only rarely glanced over their shoulders. Instead Miami was too busy making sure the chip it heaved onto its shoulders after Selection Sunday was not just firmly in place but growing.

Miami played with the attitude one might expect from an ACC team that won its conference title but not the respect of the selection committee. Shane Larkin led the charge, first exploiting holes in the Pacific defense and then exploiting them. The sophomore finished with 10 points and nine assists. Miami's Durand Scott led all scorers with 21 points, hitting 18 of those in the second half. Travis Fulton led Pacific with 18 points.

Turning Point: Um, let's see ... Sunday night. Yep, that's when the brackets came out and it was immediately evident that this would be a lopsided game. Miami, which won the ACC, had the pedigree of a top-seeded team but was moved to a No. 2. (Even Thomason joked this was the first time in NCAA history a No. 15 was playing a No. 1 seed.) That slight clearly provided some motivation as the Hurricanes wasted little time in building that 24-point lead. Pacific didn't have the size to stop the Hurricanes on the inside or the quickness to keep up on the outside.

Key Player: Go ahead and make that plural and say key players. Miami had nine guys who scored in the first half alone. The Hurricanes' depth allowed them to rotate players in and out of the game and keep undermanned Pacific on its heels. Additionally, Miami, because it used its bench, should have plenty of rest before its next game Sunday.

Key Stat: The Hurricanes hit five of their first 11 threes, including the first two they took, forcing the Pacific zone to stretch and eventually snap as the Hurricanes moved the ball anywhere they wanted on the floor. Miami was even prolific with the threes in the second half as Scott got hot and hit four of six over an eight-minute stretch to start the half. Miami shot 54.5 percent for the game from behind the arc.

Next: Miami will take on the winner of the No. 7 Illinois versus No. 10 Colorado matchup at the Erwin Center in Austin, Texas, on Sunday.

Miami Hurricanes quiet doubters

March, 17, 2013
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GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Miami point guard Shane Larkin said he plans to sleep with his piece of the ACC Tournament net for at least two weeks.

The Hurricanes’ frenetic, fantastic, down-to-the-final-minutes championship win over North Carolina on Sunday was worth savoring -- in more ways than one.

Not only did the 87-77 victory secure UM’s first ACC tournament title, another accomplishment on an ever-growing list this season, it quieted any doubts that this team should be one to be reckoned with in the NCAA tournament.

“A lot of people were saying we peaked earlier in the year, when we won 14 in a row, and then we lost three of our last five," said Larkin, named the tournament MVP after his career-high 28-point performance. “A lot of people said ... we weren’t going to have any chance in the NCAA tournament. But we just stayed together as a group; we stayed together and believed in ourselves and got three wins in a row against three very good teams.”

Indeed, this didn’t look like a team that was petering out. Just the opposite, in fact.

[+] EnlargeShane Larkin
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsShane Larkin scored 28 points and had seven assists in Miami's win over North Carolina.
Pushed by a much-improved Tar Heels squad that also had plenty of doubters not too long ago, both teams put together a first half that was “as high a level of basketball as I’ve seen all year long,’’ Canes coach Jim Larranaga said. They combined for 15 3-pointers, only eight turnovers, 13 lead changes and six ties. And that was just in the first 20 minutes.

In one blink-and-you’ll-miss-it flurry, UNC sophomore P.J. Hairston (28 points) buried three 3-pointers in a row -- interlaced with 3s from Larkin and teammate Trey McKinney Jones (career-high 20 points). It was a stretch of entertaining one-upsmanship, and although Miami led 44-41 at halftime, you knew -- you hoped -- there would be more.

And there was.

“It was anyone’s ballgame with five minutes to go," said Tar Heels coach Roy Williams, emotional about the loss and about how far his guard-led team has come since it lost to the Hurricanes by 26 points in early February.

Actually, UNC led Sunday 67-64 with 7:44 to go, until Hurricanes big man Julian Gamble scored five points in an 8-0 run. The Tar Heels, as they had all game, tried to shoot back, and point guard Marcus Paige cut it to a 74-71 with 3:37 to go.

But then Larkin drove by Strickland for a layup, and McKinney Jones (career-high 20 points) hit yet another 3 to make it 79-71 with 1:36 left.

It was the Hurricanes' largest lead to that point in the game, and finally the cushion was enough.

“Congratulations to Miami, it will continue to be a phenomenal year for them," said Williams, whose team is now 8-3 since it last lost to Miami. “They won the regular season, and then validated it by winning a conference tournament as well and it’s just a great, great year. ... They’re really a big-time basketball team.”

As the horn sounded and a multi-colored blizzard of confetti poured out of the rafters, Miami guard Durand Scott leapt into Gamble's arms, then embraced big man Reggie Johnson. It was an emotional moment for three seniors who had seen Tobacco Road teams dominate the ACC -- until Florida State won the tournament last season.

And until now.

“My first meeting at George Mason in 1997, I asked our players, ‘Who are the best programs in the country, and who should be our role model?’ and they mentioned Duke and Carolina," said Larranaga, who took the Patriots to the Final Four in 2006. “And when I got to Miami, I asked, ‘Who are the best teams and programs in the league?’ and they said Duke and North Carolina. So what we’ve tried to do is use them as a shining example of what can be done.”

And Saturday’s net-cutting was another step.

McKinney Jones said he would likely give his sliver of the twine to his mom. Larranaga said his would be on display in his office. Scott said he would add his cutting to an ever-growing collection of memorabilia.

Meanwhile, expect Larkin to leave some room under his pillow for another piece of net. That’s the goal entering the NCAA tournament.

“This was a big weekend for us,’’ Larkin said. “This gives us a lot of momentum going forward.”
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- In a way, Miami is responsible for the team North Carolina has become.

That’s why, in a way, it’s fitting that the two teams will play for the ACC tournament title Sunday.

Feb. 9, the then-eighth-ranked Hurricanes trounced the Tar Heels so handily (by 26 points) that UNC coach Roy Williams knew something had to change. After meeting with his coaches in the BankUnited Center locker room, he opted to go to a four-guard starting lineup.

The result: An 8-2 record for the Tar Heels since the switch, and a faster, more confident, better scoring UNC team than the one Miami faced during its two-game regular-season sweep.

“The smaller lineup has helped us,’’ Williams said Saturday after his team beat Maryland in the semifinals. “We’re a better basketball team. Is it a world-beater, is it the newest thing that ever happened, the best thing that ever happened? No. ... But [going small] was the best thing for this team.

“Whether it presents any different problems for [the Hurricanes], we’ll have to wait and see what happens [Sunday].”

The Tar Heels are confident, though, pointing out how far they’ve come not just from that last game at Miami, but from their 0-2 ACC start. Who would have imagined back then that they’d be competing for the league’s tournament championship?

“We’ve had some ups and downs this year, and we went through a period where we struggled, and a lot of people kind of doubted us,’’ UNC point guard Marcus Paige said. “But the great thing about that is we stuck together as a team and we finally started getting things clicking.

“So to get a chance to play Miami [Sunday], who has beaten us pretty badly, and have a chance to cut down the nets and ... to win an ACC tournament championship -- it would just be awesome to see the season come full circle like that.”

A few things to watch in the championship game at Greensboro Coliseum:

MIAMI’S STARTING BACKCOURT

Hurricanes point guard Shane Larkin (a first-team All-ACC selection) and shooting guard Durand Scott (the ACC Defensive Player of the Year) combined for 55 points in their semifinal victory over NC State on Saturday.

UNC’s Paige and starting shooting guard Dexter Strickland -- who combined for 23 points against Maryland -- are going to have their hands full, even with the help of wing Reggie Bullock, the team’s best defender.

“We try to be the best backcourt every night, and I feed off his energy and he feeds off me,’’ Larkin said. “We play well with each other, and I know if he’s driving he’s going to have his head up and if I’m open he’s going to find me and hopefully he thinks the same of me. We challenge each other in practice; most of the time we are going against each other and we try to make each other better in practice. I’m just grateful that he’s on my team."

UNC’s ‘BIG’ MEN

Tar Heels forward James Michael McAdoo turned in his worst scoring game of the season the last time these two teams matched up, with six points on 3-for-12 shooting in 26 minutes. UNC’s leading scorer has been more aggressive of late, but he has battled foul trouble his last two games, something the 6-foot-9 sophomore will have to be wary of against Miami’s bevy of big guys.

Meanwhile, 6-foot-5 P.J. Hairston, inserted to create the smaller starting lineup after the last Miami loss, will have to play big even with his left hand still bandaged after needing eight stitches between his fingers on Friday night. Miami’s starting backcourt stands 6-11 (Kenny Kadji) and 6-10 (Julian Gamble), with a 6-10 wide body (Reggie Johnson) coming off the bench.

THE INCENTIVES

Both teams are NCAA tournament locks, but a victory would mark the Hurricanes' first ACC tournament title -- and make a better case to the NCAA selection committee that they should be a No. 1 seed.

“We’re a hungry team and we want more and more,’’ Larkin said. “We’re not satisfied with winning the regular season, we want the ACC and eventually we’re going to make the national championship game. We’re hungry and not going to settle for less. Hopefully we can get out there and get it done.”

The Tar Heels are looking for their 18th ACC tournament title, to strengthen their NCAA seeding and to prove they are ready to make a run as the postseason continues.

“Everyone had their doubts,’’ Hairston said. “... But once we started clicking together and playing as a team and just playing North Carolina basketball, that’s when everything came together and we started playing with different intensity and a sense of urgency.”
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Miami guard Durand Scott’s coaches had been reminding him to hold his follow-through after shots.

“On the ones I missed, I hadn’t been,” he explained.

So you couldn’t blame the senior for holding the pose an extra moment (or two) with about 11 minutes left in Saturday’s 81-71 win over NC State in the ACC tournament semifinals.
After the fifth-seeded Wolfpack put together a 13-4 rally to cut a once 19-point lead to 50-44, Scott buried a 3 from near the top of the arc to halt the rally. That marked his 25th, 26th and 27th points in what would be a career-high 32-point outing.

“I didn’t know how many points I had at that point,” Scott said of that key 3-pointer. “I just knew that shot felt good.”

[+] EnlargeDurand Scott
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesThe sharp shooting of Durand Scott helped deliver Miami to its first appearance in the ACC tournament title game.
Know what feels better? Securing top-seeded Miami’s first trip to the ACC tournament championship game at Greensboro Coliseum on Sunday.

“These are times you dream about -- and I feel like I’m living somebody else’s dream,” Scott said. “I feel happy.”

Scott set the tone early, scoring Miami’s first two buckets. He outscored the Wolfpack 11-5 at one point (when the Canes led 14-5), and gave his team as much as a 39-20 advantage near the end of the first half when he buried his 18th and 19th points on a pair of free throws.

“Today he had a jump shot going, so if you play off him and give him a one-arm-length gap, he would step up there and drill a 3 on you,” Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried said.

And if the Wolfpack defended closer? “He beat us off the dribble,” Gottfried said. “He was tough today, very good.”

Scott’s offensive ability isn’t exactly surprising. The media-notes-described “junkyard dog” had posted games with 20 or more points twice this season. And then there was that performance in this building when he was a freshman, when he recorded 21 points in a 2010 semifinal loss at Duke.

But this year -- one that has seen Miami reach its best-ever national ranking (as high as No. 2) and win its first league regular-season title -- he’d been lauded more for his abilities on the other side of the ball and was named ACC Defensive Player of the Year earlier this week.

It’s an award he is proud of (and it should be noted that NC State’s Scott Wood scored most of his team-high 21 points Saturday when Scott wasn’t guarding him), but he -- and his teammates -- were glad he was able to display so many facets of his game.

Especially with so much -- perhaps a number No. 1 seed in the upcoming NCAA tournament? -- on the line.

“I don’t think Durand gets the media attention he should get,” said Hurricanes point guard Shane Larkin, who finished with 23 points. “He’s one of the best guards in the country, not just the ACC. He’s proven that over his four years here, with the amount of points he has, the steals, rebounds. He’s the leader, [the] heart and soul of the team, definitely.”

In the end, Scott made 12 of 18 shots, including five 3-pointers, before he fouled out, as Miami shot 45.6 percent for the game.

And he actually held his shooting pose twice, the second time coming with 7:41 left, when his 3-pointer gave his team a 61-48 cushion (and it gave him the first game with 30-plus points of his career).

Still, it’s likely that run-stopping 3 earlier in the second half is what will be his most memorable of this game.

“That’s probably the longest I’ve ever held my follow-through,” he said, smiling.

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- The Miami Hurricanes have secured a bunch of “firsts” this season: first defeat of a No. 1 team, first No. 2 national ranking (their highest ever), first ACC regular-season title.

Now they’ll try to add another to the list: first ACC tournament championship.

Paced by senior guard Durand Scott’s career-high 32 points -- remember, he was named the league’s defensive player of the year earlier this week -- the top-seeded (another first) Hurricanes beat No. 5 seed NC State 81-71 on Saturday to advance to Sunday’s title game at Greensboro Coliseum.

A quick look at the game:

Turning point: NC State, which trailed by as many as 19 points after a listless start, put together a 9-2 run to cut Miami’s advantage to 41-29 at halftime and then had a 13-4 rally early in the second half to cut the lead to 50-44. But Scott -- who else? -- halted the comeback with a 3-pointer.

With 8:28 left, another Scott drive gave Miami a 58-45 cushion (and tied the guard’s previous career high of 29 points). About 30 seconds later, yet another Scott 3-pointer pushed him past 30 points for the first time in his career.

Player(s) of the game: Um, I think I’ll choose Scott. He made 12 of his 18 shots, including five 3-pointers, before fouling out with about two minutes left. Shane Larkin added 23 points for Miami.

Scott Wood led NC State with 21 points.

Numbers(s) to know: Miami shot 51.7 percent in the first half. … NC State big man Richard Howell posted another double-digit rebounding game despite a deep thigh bruise sustained during Friday’s quarterfinal win.

Up next: Miami will play either third-seeded North Carolina or seventh-seeded Maryland in Sunday’s ACC tournament title game.

 
DURHAM, N.C. -- Quick thoughts on No. 3 Duke’s 79-76 victory over No. 5 Miami at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Saturday night.

Overview: Ryan Kelly, in his first action in more than a month, exploded in the first half. The senior, whose status was “questionable” prior to tipoff, scored 20 points before intermission. He didn’t play like a guy coming off a foot injury.

Duke’s defense wasn’t exactly impenetrable. The Hurricanes shot 47 percent from the field before the break. Durand Scott easily penetrated and Kenny Kadji hit big shots, too. The duo combined to score 18 points in the first half.

But Kelly was the difference-maker. His performance and appearance enhanced the Cameron atmosphere. Kelly was 7-for-10 (5-for-7 from the 3-point line) while the rest of the team’s starters went 4-for-15 in the first half. Miami took a 36-34 lead into the second half, which was filled with back-and-forth action, brief lead changes, ties, 3-pointers, floaters and an eardrum-bursting vibe.

Turning point: Really, the moment Kelly returned. More specifically … the matchup turned toward the end of the second half. The Blue Devils were down 56-55 when Kelly connected on a 3-pointer off Quinn Cook's assist. That play kicked off a 10-5 run that saw the Blue Devils take a four-point lead (65-61) with 5 minutes, 50 seconds to play. This was a very tight game. That brief separation was enough to help Duke (25-4, 12-4 ACC) finish strong and secure the victory. But it wasn’t that easy. Trey McKinney Jones hit a 3-pointer with 57.2 seconds to go.

Cook then stepped out of bounds on the inbounds -- and followed that up by committing the foul on Shane Larkin's turnaround layup attempt. Larkin missed the first free throw but made the second with 53.6 seconds to go. Duke had the ball and a 78-76 lead when Mason Plumlee tossed a full-court pass to Seth Curry that ultimately sailed out of bounds. But Miami (23-5, 14-2) responded with a turnover on a potential go-ahead possession. With the Blue Devils still up two with 31.1 seconds to play, Curry missed the second of two free-throw attempts, giving Miami a chance to tie. Larkin missed one 3-point try and Rion Brown missed another as the Blue Devils secured the 79-76 victory.

But the true turning pointing was the second that Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski decided to play Kelly.

Key stat: Kelly missed 13 games. And in his first game back, he finished with a career-high 36 points.

Key player: Kelly. That’s all. The senior came up huge as the Blue Devils avenged their 27-point loss to the Hurricanes on Jan. 23.

Next game: Duke will host Virginia Tech on Tuesday. Miami will host Georgia Tech on Wednesday.
The Player of the Year race still feels wide open.

While Michigan sophomore guard Trey Burke still has a hold on the top spot in the fourth Player of the Year poll, comprised of voters for the AP, Naismith, Robertson and Wooden Awards, a gaggle of people are keeping pace, most notably Indiana guard Victor Oladipo.

The junior entered the poll two weeks ago in fourth place and moved to second in our panel of 51 voters, including being in first or second place on every ballot but one that came in after Indiana’s 72-68 win over Michigan State on Tuesday night.

The other big mover was Gonzaga junior forward Kelly Olynyk, who sits in fifth place after receiving votes for the first time in the last poll two weeks ago.

As a reminder, pollsters are asked for their top three vote-getters in the poll anonymously, with three points given for a first-place vote, two points for a second-place vote and one for a third-place vote.



Tracking the contenders:
Burke: Preseason -- T-11th; first regular-season poll -- 2nd; second regular-season poll -- 2nd; third regular-season poll -- 1st; fourth regular-season poll -- 1st.
Oladipo: Preseason -- NR; first regular-season poll -- NR; second regular-season poll -- NR; third regular-season poll -- 4th; fourth regular-season poll -- 2nd.
McDermott: Preseason -- 2nd, first regular-season poll -- 3rd, second regular-season poll -- 1st, third regular-season poll -- 2nd; fourth regular-season poll -- 3rd.
Plumlee: Preseason -- NR; first regular-season poll -- 1st; second regular-season poll -- 3rd; third regular-season poll -- 3rd; fourth regular-season poll -- 4th.
Olynyk: Preseason -- NR; first regular-season poll -- NR; second regular-season poll -- NR; third regular-season poll -- T-10; fourth regular-season poll -- 5th.
Zeller: Preseason -- 1st; first regular-season poll -- 4th; second regular-season poll -- 4th; third regular-season poll -- 5th; fourth regular-season poll -- 6th.

Poll analysis
  • With the way the poll is going, the Big Ten Player of the Year and National Player of the Year races might come to a head on March 10 in Ann Arbor, Mich., where the Hoosiers and Wolverines close out the regular season by facing each other. If Oladipo continues to surge and Burke keeps pace and that game stalemates, a split could be conceivable.
  • Doug McDermott and Mason Plumlee are still hanging around, but fading from view. This is the first time all season at least one of the two big men wasn’t in the top two of the poll.
  • Erick Green, Shane Larkin and Otto Porter make their poll debuts. Syracuse’s Michael Carter-Williams, Miami’s Durand Scott and Connecticut’s Shabazz Napier departed the poll after receiving votes two weeks ago.
  • Three obligatory notes: Polls were due at 5 p.m. Wednesday, before Wednesday night’s games. Ballots are sent out every other Thursday and voters can submit their ballots at any time from when the call for ballots are sent out until that point Wednesday. Also, as a reminder, the poll is at the mercy of pollsters responding, which results in some fluctuation between the numbers of pollsters both overall and from region to region each week.

Why Miami should be No. 1

February, 11, 2013
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The No. 1 ranked team in the AP Poll has lost five weeks in a row. The top three teams all lost in the last week.

With so much parity, who really is the No. 1 team in college basketball?

How about the team that has the longest active win streak among Power 6 teams, the only Power 6 team undefeated in conference play, the team that is a perfect 11-0 with all of its top players?

The Miami (FL) Hurricanes haven’t lost a game since Christmas. They’re off to a 10-0 start in the ACC, the first team other than Duke or North Carolina to do so since the 1980-81 Virginia Cavaliers. They’re the first team since ACC play began in 1953 to defeat both Duke and North Carolina by at least 25 points in the same season (according to the Elias Sports Bureau).

Miami has won 11 straight games –- no other Power 6 team has an active win streak of more than five games.

The Hurricanes’ only three losses came without one of their key players –- they lost to Florida Gulf Coast without Durand Scott, and to Arizona and Indiana State (in overtime) without Reggie Johnson.

Miami has the highest BPI in college basketball with all of its top players (Shane Larkin, Trey McKinney Jones, Kenny Kadji, Scott and Johnson). BPI defines “top players” as players who are top five on the team in minutes per game and have played at least half of the team’s games.

When debating who the No. 1 team is in college basketball and who deserves the top ranking in the polls, it usually alludes to which team is currently the best team at the moment.

When looking at the likely top candidates for No. 1 –- Miami, Florida, Indiana, Michigan, Syracuse, Gonzaga and Duke -– Miami has the highest BPI with each team’s roster as is at the current moment. As it stands, each of those teams has all of its top players except for Michigan, which is missing Jordan Morgan (ankle injury), and Duke, which is missing Ryan Kelly (foot injury). Of those seven teams, Duke has the lowest BPI with its current roster.

The college basketball season gets cranked up after the New Year, when conference play gets underway. Since Jan. 1, Miami has the highest BPI in the country.

Which team plays the best against the best teams?

Miami has won six of its seven games against teams ranked in the BPI top 50, the best such win percentage (85.7) among teams to play at least five such games.

Miami has the best BPI against top-50 teams since Jan. 1 among teams to play at least five such games, and it’s not even that close. The Hurricanes, who are 5-0 in those games, are the only team to play at least five games against BPI top-50 teams since January 1 and not lose a game.

Miami certainly had a few lackluster performances before the New Year when it wasn’t at full strength –- the loss to Florida Gulf Coast, the 19-point loss to Arizona, and a narrow eight-point win over Stetson -- but the Hurricanes have brought their ‘A’ game as much as any team.

No team has more “Game BPI” scores of 95 or better than Miami (12). BPI takes into account margin, pace, location, opponent and key players missing for each “Game BPI” and then averages those scores to calculate a team’s BPI for the season. Miami’s 99.8 “Game BPI” in its 90-63 win against Duke is the best performance by any team this season.

Which team do the fans think should be No. 1? We asked fans to tweet their choice at @ESPNStatsInfo on Twitter and the verdict was overwhelming: Miami got more than half the votes.
videoVictor Oladipo arrived at Indiana as part of the rebuilding process, a player with a ton of athleticism but who needed vast improvement in the nuance of basketball.

The potential was there, but Oladipo needed to hone it.

Indiana coach Tom Crean saw Oladipo’s desire from when he arrived in Bloomington, Ind. Now he’s seeing the results, too, as Oladipo has become one of the biggest impact players for the Hoosiers.

“My freshman year, it was kind of like I wanted to, but I wasn’t capable,” Oladipo told reporters recently. “I started growing my sophomore year and now my junior year, I have to bring it every night on both ends of the floor.”

It took one big matchup on a national stage against then-No. 1 Michigan -- and player-of-the-year candidate Trey Burke -- for Oladipo to reach the latest growth step: Consideration as one of the best players in the country.

Burke overtook Creighton’s Doug McDermott to take a slight lead in the third ESPN.com Player of the Year poll, but Oladipo made the biggest move. He entered the poll for the first time and sits in fourth place. His performance, especially defensively against Michigan, helped.

“He eats up space and keeps his hand out,” Burke said. “He moves his feet really well. He’s very athletic, so you really don’t have time to play around with him.”

Oladipo’s defensive ability goes back to his athleticism. On defense, it shows with his ability to shut down and close out opponents. On offense, it comes with his overall ability -- and was on display during a missed alley-oop dunk against the Wolverines when he caught the ball one-handed in the air and just missed finishing it off.

The 6-foot-5 junior from Upper Marlboro, Md., has affected the game on offense, where he averages 14 points, and on defense, where he averages 5.8 rebounds and 2.5 steals.

“He can guard two actions at one time, the screen and the man, and it is rare you see that. His recovery time, because of his lateral quickness, is exceptional,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “And there’s a lot of people who are very athletic like that, but they don’t want it like he does. He wants to be a good defender.

“That makes a big difference.”

Enough to put Oladipo in the race to be the country’s top player.

Tracking the contenders
Burke: Preseason -- T-11th; first regular-season poll -- 2nd; second regular-season poll -- 2nd; third regular-season poll -- 1st.
McDermott: Preseason -- 2nd, first regular-season poll -- 3rd, second regular-season poll -- 1st, third regular-season poll -- 2nd.
Plumlee: Preseason -- NR; first regular-season poll -- 1st; second regular-season poll -- 3rd; third regular-season poll -- 3rd.
Oladipo: Preseason -- NR; first regular-season poll -- NR; second regular-season poll -- NR; third regular-season poll -- 4th.
Zeller: Preseason -- 1st; first regular-season poll -- 4th; second regular-season poll -- 4th; third regular-season poll -- 5th.

Poll analysis
  • A reminder: Players get three points for a first-place vote, two for a second-place vote and one for a third-place vote. Every voter is an actual voter for at least one of the Wooden, Naismith, Associated Press or Robertson awards. Voters have been granted anonymity to participate in this poll, which is conducted every two weeks.
  • For the fourth consecutive poll -- including the preseason -- there is a new leader. Cody Zeller led the preseason poll, Mason Plumlee the first regular-season poll, Doug McDermott the most recent poll and now Burke nudging ahead of McDermott in this edition.
  • While there is still time left for someone, perhaps Oladipo, to make a run, this appears to be shaping up as a good two-man race between McDermott and Burke.
  • Two obligatory notes: Polls were due at 5 p.m. Wednesday, before Wednesday night’s games. Also, as mentioned in the last poll, the poll is somewhat at the mercy of the pollsters and once again, voters from the Far West have not responded to our queries. Once again, we will try to figure out a way to get more people in the Far West involved.
  • Louisville’s Russ Smith and UNLV’s Anthony Bennett both departed the poll this week.

Miami fans, dance; Duke fans, breathe

January, 23, 2013
1/23/13
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Yes, it happened. Duke, the No. 1 team in America, scored 19 points in the first half of a 90-63 loss at Miami on Wednesday night. It was tied for the program's most-lopsided loss in the past 15 years.

The Blue Devils also endured the third-largest loss by a No. 1 team in Division I history. Miami earned its first victory over a No. 1 team in seven tries.

But it’s only Jan. 23.

So what’s the proper way to digest this? That all depends on your allegiance, I guess.

If you’re a Duke fan ... Don’t cry. You’re used to this. When your favorite squad gets whipped, it usually leaves the scrap with a broken nose and two black eyes. Remember last season? The Blue Devils went to Columbus and lost to Ohio State by 22 in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. North Carolina beat them by 18 in Durham last March. The season before that, they were ranked No. 3 when they went to New York and suffered a 93-78 loss to St. John’s. In 2009-10, the last time they won the national title, they took a 14-point road loss against an unranked North Carolina State team.

My point is that Duke has proved in past years that it’s resilient enough to recover from these lopsided losses. They almost seem normal now. (Although I can’t say I envy any player who will be subjected to coach Mike Krzyzewski's next practice session, which could commence the recovery process.)

But this was an embarrassment. And it’s easy to say the absence of Ryan Kelly (13.4 points and 1.7 blocks per game, 52.1 percent from the 3-point line) was the main reason for the loss. I’m sure he would have helped -- although he was 3-for-10 the last time he played the same Miami frontcourt last season -- but I’m certain he wouldn’t have single-handedly closed the entire 27-point gap.

The Blue Devils struggled from the 3-point line (4-for-23) Wednesday. They’ve shot 23.3 percent from beyond the arc in their two road losses. At home and on neutral courts (16-0), they’ve registered a 43.1 percent clip from beyond the arc.

Kelly could have given them a boost on the perimeter. But what about Miami’s easy buckets in the paint? The dunks? The jump shots Duke couldn’t stop? What about the turnovers? The missed layups? The backcourt that watched the game from the team’s hotel? The selfish one-on-one basketball that belied everything Coach K teaches? No excuses. The Blue Devils didn’t show up, and they didn’t execute. With an entire half to play, they came out of the locker room with the body language of a squad that wanted to get back on the bus and go home.

It was a poor effort against an underrated team that clearly is capable of contending for the ACC crown. But it also was Duke’s second consecutive letdown on the road (it has lost both its true road games this season). The Blue Devils fell from their No. 1 post the first time when they suffered an 84-76 loss at NC State on Jan. 12. Yes, they need Kelly. But even when the 6-foot-11 standout returns, they’re going to stumble again in the ACC if they play the way they did Wednesday night, especially when they’re on the road.

[+] EnlargeRion Brown
Robert Mayer/USA TODAY SportsUnhindered Miami dunks, like this one from Rion Brown, are out of character for Coach K's Duke.
If you’re a Miami fan ... Somebody call Will Smith, Jennifer Lopez and LeBron James ... even Pitbull, if that’s your style. It’s time to dance in the streets of Miami. Yes, Hurricanes. We see you now. And to be honest, it should not have taken this long. We’ve given a bunch of programs passes for injuries and suspensions.

But Durand Scott and Reggie Johnson didn’t warrant the scrutiny we've given Kelly even though the two Hurricanes starters have missed 12 games combined. Scott (NCAA suspension) wasn’t available during the November loss to Florida Gulf Coast. Johnson (broken thumb) was absent during losses to Arizona and Indiana State.

So coach Jim Larranaga hasn’t had a Miami squad at 100 percent for the majority of the 2012-13 campaign. Still, the Hurricanes’ 5-0 start is the program’s best start in nine years as a member of the ACC.

I think Johnson’s surprising return was more of an emotional boost for the team than anything. He was clearly rusty after missing eight games with a thumb injury. But the Hurricanes finally had all their key pieces. The result? They pounced on the No. 1 team in America.

I have to give my wise colleague John Gasaway credit for this must-read commentary on Miami’s D Insider, ranked 12th in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency ratings. In a Wednesday pregame post, Gasaway wrote: “Surprises have been plentiful in Coral Gables of late, but Larranaga and his players may be working on the biggest one of all. ‘Miami’ and ‘deep tournament run’ may not be mutually exclusive terms much longer.”

Preach, John.

There is upper-level defense. And then there is Miami’s defensive execution against the Blue Devils.

This Miami squad held the Blue Devils to a 2-for-11 mark from the 3-point line in the first half. Krzyzewski's squad didn’t score a field goal for an eight-minute stretch before halftime. Quinn Cook and Seth Curry were a combined 1-for-22.

I don’t know whether I’ve ever witnessed a Duke team get punched in the mouth like that. I was in Columbus when Duke lost to Ohio State by 22 last season. But this was different. The Hurricanes’ defense really sucked the life out of the Blue Devils.

Kenny Kadji (22 points), Shane Larkin (18 points, 10 rebounds) and Scott (25 points) made sure Miami maintained a significant scoring margin. But the team’s collective defense was superb.

And now, the ACC race will be more interesting. NC State just lost to Wake Forest. Miami is undefeated in conference play, with a win over Duke. Kelly will return, and the Blue Devils will maintain their post as the most talented team in the conference. North Carolina and Maryland are intriguing.

Overall, the biggest development of the evening is that the ACC is not a one- or two-team league. Duke’s early push opposed that theory. The Hurricanes can win this league because of their defensive prowess and the fact that they’re finally healthy. And as Gasaway noted, the Hurricanes are built to make noise in March, too.

Now, it’s late January. And Miami eventually will play North Carolina State (road), North Carolina (home) and Duke again (road). So things could change.

But the Canes made a statement Wednesday night about their status in the conference.

In the words of the great Pitbull, from his song “Triumph,” "They thought he was done, dawg, but he's back bigger, better, stronger and free.”

I guess that describes Miami.

Should be the team’s new anthem.
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- There were times, early in Miami forward Julian Gamble's left-knee rehab, when he wondered if he’d ever be able to even hop without pain -- much less battle for back-to-back offensive rebounds and score on a putback to jump-start a game-winning run at North Carolina.

Breaking the Tar Heels’ 10-game winning streak over the Hurricanes?

Starting 2-0 in the ACC for the first time since his team joined the league?

Winning at the Smith Center, just a short drive from his Durham, N.C., hometown, 68-59?

Yes, Gamble said Thursday night, returning for a sixth year was certainly worth it.

“Of course this is what you hope for,” Gamble said after notching 14 points, 6 rebounds and 3 blocks en route to pushing UNC to 0-2 in the ACC. “But not just for me -- for my team.”

Indeed, the victory marked the road-tested Hurricanes' third consecutive victory -- perhaps extra impressive, considering all have been without center(piece) Reggie Johnson.

When the 6-foot-10, 292-pound center fractured his thumb last month before the Hurricanes' trip to the Diamond Head Classic, there was worry about how the guard-heavy team would adapt without his defensive presence in the lane and double-double (12.6 points, 10.1 rebounds) average per game.

Going 1-2 in the Diamond Head Classic didn’t exactly help curb that concern.

But Gamble’s play of late just might.

[+] EnlargeJulian Gamble, Reggie Johnson
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesWith center Reggie Johnson, right, out, Julian Gamble has stepped up of late, averaging 9 points and 7 boards his past three games.
In wins against La Salle and at Georgia Tech, he averaged 6.5 points and 7.5 rebounds.

And making his sixth straight start in place of Johnson on Thursday, the 6-10, 250-pounder was even more aggressive from the outset. With Miami trailing 32-30 at the break, the team went to him early and often in the second half, wanting to establish an offensive presence in the lane to help open things up for its outside shooters. And he delivered, scoring six of Miami’s first seven points to make it 37-all.

“I feel like we’re a bigger, stronger, more physical, more experienced team than them [the Tar Heels] at this point, so we just had to take advantage of it,” said Gamble, who got plenty of advice and words of encouragement from Johnson on the bench.

His biggest advantage-taking moment came with 4 minutes, 31 seconds left.

After UNC reserve P.J. Hairston buried a 3-pointer to cut Miami’s lead to 56-55, Gamble grabbed teammate Durand Scott's missed 3-pointer. Playing with four fouls but backing off not one bit, he missed the putback, but grabbed another rebound in traffic and made that one to put his team up by three points -- and jump-start an 8-0 run.

“I was just thinking ‘Be relentless, outwork them,’” Gamble said. “That’s what one of our coaches always tells us: No matter what happens, no matter what adversity happens, just keep working.”

It was that mentality, too, Gamble said, that helped get him through the frustrations of rehabilitation after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during a workout in August 2011. There were days, he remembered, when medication barely numbed the pain. He didn’t know until February whether the NCAA would allow him to play for a rare sixth year (he redshirted his freshman season, in 2007-08). And he actually had to undergo a second knee surgery, he said, when a lesion was found on the back of his ACL graft.

“It was another blow to my mindset, and my confidence: Was I ever going to play like I could before?” he said.

But he is.

Maybe, at times, even better.

“Reggie Johnson is a tremendous inside presence, he’s a low-post player, back to the basket, and he helps us a lot of different ways,” Miami coach Jim Larranaga said. “But Julian has done an admirable job, stepping up and defending, rebounding and scoring. Tonight, he had double figures, 7-for-10 from the field, 14 points and 6 rebounds. That’s an outstanding performance, especially in a game like this where every possession counts.”

Senior Kenny Kadji led the Canes with 18 points and 9 rebounds Thursday. James Michael McAdoo led UNC with 14 points and 6 rebounds, although Miami held the Tar Heels to just one field goal (that Hairston 3-pointer) during a crucial 7-minute span in the second half.

“[This win] gives us great confidence, but at the same time, we know we have 16 more games left,” Gamble said. “It’s the beginning of the conference season, and we don’t have a lot of time to dwell on this victory.”

Although after all that rehab, Gamble -- who had more than a dozen friends and family members in the crowd -- admits he does appreciate each "W" a bit more.

“To be playing basketball at the highest level, and to be playing at places like Duke and Carolina, and just having the opportunity to play in front of family and friends, it’s just a great feeling,” he said.

Miami at UNC: What to watch

January, 10, 2013
1/10/13
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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Monday, the day after North Carolina lost its ACC season opener at Virginia, coach Roy Williams asked his assistants to identify the team’s main problem.

They all gave different answers. And the same thing happened when the question was posed to the players.

Thus, it isn’t surprising that Williams himself offered a lengthy list of improvements he wants his 10-4 squad to make, preferably beginning with Thursday night's game against Miami.

“I’d like to have more inside scoring," he said, “and I’d like to get to the free throw line more. I’d like our big guys to turn it over less. I’d like us to be more consistent shooting the ball from the outside. I’d like to handle dribble penetration better.”

Miami, which has been tested by one of the nation's toughest schedules, will in turn test all of those things. The 10-3 Hurricanes will continue to be without big man Reggie Johnson, who is expected to miss another six weeks with a broken thumb. But they are now 3-2 since he was injured, and are trying to replace his double-double average with a plethora of players.

“The whole key for us offensively is to just have good balance, to have different guys step up and make shots for us," Miami coach Jim Larranaga said. “The other day against Georgia Tech it was Rion Brown. Often is the case [that] Shane Larkin and Durand Scott are our leading scorers. But Kenny Kadji can really shoot the ball well, and in Julian Gamble's first start against Hawaii he scored 16 points and had 13 rebounds. … Trey McKinney Jones is shooting the ball very well. He's been in double figures most games.

“If we can get four or five guys in double figures, then I think we're in good shape offensively.”

A few things to watch as the Hurricanes attempt to start league play 2-0 for the first time since joining the ACC, while the Tar Heels try to avoid 0-2:

Miami’s backcourt

Scott, a senior, and Larkin, a sophomore, are combining for 27.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 6.6 points per game. And they rarely take (or give defenses) a breather, averaging more than 35 minutes apiece per game.

“They’re a difficult team to guard because Durand can take the ball to the basket so well and get fouled, get to the rim and he can make some 3s, too," Williams said. “We tried to go under the screen down there a couple of years ago and he makes three 3s in the first eight minutes.

"Larkin is really, really playing well. He’s really aggressive and he’s doing a good job. That gives them two point guards that have good assist-error ratios.”

Reggie Bullock

UNC’s junior wing has had the hot hand of late, averaging 17.7 points over his past four outings. During Sunday’s loss at Virginia, Bullock, who is trying to take on more of a leadership role, scored 22 points on nine shots, and Williams wants his team to do a better job of recognizing who has the hot hand -- and work on getting him the ball more often.

“What we’ve got to do is be aware; it’s not an equal opportunity," Williams said during his Monday night radio show. “Some guys can shoot better than others, some guys can score better than others, and we’ve got to figure that crap out. And we’re pushing them in a direction to figure it out, but still, they’ve got to do it out on the court. We need to work harder, when someone’s as hot as Reggie was [Sunday] night, we need to work harder to get him shots.”

And Bullock’s shooting may be counted on even more Thursday, if reserve guard Leslie McDonald -- who is averaging 8.4 points and 17.9 minutes, and is making 40.2 percent of his 3-pointers -- can’t play. McDonald “tweaked” his right knee, and did not practice Tuesday or Wednesday.

Defense

The Hurricanes rank 18th nationally in field goal percentage defense, holding foes to 37.4 percent shooting per game.

The Tar Heels have held opponents to 39 percent shooting for the season, but have often been inconsistent and failed to communicate on defense when it mattered most. At Virginia, for instance, UNC allowed the Cavs to shoot 52 percent in the second half.

3-point shot: Accountability at Marquette

October, 30, 2012
10/30/12
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1. Marquette was aware of the pending NCAA legislation that will pin responsibility and penalties on the head coach for any violation within his or her staff. That’s why Golden Eagles athletic director Larry Williams suspended head coach Buzz Williams for the first Big East game of the season even though the violation was pinned on assistant Scott Monarch, who was ultimately fired (for providing transportation for a recruit and not giving honest answers when questioned). A Marquette official said the university was using precedence about head coach accountability (see Jim Calhoun, Donnie Jones and Bruce Pearl). According to the official, the past cases played a role in the decision-making process. The NCAA still hasn’t ruled on the Marquette case and could impose additional penalties.

2. South Florida’s point guard Anthony Collins didn’t play in the scrimmage against Miami over the weekend, but neither did Hurricanes’ power forward Reggie Johnson, according to a source who was at the scrimmage. The Bulls used the scrimmage to evaluate their offensive and defensive schemes. Without Johnson, the source said Durand Scott and guard Trey McKinney Jones were the stars for the ‘Canes. That will continue throughout the season.

3. College of Charleston president George Benson and athletic director Joe Hull are currently negotiating a membership agreement with Colonial Athletic Association representatives after the board voted 12-5 to give them the authority to do so a few weeks ago. The president and AD still have to sign any approved membership agreement. There is no deadline to complete the negotiations and once they are deemed successful then a special meeting of the board will occur. The best-case scenario would be for Charleston to get this done sooner than later so it can move to the CAA for 2013-14. The Southern Conference will let the Cougars play in the conference tournament.

What I can't wait to see: ACC

October, 19, 2012
10/19/12
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Here are five storylines I look forward to following during the ACC this season.

What I can’t wait to see:

Will North Carolina State live up to the hype?

For the past nine seasons, the conference title has been won by North Carolina or Duke. But this year NC State is the heavy favorite. The Wolfpack are the logical pick thanks to the return of players such as C.J. Leslie and Lorenzo Brown, and the addition of highly touted newcomers like Rodney Purvis. It also helps that Duke and North Carolina each lost most of their key players. Still, let’s not forget that this is a team that finished in a three-way tie for fourth in the ACC last season with a 9-7 record. Mark Gottfried’s squad went on a nice run in the NCAA tournament and almost upset Kansas in the Sweet 16. Is that the Wolfpack team we’ll see this season? Or will we see the squad that was marginal for most of 2011-12? My guess is the former.

How quickly will Duke’s Rasheed Sulaimon adapt to the college game?

The Blue Devils lost guard and leading scorer Austin Rivers to the NBA draft, and Andre Dawkins will redshirt this season. Duke still has Seth Curry -- and it’s confident that sophomore Quinn Cook will take a big leap. Still, the backcourt is thin. As the 12th-ranked prospect in the Class of 2012 by ESPN.com, the 6-foot-4 Sulaimon is skilled enough to get on the court immediately and be a major factor for the Blue Devils. But it takes things other than skill to play for Mike Krzyzewski. How well will Sulaimon defend? How quickly will he pick up Duke’s system? How good a teammate will he be? Thus far the reports out of Durham have been positive.

Can Dez Wells play for Maryland?

Wells is practicing with Terps, but is awaiting a waiver that would allow him to play immediately after transferring during the summer from Xavier, where he was dismissed for a violation of the student code of conduct. Head coach Mark Turgeon is crossing his fingers that the waiver is granted, because the addition of Wells would greatly enhance Maryland’s chances of making the NCAA tournament after a two-year hiatus. Wells averaged 9.8 points and 4.9 rebounds for Xavier last season.

North Carolina will likely take a step back -- but will it be a big one?

The Tar Heels won the NCAA title in 2009 and then lost Tyler Hansbrough, Wayne Ellington, Ty Lawson, Danny Green and others to the NBA. The following year they went 20-17 overall and 5-11 in the ACC. Will North Carolina -- which was one of the top two teams in country last season until Kendall Marshall got hurt -- take a similar slide this season after losing Marshall, John Henson, Tyler Zeller and Harrison Barnes? The guess here is no. North Carolina might not be as strong as it was in 2011-12, but it still has a roster stacked with talent. James Michael McAdoo, P.J. Hairston and Reggie Bullock are NBA-caliber players. Dexter Strickland is an experienced guard, and standout recruit Marcus Paige should have a quick impact. The Tar Heels shouldn’t finish any lower than third in the ACC.

Who is the fourth-best team?

Let’s assume North Carolina State, Duke and North Carolina -- and not necessarily in that order -- will occupy the top three slots. Who comes next? Maryland and Miami certainly have to be considered. Nick Faust, James Padgett, Pe'Shon Howard and Alex Len all return for the Terps, who have added a top-flight recruit in 6-foot-9, 270-pound forward Shaquille Cleare. Reggie Johnson, Durand Scott and Kenny Kadji are back for Miami. The coaches of both teams (Turgeon at Maryland and Jim Larranaga at Miami) are in their second season, which means each program should take significant strides. Still, I think the “next best” team outside of the top three will be Florida State. Not only that, but come February, I wouldn’t be shocked if Leonard Hamilton’s squad was in the mix for the ACC title. Year after year, the Seminoles lose good players. And year after year, Hamilton finds a way to keep his team relevant. Not many squads in the country defend as well as Florida State, which returns standout guard Michael Snaer.

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