SOTU looks at the struggles of Reggie Johnson as the big dance approaches...
Shane Larkin has marveled. Kenny Kadji has shown versatility, scoring with his back to the basket and beyond the arc. Julian Gamble has been a physical force in the paint. Durand Scott has made highlight-reel drives and baskets time and again. TM-J has been a marksman.
There have been plenty of outstanding performances to go around in what has become a magical hoops season in Coral Gables. Yet.....the vision of Reggie Johnson flexing his big biceps in Cameron Indoor Arena last year still sticks in my mind. With everything that's gone right this season, something special has gone equally wrong.
Reggie's fall off is as mind-boggling as anything I can remember in recent memory of my sports fandom. A guy with back-to-the-basket offensive ability, with a soft touch near the basket and the size and aggressiveness to clear space and get the putback off a missed shot. A mismatch that even the casual Canes fan knows.
The season started innocently enough for Johnson, but a fractured thumb kept him sidelined for eight games, ending with a cameo in the destruction of Duke in January. However, while the team coninued to win, Johnson struggled the remainder of the conference season. He hit double-digit points twice, in road wins against NC State and FSU, and double-digit rebounds just once. All while averaging roughly 20 minutes a contest.
The story has remained the same. Feeding the ball into the post to Johnson draws down an extra defender, forcing Johnson to make his move to the basket or release the ball. He's not had time to use his size and back down a defender one on one. As a result, the turnovers have increased, while the assists and points have not. Too many travels, fumbled basketballs, and bad passes. Johnson did not have a conference game this year where he had more assists than turnovers. Over the last seven games, where the Canes have appeared more mortal, Johnson's averaged only 4.7 rebounds per game.
Is it a lingering thumb issue? A confidence issue? A shortcoming in his game that he's going to have to overcome? I'm not sure, but with the big dance around the corner and the opportunity for mistakes minimized, Miami will need its best and strongest inside presence to clean up the glass and give Miami extra possessions. The tournament is about who executes the best in the half court, and it starts with both creating extra opportunities on the offensive glass and limiting opponents possessions on the other end.
So hopefully Reggie is ready to put on those size XXXXL dancing shoes and reestablish the interior, starting this weekend and carrying into the big dance. The Canes and their fans certainly need him.