That’s what must have been going through the mind of every Hurricanes fan when they heard the news. Bruce Brown Jr. is undergoing surgery and will miss six weeks. Brown has been going through a bit of a Sophomore slump this season after a stellar Freshman campaign, but the hopes were that he would turn it around on his own. Instead Canes fans got this. News that their best player’s struggles were because of more than what was happening on the hardwood.
But the season chugs along and their won’t be any other teams in America feeling bad for the Canes after losing their lottery prospect. Brown has struggled most of the season and yet the Canes still boast a 15-5 record, with contributions coming from numerous areas.
The biggest contribution of late is of course Lonnie Walker IV, who put up 25 against Louisville followed by a 23 point performance in the loss to Florida State. Essentially this is Walker’s team now. He will have to fill the flashy role that was expected of Brown and find a way to continue to lead the Canes through the heart of ACC play.
Luckily for the Canes, their first game without Brown will be against the struggling Pittsburgh Panthers who enter tonight’s contest losers of 9 straight. The streak started back in December when the Canes went into Pitt and handled the Panthers 67-53. The game in December was a grinder, one which saw the Canes hold the Panthers to just 19 points in the first half. Pitt will look to get back in the win column behind their leading scorer Jared Wilson—Frame who averages 12.8 points per game.
When the teams first met back in December, the Canes were ranked 15th in the country and had just one blemish on their record. The story is different now. The Canes have fallen out of the rankings, and despite close contests against ranked opponents they have struggled to close out games. The Canes had a decent week after falling out of the rankings, picking up hard fought victories over Louisville and NC State, before falling in overtime to Florida State in Tallahassee. Right now the polls don’t believe in the Canes and without Brown they don’t have much of a reason to change their mind. That is, unless the Canes can prove themselves on the court and show that this is a complete team that won’t be deterred because of the loss of one player.
For the Canes this game is a test. Not a test in the sense that Pittsburgh should be able to challenge the Canes, but a test in the sense of the teams mentality and spirit after losing Brown. As much as Brown has struggled offensively all season, he leads the team in rebounds with 7.1 per game. Who’s going to fill that role? Dewan Huell has been having a superb season and is clearly the first choice, but there is also Amp who has struggled to find his way so far, and Ebuka Izundu coming off the bench. Someone needs to step up and tonight is an audition see who will play the part.
The Canes definitely got some bad news this week, but luckily the schedule is in their favor, and they will get a chance to right the ship and get used to playing without their best player against an 8-14 team in their home gym.