Prior to losing starting sophomore guard Bruce Brown, Coach Jim Larrañaga and staff felt pretty good about the teams overall performance level against ACC teams in what has been a fairly difficult conference schedule to date. Coach Chris Caputo acknowledged, however, that while the team was starting to “get a little more connected offensively” there has probably been “a little bit of slippage on defense.” Now that the team has lost one of its best defenders in Brown, the staff will have to look closely at the team and figure out “how to replace a guy that’s super important” says Caputo.
Larrañaga said in Tuesday’s press conference Brown is the “Face of the team” and “It’s not like you’ve got a flat tire and you replace it with another tire…guys can’t change who they are and take on his responsibility.” Now more than ever the team will need senior guard Ja’Quan Newton, junior forward Anthony Lawrence and sophomore power forward/center Dewan Huell to step up and help fill the leadership gap left by Brown’s absence. Dejan (DJ) Vasiljevic, Chris Lykes and even big men Ebuka Izundu and Sam Waardenberg also must contribute. A tall task for the final half of ACC play left on the schedule before heading to Brooklyn for the conference tournament.
Miami got off to a good but albeit choppy start with Wednesday’s win over Pitt where the team pulled in 39 rebounds and each of the 8 players that logged minutes had at least 2 rebounds. By comparison, Miami, in an OT loss to FSU only had 29 rebounds in a game where Brown played. This type of team rebounding will be essential if the Canes want to keep their March Madness dreams alive.
To do so Miami likely needs to win at least four more of the regular season games left on the slate they should finish in the top half of the league and in a good position to take at least one game in the ACC tourney. It is possible that Bruce Brown may be able to return in time for the post season but as Larrañaga is quick to point out, being ready to return to play is quite different from being game ready.
The Canes travel to Virginia Tech for a 2pm match this Saturday to take on a surging Hokies team that is always a tough out in their own building. Miami must continue to take care of and share the ball, play better defense and find ways to out-rebound VT if they want to steal a key road win.