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No Hernandez, No (ACC) Chance

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Without their best player, Miami’s chances for a top ACC finish vanish

Loyola v Miami Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Following the NCAA’s ineligible ruling on Dewan Hernandez’s case, the once-promising men’s basketball season is looking a lot bleaker. Although Hernandez’s season is not technically dead, chances of him getting back on the court are slim. And while Miami has enough to keep from getting blown out on a nightly basis, evident in a close loss against NC State, one of the best teams in the ACC this year, they don’t have enough left to be true contenders.

Before the Hernandez ruling, Miami’s depth was already shaken after losing one of the few big men they had, Deng Gak, to a season ending injury. This leaves the Canes now with just two big men in Sam Waardenberg, not defensively inclined, and perhaps the best active player on the team Ebuka Izundu. While Anthony Lawrence can play some small ball 4 in the right situation, the NCAA’s decision leaves Miami crippled in overall depth but especially so in the frontcourt.

This is a year where the Canes simply won’t be able to play with the big boys in the conference. Without Hernandez and without an acceptable level of depth, Miami can’t keep up with the Dukes, UVAs and NC States of the ACC. Their perimeter defense has been spotty at best and, when Izundu isn’t in the game, attacking the interior defense has been even easier than attacking the outside. Waardenberg isn’t much more than a big body on the inside and Lawrence, while a high-energy defender, isn’t big enough to be a net positive in the paint.

However, this doesn’t spell doom for the Canes’ tourney chances even if it means they aren’t likely to be a true contender.

While Miami probably won’t finish as a top four or five team in the conference, there’s still enough talent on this, admittedly, thin roster to see the Canes finish with enough success to earn a spot as an 8 or 9 seed in the tourney.

Chris Lykes has picked up the scoring burden from where last year’s now-departed guards left off and is averaging almost 18 a night on 46% shooting. Izundu has blossomed into a great two-way big man and is the frontcourt glue to hold this team together. The other glue guy is Lawrence and, despite his bad shooting to start the season, is another two-way player who keeps Miami competitive. Newcomer Zach Johnson has given the Canes another ferocious, attacking scorer even if his defense hasn’t matched the energy level his offense does.

So although the Hurricanes won’t realistically compete for an ACC title without Hernandez playing, and even then they would have some stiff competition, they can still rise among the second tier of conference talent to be a legitimately competitive, tough team to play at the BUC or on the road. And as long as season-ending injuries don’t besiege this squad, don’t be surprised if Coach Larranaga guides the Canes to another chance at the big dance.