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WHEN ASSESSING A TEAM'S PROSPECTS, IT'S TYPICAL TO BEGIN with strengths, but in Jim Larranaga's first season in Coral Gables, the Hurricanes may well be defined by what they lack.
Star center Reggie Johnson injured his right knee over the summer and will be out until at least January. His backup, senior Julian Gamble, suffered a left-knee injury and is likely lost for the year. Add in the uncertain status of small forward DeQuan Jones—who was named in a Yahoo! report as having taken impermissible benefits from a booster (the NCAA is investigating)—and a giant VACANCY sign hangs over Miami's frontcourt.
"Early in the season we may not only play three guards, but we might play four," says Larranaga. "We don't have a choice."
The silver lining is that the Hurricanes have some stellar ball handlers. Senior Malcolm Grant and junior Durand Scott, a pair of New Yorkers, are dynamic scorers who combined to average 28.4 points (39.6% of Miami's total scoring). Two other established guards, junior Garrius Adams and sophomore Rion Brown, also return.
But going small means that the Hurricanes could be dominated on the boards. "It is going to be up to the guards to really help us compete [in the paint]," says Larranaga. "Everybody is going to have to rebound, and the guards who are going to play are going to be the ones who can help us in that area."
Miami must also get better at defending the three-point shot (it allowed teams to shoot 35.4% last season, which ranked ninth in the ACC) and cut down on turnovers. (Only Wake Forest had a worse assist-to-turnover ratio.) "When I came here and watched the film, those were the two areas where it was clear we had to get better," says Larranaga.
In the best-case scenario, improving those trouble spots, combined with the scoring of Grant and Scott, will keep the Hurricanes afloat while the frontcourt gets sorted out. Kenny Kadji, a 6' 11" sophomore transfer from Florida, seems the surest bet to start along with the four guards.
"We are going to be small, but people shouldn't think we don't have any big men," Scott says. "Kenny might not be well known by a lot of people, but he is really talented. We feel like he can pick up the slack, and then when Reggie comes back, we will be deeper and even better."