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NCAA Basketball ACC BasketballMiami (FL) Hurricanes

Miami (FL) Hurricanes: Reggie Johnson Injury is a Major Blow

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The 8-3 Miami(FL) Hurricanes suffered a major blow with the announcement center Reggie Johnson will miss six-weeks with a thumb injury.

The 6-foot-10, 292lbs senior was averaging a double-double with 12.6 points, 10.1 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks before the injury. Johnson was the biggest reason why the Hurricanes were beginning to look like a legitimate contender in the ACC heading into conference play.

The center was injured in practice just before the beginning of the Diamond Head Classic Tournament in Honolulu, Hawaii. His absence was felt instantly as Miami lost two of their three games in the tournament, including a 57-55 overtime loss to the Indiana State Sycamores. It was a game the Hurricanes would have won if Johnson had been in the line-up.

The loss comes at the worst possible time with Miami set to begin their conference schedule on Jan. 5 against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. It’s a schedule Johnson could miss the majority of with his timetable seeing him unlikely to return until the middle of February.

His loss doesn’t cripple the Hurricanes chances of being successful in the ACC by any means, but it does make them unlikely to be a top team in the conference. With scorers like Shane Larkin and Durand Scott, Miami will still be competitive but the loss of Johnson severely limits their chances of an upset over the Duke Blue Devils or North Carolina State Wolfpack.

Johnson is one of the best rebounders and shot blockers in the ACC, his loss on the defensive end will be what hurts the Hurricanes the most. The center could match-up and be more than capable of holding his own against Mason Plumlee, Richard Howell or even Maryland Terrapins’ Alex Len.

Miami has inserted 6-foot-10 senior Julian Gamble into the starting line-up in Johnson’s absence. He was impressive in his first game after Johnson’s thumb injury against the Hawaii Warriors, finishing with 16 points and 13 rebounds in the team’s only win in Honolulu. However, his season averages of 5.8 points and 3.5 rebounds won’t make up for the double-double presence lost with Johnson out.

The bright side is the Hurricanes are still talented enough to keep their head above water with their best post player out of the line-up. Their chances of pulling off an upset took a hit but they should be no worse than a middle of the pack team in the standings. If Johnson can return and get a few games under his belt before the ACC Tournament, Miami could return to the legitimate threat they appeared to be on the verge of becoming before their center’s injury.

After all, this was a team that with everyone healthy knocked off the Michigan State Spartans in a 67-59 win. They also handed the 11-2 Charlotte 49ers their first loss of the season in an embarrassing 77-46 defeat. Perhaps the best example of how big a factor Johnson could play for a healthy Hurricanes team was his 19 points, 13 rebounds and six blocks while going 7 for 8 from the foul line in a 75-62 win over the Massachusetts Minutemen.

Miami will now need Scott and Larkin to lead the way until Johnson is able to return. Scott is averaging 15.6 points, 5.6 rebounds, three assists and two steals, while Larkin is posting 13.1 points, 3.7 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 2.4 steals. The 5-foot-11 Larkin is the conference’s leader in steals, while Scott is its sixth best scorer.

If the duo can maintain the play they’ve showed so far this season, and Johnson returns healthy midway through February, then the Hurricanes will be a threat again. Until then, Miami has their worked cut out for them as the loss of their starting center will be a void the team won’t be able to fill.

Michael covers ACC and Big East basketball along with the Toronto Raptors for Rant Sports, you can follow him on Twitter @MichaelxRoberts