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Next Up For Duke Basketball: Miami

The Hurricanes are limited but still dangerou

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NCAA Basketball: Duke at Virginia Tech
Feb 26, 2019; Blacksburg, VA, USA; Duke Blue Devils guard Tre Jones (3) shoots against the Virginia Tech Hokies in the first half at Cassell Coliseum.
Michael Shroyer-USA TODAY Sports

Next up for Duke is a proud Miami program having a tough season.

Jim Larranaga has made Miami into a reliably tough opponent and one that has given Duke trouble since he took the job in 2011.

Miami has made the post-season every year except for 2013-14 when, you’ll recall, Larranaga lost his top six players. Currently 12-15, Miami will probably not make it this year. That does not mean the ‘Canes are hopeless or a sure bet to lose Saturday. First, they are very well coached. And second, there is some talent in Coral Gables. It’s just that Miami is thin and with limited options.

What Miami does have is outstanding guard play. Larranaga starts Chris Lykes, Anthony Lawrence, Zach Johnson and DJ Vasiljevic.

Johnson is 6-2, Vasiljevic is 6-3 and Lawrence is 6-7.

Lykes is just 5-7 but he’s a wonderful basketball player. He’s averaging 16.9 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 3.1 app and 1.4 spg.

He’s really talented too. Larranaga said that if he were a foot taller people would compare him to Michael Jordan.

That said, he’s 19 or so and still has to learn what he can do at 5-7 and when. But he’s a very promising player and most nights he’s good for 16-19 points.

Vasiljevic is the team’s best three point shooter and he’s capable of some real streakiness. He's from Australia and the Aussies, culturally speaking, have no hesitation about shooting threes; in fact they often seem to prefer them.

Americans are generally taught to use them opportunistically and to open up the inside rather than shoot them for their own sake.

Johnson is not a particularly good shooter, or at least he hasn’t been for Miami. He transferred from Florida Gulf Coast where his teammate Brandon Goodman raved about him: “He can shoot the 3-ball. He can drive it. One of the things that’s special about him is you don’t have to call a play for him. You get him a ball-screen and he’ll make a play for you. Whether it’s driving down and dunking or driving in the lane with a floater or driving and finding an open teammate. I think that’s something that’s hard to teach. He’s super athletic. When he gets around the rim, he can finish. And he can go in spurts of scoring four or five baskets in a row, especially at times when we need it. What makes him special is he can do it all.”

He is athletic but the ACC is a step up from FGCU and Atlantic Sun competition. That’s not to say he hasn’t had an impact at Miami because he has. He’s a real talent.

At 6-7, Lawrence has guard skills and has at times been sensational. He’ll be critical to Miami because he’s the only guy physically well suited to guarding RJ Barrett or Cam Reddish down low.

We don’t know yet if Zion Williamson will play or not but he’s an obvious mismatch for everyone on the floor if he does.

And obviously at 5-7 Lykes is a size mismatch but probably has a quickness advantage and as we’ve said over the years, mismatches work both ways.

Miami’s fifth starter will be Charlotte product and Nigeran native Ebuka Izundu. After Hakeem Olajuwon dazzled the basketball world with quickness and athleticism, every player from Nigeria gets a second look just in case he is the next Olajuwon.

Izundu is not the next Olajuwon. He would not have started this year if Dewan Hernandez, aka Dewan Huell, had not gotten ensnared in the FBI/Adidas mess.

But Izundu, whose last name sounds like a Japanese car company, has done just fine. He’s averaged nearly a double-double at 10.7 ppg and 8.6 rpg, he's shot 64.6 percent from the floor, and he's done okay in the middle considering how little help he gets.

Not only is Hernandez out but so is promising freshman big man Deng Gak. Like Vasiljevic, Gak came to Miami from Australia. He and his family came there as part of the great South Sudanese diaspora which has seen South Sudanese refugees go all over the world. It’s had a particular impact on basketball in Australia, Canada and the U.S. so far and Sudanese immigrants may affect other countries basketball development as well as time goes on. Here’s a partial list but note that it doesn’t include Oregon’s injured but highly promising Bol Bol, son of Manute Bol.

A brief digression if you will pardon it: The elder Bol came to the US and used his prominence to raise money to help his fellow Sudanese who were suffering. At first he was seen as a comic novelty, never more so than when he was firing up three pointers at 7-7.

Bol had a reasonable NBA career and was a superb shot blocker, but his main interest was helping his people. He also had a major influence on former Duke star Luol Deng.

At one point he got into a conversation with then-teammate Charles Barkley and asked why African-Americans had no tribe. He didn't understand how you could live without belonging to a group identity like that and he put his life on the line for his people more than once. He would put up with any indignity to raise money to help, including boxing with William “Refrigerator” Perry. Bol knocked him out in the third round, not particularly surprising for a man who once killed a lion with a spear (but the lion was sleeping, he later explained, as if that made it any easier).

He also signed a one-day contract with a hockey team and was also at one point, very briefly, the world’s tallest jockey.

In the end his activism cost him his life. Recently there was a suggestion that he came to the US in his forties which would also make him the oldest man ever to play in the NBA. He was an unusually good man who deserves immense respect for his selflessness.

Ok, digression over.

Miami is faced with a Duke team that is coming off of a loss to Virginia Tech.

After a loss is not the best time to catch Duke. Typically the Blue Devils are highly focused after losing.

At Blacksburg, Duke played hard but without Williamson and with an ill Barrett, which makes twice recently he’s played sick.

For all of the early (and now muted if not forgotten) criticisms of hero ball vs. Gonzaga, Barrett’s true heroism, in basketball terms, was playing sick and doing his very best. Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant would heartily approve.

Duke didn’t have a great game at Virginia Tech, but presumably the team has been rested, Barrett is better and while we don’t know whether Williamson will play or not yet, neither does Miami.

Not matter what happens with Williamson, they’ll be playing a taller, very athletic team that is motivated after a loss.

If you wanted to pick a theme for this ACC season, you could do worse than this: less depth than expected. It’s been true for just about everyone: Syracuse, Boston College, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest, NC State, Duke, Georgia Tech, Notre Dame and Miami. Only Florida State, UNC and Virginia are relatively unscathed.

Duke, however, is less affected than is Miami. The best player in college is out; the guy who may be second best is not. Ferocious point guard Tre Jones will play. Cam Reddish will play. Duke will start either Javin DeLaurier or Marques Bolden; both have improved. Alex O’ Connell has shown some flashes. Jack White has not shot well but still defends and rebounds with heart and passion. Jordan Goldwire can work with Jones to set up a devastating press as we saw at Louisville.

Miami has struggled with fatigue and with such a small team it will be hard to zone Duke. Syracuse’s secret, or at least part of it, is stuffing the zone with long-armed players. Miami simply cannot do that.

On the other hand, they won’t want to run with Duke because Duke is probably better at it and has more size and depth.

In order to beat Duke, Miami is going to have to limit Barrett’s effectiveness, force Duke to shoot threes and keep the Blue Devils off the backboards.

It’s a tall task, no pun intended. It can be done though. A group of people who work well together as a team can accomplish incredible things.

If Duke is rested and emotionally pumped, it gets harder though and if Williamson returns, almost impossible.

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