Three Hoop Group Alumni Poised to Step Up for Miami

Injuries often cause one door to close, and another to open for players and teams. The Miami Hurricanes will experience that feeling over the next month and a half, as the school announced an injury to Bruce Brown. Brown, the team’s second leading scorer, will have surgery on his left foot and leave him sidelined for the next six weeks. This is huge news for a Miami team that had expectations of competing with the top of the ACC this season.

Brown, like Miami, had been slightly underwhelming this season. He was a player who many thought would make huge strides as a sophomore, catapulting him to a first round selection in the Spring’s NBA Draft. His 11 points and team leading 7 rebounds are not bad by any means, but not the jump many expected. Now he will be sidelined for six weeks and have to work back from injury.

Miami as a whole finds themselves in a similar boat. After starting 10-0, Miami is just 15-5 and 4-4 in ACC play. They have a loss to Duke, which normally isn’t bad, but it came in a game where they held a 13 point second half lead at home. They also have losses to Georgia Tech, Florida State and Clemson. With Virginia pretty much locking up the ACC, all the Canes can do is finish as close to the top as they can. That will be a tall task without Brown.

With Brown’s absence, there is production that needs to be filled. The Canes roster has three Hoop Group alumni that are more than capable of stepping into the role, or helping fill, the void left by Brown.

Lonnie Walker

Let’s start with the most likely to step in and fill Brown’s role entirely: Lonnie Walker. Alongside Brown, Walker is the other NBA prospect on the Canes’ roster. Also like Brown, Walker got off to a slow start this season, but for different reasons. Walker was working his way back from a torn meniscus and is just beginning to reach his potential. The former Hoop Group Elite and Hoop Group Showcase standout is averaging 10.8 points a game in 24 minutes. He already shoots it at a better clip than Brown as well. While Coach Larranaga may be reserved with Walker’s minutes, an increased time on the court will no doubt lead to increased production.

JaQuan Newton

Next, there’s senior guard JaQuan Newton, another Pennsylvania native. Newton has been the definition of a senior leader. He was one of Miami’s leading scorers last season, but now ranks sixth due to all the freshman and sophomore talent on the roster. As a result, Newton has become the ultimate utility player, filling in wherever Miami needs help. Some night he’ll score 15+, other nights he’ll lead in assists, and other nights he’ll hit the glass. With 11 points and 7 rebounds missing for the next six weeks, he’ll have the opportunity to fill both voids down the stretch of his senior season.

Chris Lykes

Last but certainly not least, there’s Chris Lykes. Lykes is one of the most entertaining players to watch due to his physical make up. He’s only 5’7, but is lightning quick and extremely active. He’s an energizer and a playmaker when he’s on the court. It’s his energy and playmaking that has earned him more minutes once ACC play rolled around. Lykes likely won’t get inserted into the starting line up, but he could end up being a player Larranaga leaves in at the end of the game. The former Future All-American all-star can be the difference maker on any given night and with Brown out, he will have more chances to make game changing plays.

Good teams have the “next man up” mentality. No one wants to see a player go down, but when they do, someone steps up. Despite Miami’s record in the conference, this is a good team, with players more than capable of rising to the occasion. Out of the three, Walker is the easy choice to step up due to his pure talent. That said, look for Newton to become more active as the team’s elder player, and more minutes for Lykes means more exciting plays.

All three players got their start at Hoop Group events, and now all three are key pieces to bringing Miami to the NCAA Tournament. You’re next. Be sure to sign up for Hoop Group Elite Camp or Hoop Group Jam Fest Tournaments this Spring and Summer to get yourself seen.

UNC’s Struggle Go Beyond Bad Defense

Roy Williams didn’t beat around the bush when talking about his basketball team. After an 0-2 week, the UNC head coach ripped into his team’s defensive efforts. “We’re just sorry,” Williams said. He would go on to call this team one of, if not the worst, defensive team he’s ever coached. Williams is fair to criticize. Over the last two games, UNC has given up 80 and then 95 points. But UNC’s average season, at least to their standards, extends beyond the poor defense. This North Carolina team just isn’t that good.

Think back to pre-season, when everyone in the media was making their predictions. All anyone talked about was the loss of Justin Jackson, Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, Tony Bradley and Nate Britt. That’s 65% of their scoring and 60% of their rebounding. Unless you’re Kentucky or Duke, bringing in one-and-done class year after year, that’s tough to replace. UNC didn’t need just one person to have extreme year over year improvements, they needed multiple.

UNC hit the lottery with Luke Maye. No one thought he would be the 18 and 10 player he has been so far this season. It’s a major reason why North Carolina is still a top 35 offense. That said, he’s a major liability defensively. Take the NC State game for example, when he gave up a straight drive to the rim late in the game during crucial possessions. While Maye may be great for the Tar Heels offensively, he is not a defensive player that lifts UNC to a championship caliber team.

Aside from Maye, UNC has not gotten any other production from their young post players. We knew it would be a transition. Guys like Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks and Tony Bradley were key pieces to a National Championship run a year ago. They were getting replaced with four freshman. In the beginning of the year, Roy Williams thought one of his young bigs would step up. In terms of minutes it has been Garrison Brooks, but he still just averages 5 points and 4 rebounds in 17 minutes. UNC is one of the best rebounding teams in the country because they gang rebound, but they lack the size and rim protection to compete with some of the best teams in the ACC.

Lastly, on the other side of the ball, North Carolina needs the perfect concoction on offense to be competitive. To beat high level teams, UNC needs Berry, Maye and a third option to have good scoring games. They have not had that combination a ton this year. Theo Pinson is the Swiss Army knife of the team, but offense is not his forte. Cam Johnson missed a couple of games and has struggled to get a consistent flow. Kenny Williams is the third player who has provided scoring, but has struggled in ACC play. Inconsistent offense, and poor defense is not a recipe for success at any level.

Here’s the thing about all this: it’s okay. We often give teams too much credit to teams for the name on the front of their jersey. We assume that blue blood programs have to be national contenders every season. That’s not the case. North Carolina won a National Championship last year. They graduated a TON of production from that team. It’s okay to have a down year. Not every recruit comes onto campus and is Marvin Bagley or Trae Young. That is what UNC has this year, a group of freshman who are taking longer than expected to pick up the college game.

I agree with Roy in that North Carolina isn’t the best defensive team, but we have to also accept the fact that they may not be that good overall. We’ll look at them lose to Virginia Tech and NC State and scratch our heads because their jerseys say North Carolina. But not all teams are created equal. This is not the team of last year, this is not one of Roy’s best teams period. He knows that, but he will continue to rip into them in an attempt to get them to play with chip on their shoulder. But in a strong ACC, and in a season defined by parity, don’t expect this North Carolina team to do things other Carolina teams have. They’re simply not as good.

ACC/Big Ten Challenge: Good News or ACC or Bad News For Big Ten

The ACC/Big Ten “Challenge” has been around for 10 years now. A non-conference event that matches up a Big Ten team against an ACC team so see which conference can take home the bragging rights. It’s a bit of a mismatch, as the ACC is typically the deepest conference in college basketball year in and year out. This year however was different. The ACC blew the doors off the Big Ten. This makes us wonder, is the ACC really that good? Or is the Big Ten worse than expected?

The ACC won the challenge 11-3, with the only wins coming from Nebraska, Purdue and Michigan State. Otherwise, it was not close. There were moral victories, sure. Indiana went toe-to-toe with Duke for 35 minutes. It showed us a much different team than the one that gone manhandled by Indiana State at the beginning of the year. However, there were not many other positives to take away from this challenge for the Big Ten.

Minnesota, a favorite in the conference, lost at home, albeit to a good Miami team. Michigan got pounded by a Tar Heel team that was embarrassed by Michigan State a few days prior. Shows the gap between those two rival schools. NCAA Tournament hopeful Northwestern lost to Georgia Tech at the buzzer. Wisconsin managed just 37 points against Virginia’s defense. And the list goes on.

Is the ACC Good? Is the Big Ten Bad?

Such a lopsided result poses the question: Is the ACC that good, or is the Big Ten that bad? We knew the Big Ten was top heavy. Michigan State is a title contender, and Purdue and Minnesota are expected tournament teams. Outside that though, there are major question marks that were not answered. Michigan did not look capable of competing with top teams, Northwestern suffered its third non-conference loss, and Illinois lost to a struggling Wake Forest team. There’s not much to take away.

Don’t get me wrong, the ACC is tough. Duke, UNC, Notre Dame, Miami are VERY good. They will all sit around the top 15 much of the year, as will Lousiville. We learned Syracuse is more real than we thought, thanks to the emergence of Frank Howard. Virginia is Virginia, and their defense will have them dancing again. But outside them, who else is legit? Clemson, Florida State, Virginia Tech are not locks by any means. Wake Forest has had major struggles and Georgia Tech is still a question mark with their suspensions.

It’s not expected for the Big Ten to win this challenge. I’m not sure any conference can beat the ACC in this challenge. But the Big Ten’s inability to keep it close at all, shows there are major weaknesses in the conference. It’s possible we only see three, maybe four teams make the big dance come Selection Sunday.