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Miami wins at UNC without Reggie Johnson; Canes for real?

Jan 10, 2013, 9:21 PM EDT

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On Wednesday night, Minnesota staked their claim to being one of the Big Ten’s best teams by going into Champaign and knocking off Illinois.

On Thursday night, it was Miami’s turn to make a statement, as they rolled through the Dean Dome and picked up their third straight win, knocking off the Heels 68-59.

There was quite a bit of concern about Miami’s season and tournament hopes after their starting center, double-double machine Reggie Johnson, went down with a broken thumb a couple of days before Christmas. But after a disappointing showing out in Hawaii at the Diamond Head Classic, the Canes have come on strong.

They beat a better-than-you-think La Salle team last week and followed that up with a win over in their ACC opener on Saturday. But going into the Dean Dome and knocking off North Carolina — even if this UNC team is closer to being a carbon copy of 2010 than a true ACC title contender — is impressive. Doing it without Johnson is even more so.

How is Miami surviving without their big fella in the middle?

Well, it helps when Kenny Kadji is kicking in 18 points, nine boards, four blocks and three assists. It’s even more helpful when Julian Gamble, who is starting in Johnson’s place, is going for 14 points, six boards and three blocks. More to the point, Miami still have a talented group of individuals that understand their roles. They have a point guard in Shane Larkin that is as underrated as anyone in the ACC. They have a slew of shooters on the perimeter. Kadji and Gamble have enough size and bulk to manage in the paint.

And then there is talented veteran Durand Scott, who does whatever he team needs him to do on a given night.

The bottom-line is this: the only known quantity on the ACC is Duke. Everyone else is entirely beatable. NC State, Maryland, Florida State and North Carolina — obviously — have their flaws. The conference is way down this season, so even without Johnson, Miami will be able to win a lot of games.

What’s more? They already have. They are a top 10 team in the RPI thanks in large part to six top 100 wins.

And now the scary part: they’ve spent less than a month of the season at full strength.

Chew on that.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

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