Miami big man Reggie Johnson did not travel to Washington, D.C. for the Sweet 16 due to a “lower extremity” injury, the school announced on Tuesday night.
Johnson underwent surgery on Tuesday to repair a meniscus issue, according to the Associated Press, and while he will not play at all this weekend, he could return for the Final Four if the Hurricanes advance that far.
Certainly that is a tough blow for Miami, as it enters just its second Sweet 16 in program history. Johnson is 6’10”, 292 pounds and, when healthy, has provided a scoring threat down low with the ability to rebound.
From a sentimental standpoint, it is tough to see Johnson, a senior, go down with an injury at such a crucial time. He is playing in his first NCAA tournament, and Johnson told The Miami Herald after Miami’s first game with Pacific that he “felt like crying” after realizing the dream of playing in the Big Dance.
However, Johnson’s absence does not necessarily spell doom for the Hurricanes’ Final Four chances, and here is why.
‘Canes Have Dealt with Johnson’s Absence Before
Miami was without Johnson for eight games earlier this season, after he fractured his left thumb in the middle of December. The Hurricanes struggled at first, losing two of their first three games without Johnson in the middle.
They quickly adapted to life without Johnson and won their last five games while he was sidelined. Over that stretch, Miami beat La Salle, Maryland and also won at North Carolina.
The Hurricanes have been without Johnson before and understand how to play and win while he is not in the lineup.
Johnson’s Play of Late
Since Johnson returned from that thumb injury, he had his moments. There was the performance at N.C. State when he scored 15 points and pulled down eight rebounds in a 79-78 win on Feb. 2. Then, he scored 14 points and grabbed eight boards in a 74-68 win at Florida State on Feb. 13.
Lately though, Johnson has struggled with his confidence.
“Every time a player struggles a little bit, there’s a lack of confidence,” Miami forward Kenny Kadji said last week, according to The Miami Herald. “He’s a little bit down, but he’s not just shutting down. He’s doing everything he can to get back to his level.”
In the last 12 games since that performance in Tallahassee, Johnson has not scored in double figures and has struggled mightily on the offensive end. He has made just 13 field goals and is shooting 28.9 percent from the floor. Johnson has also struggled with turnovers, turning it over 21 times in that stretch.
Julian Gamble’s Emergence
Redshirt senior big man Julian Gamble has played really well since receiving more playing time in Johnson’s absence. He is an excellent glue guy, playing great defense while providing physicality on both ends of the floor.
He is a good fit and plays an important role for the Hurricanes. There are plenty of players in the lineup who can put the ball in the basket, and Gamble doesn’t need shots. He can clean up the offensive glass and set good ballscreens for point guard Shane Larkin in pick-and-roll situations.
For the year, Gamble is averaging 6.5 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game while shooting 57.5 percent from the floor. In the ACC title game against North Carolina, Gamble had 11 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks, while Johnson only played three minutes.
Johnson being out this weekend certainly doesn’t help Miami’s cause, but the Hurricanes can make their first Final Four in program history with him on the sidelines.