Miami sitting pretty atop the ACC despite missing one of its best players

Kyle Ringo

Miami was projected to finish in the top six in the ACC one season after missing the NCAA tournament cut by a game or two. So it's not a huge surprise to see the Hurricanes atop the standings with N.C. State at 3-0 to start conference play.

What is a little surprising is Miami getting off to this start in the conference despite losing senior center Reggie Johnson last month to a broken left thumb. Johnson was averaging a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds a game at the time he got hurt. He isn't expected back until mid-February at the earliest.

Without him, the Hurricanes are off to their best start in conference play since the 1997-98 season when they started 5-0 in the Big East.

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Coach Jim Larranaga's team has proven to be one of the best defensive teams in the nation. They have size and length that frustrates opponents and they seem to take pride in playing hard on that end of the floor first and foremost. The Hurricanes haven't allowed any of their first three ACC opponents to score 60 points and two of them didn't get to 50.

Maryland was totally out of sync Sunday night in its visit to Coral Gables losing 54-47. The Terrapins made only 18 of 57 field goal attempts and endured a particularly brutal first half in which they scored just 14 points. The one problem with Miami is it often appears offensively challenged, and hasn't been able to run away with games even when it is having a lot of success on the defensive end.

Another positive for the Hurricanes is they've proven to be a capable road team outside of that head-scratching loss at Florida Gulf Coast back in November. They have won four straight true road games, including trips to Georgia Tech and North Carolina to start conference play.

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Miami plays only twice in the next 10 days, including hosting Duke on Jan. 23. That game should offer greater perspective on the Hurricanes' capabilities.

No matter, this team should be a nice distraction for Miami fans from the on-going NCAA investigation into alleged major violations in the athletic department involving former booster Nevin Shapiro. The Miami Herald reported this weekend that the NCAA could issue a Letter of Allegations to the school and individuals as early as the coming week.

Follow Kyle on Twitter @KyleRingo

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