Miami storms to ACC forefront

Well, the secret is out now.

With all eyes on Duke and NC State this season, Miami had flown under the radar, starting conference play with a 4-0 record.  On a national stage against the Blue Devils Wednesday night, Miami established itself as a legitimate threat in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

From the opening tip, Duke struggled against Miami’s stifling defense.  Miami has held opponents to 34.9% shooting during ACC play, and last night was no exception.  Duke’s “big three” of Mason Plumlee, Quinn Cook, and Seth Curry shot 6-of-37 combined, including an 0-for-10 from Curry.  Julian Gamble blocked four Duke shots and grabbed ten rebounds, making a case to be one of the ACC’s premier defenders.

Meanwhile, Miami was operating with surgical precision on offense.  Kenny Kadji made nine of his eleven shots, displaying ability to knock down threes, operate on the block, or drive to the basket like a guard rather than the 6’11” forward he is.  Shane Larkin ran the offense beautifully, scoring 18 points and recording five assists (as well as numerous camera shots of his famous father Barry in the process).

If you’ve seen Miami before last night, the fact that Miami played well, or Kadji can spread the floor, or the cameras love Barry Larkin isn’t a surprise to you.  However, for many who assumed the list of ACC contenders began and ended with schools in North Carolina, Miami’s performance was eye-opening.

It would be erroneous to read too much into this game, for either team.  With another two-thirds of the conference slate remaining, a lot can happen on the road to March.  Furthermore, you might not see a worse game from Duke, or a better game from Miami, all year.

After all, this same Miami team nearly lost to Boston College in their last game, needing a missed free throw to escape with a one point win.  This is also the Miami team that lost to Florida Gulf Coast in November.

Reggie Johnson made a surprise return from a thumb injury. It may have provided an emotional boost for Miami last night, along with a sell-out crowd in the BankUnited Center, but it could present long-term issues.  Johnson was a non-factor last night, scoring only on two free throws and collecting some rebounds in a second half that turned into a slam dunk contest for the Hurricanes.  For Johnson to play more in future games, he will have to take minutes from either the dynamic Kadji or Gamble, the defensive rock.  Head coach Jim Larranaga has proven he can take Miami to new heights, picking up the program’s first ever win against a top-ranked opponent. Now he’ll have to keep the team pulling in the same direction while dealing with this logjam in the frontcourt.

Meanwhile, Duke will continue to adjust to life without Ryan Kelly, a player who would have been extremely helpful to have on the floor last night to match up against Kadji.  They also won’t face a team with a better field-goal percentage defense than Miami until their rematch against the Hurricanes in March (although their opponent this Saturday, Maryland, is a close second).  If the Blue Devils bounce back with a home win against the Terrapins, this game will merely be an afterthought, albeit a fairly haunting one for Duke fans.  Just ask UNC fans from last season.

Nonetheless, Miami has announced their presence, much like Sunshine State neighbor Florida State did with wins over North Carolina and Duke last season.  The ACC is not a two-team race as was once thought.  Sleep on the Hurricanes at your own peril.

Card Counting

Brett McMurphy tweeted yesterday that Louisville head football coach Charlie Strong received an eight-year contract worth $3.7 million per season.  While Louisville isn’t in the ACC yet, The Virginian-Pilot’s Andy Bitter correctly pointed out that this could have a significant impact on coaching salaries in the conference.

Bitter compiled football head coaching salaries, as well as athletic department revenue, for current and future ACC members.  Strong’s $3.7 million per year is nearly a full million ahead of the next highest-paid ACC coach, Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher.  Louisville also boasts the conference’s largest athletic department revenue, $9 million more than Florida State and Virginia (which pays Mike London just over $2.5 million).

This could be an indication of what Louisville will bring upon joining the ACC.  Their revenue stream will only increase with the change, as television revenue (and exposure) will increase for the Cardinals in the ACC.  Remember, Louisville was in Conference USA as recently as 2005, so they are a program that has been steadily on the rise.

Of course, it will likely also impact the salaries desired by ACC coaches the next time they come to the bargaining table.  Strong’s salary is nearly double the salaries on the low end of the totem pole, such as Duke’s David Cutcliffe at $1.788 million per year.  With such a significant gap between Louisville and everyone else, you can bet that Strong has set the bar for future negotiations.  With the ACC’s other programs also lagging behind Louisville in revenue, how many will be able and willing to match that bar?


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