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Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Durand Scott's return boosts Miami


As part of the NCAA's six-game suspension that started in March, Durand Scott was forced to sit out Miami's first three games of this season.

Among those games: a stunning 63-51 loss at Florida Gulf Coast.

Need any more evidence as to how valuable Scott is to the Hurricanes?

"One of the things that he brings is that he's a leader," UM coach Jim Larranaga said. "And he brings a lot of energy, high energy. He's a tough competitor that plays hard. He will talk to his teammates and get them fired up. Without that personality, we have a lot of laid-back guys. We don't have those take-charge kind of people. Having him back dramatically helps our level of energy and helps our defense and rebounding."

Scott
Durand Scott had to sit out the final three games of last season and the first three of this season.

Scott, who scored 15 points in his only appearance this season (a 15-point win over Detroit on Saturday), must show up big in tonight's home game against No. 13 Michigan State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, especially with Michigan State minus freshman guard Gary Harris (shoulder injury).

Miami's woes in the loss to Florida Gulf Coast weren't all due to Scott's absence. Trey McKinney Jones didn't play well, and shooting 8-for-26 from beyond the arc didn't exactly help the Canes' cause.

The Hurricanes are in the middle of a tough nonconference stretch. They play at UMass on Saturday and can't take Charlotte for granted either, as the unbeaten 49ers are coming off a title at the Great Alaska Shootout. Playing at Central Florida won't be a walk, and then going to the Diamond Head Classic and opening with host Hawaii -- San Diego State, Arizona and Ole Miss are all possibilities there as well -- means the Canes have the toughest opening draw.

"We're 3-1, and we're a much better basketball team with Durand Scott back," Larranaga said. "But this is a critical time in our schedule."

The Canes were a trendy pick to make the NCAA tournament out of the ACC. They still can with a muddled middle behind Duke and one would assume NC State and North Carolina if both Triangle schools can right themselves. Maryland seems to have moved ahead for now after a road win Tuesday at Northwestern. Florida State slid back with a home loss to Minnesota, a week after winning the CVC in Brooklyn with wins over BYU and Saint Joseph's.

But for Miami to knock off Michigan State, it'll need Scott to play his A-game and Reggie Johnson to be at full speed, knocking Derrick Nix out of the low block. Johnson fell in the Florida Gulf Coast game and didn't start against Jacksonville. He'll likely be back in the starting lineup against the Spartans.

Miami's ACC and national perception will be defined in the next few weeks, possibly as early as Wednesday. Larranaga wasn't pleased he inherited a four-game series with Florida Gulf Coast, including going on the road, but Miami needed to handle that adversity and did not. Tougher venues are to follow. Larranaga cautioned against putting too much stock in one November loss, citing that Florida State lost to Princeton and Harvard last season and went on to win the ACC tournament.

Miami is fully capable of such a run. But if Larranaga is to get the Canes into the NCAA tournament, this may be his best shot. Pitt and Syracuse are coming next season, and possibly Notre Dame as well. This doesn't mean Miami is off the board in 2014, but 2013 is ripe to grab a spot with such a middling conference.

"The year we went to the Final Four at George Mason, we lost to Creighton by 22 at home and it woke us up," Larranaga said. "We can certainly win Wednesday. We can win in Hawaii. We can certainly have a good season."

One loss to Florida Gulf Coast can be long forgotten deep into the ACC season. But it would be erased almost all together if Miami can make its mark against Michigan State tonight.