Though Wednesday night's meeting in Blacksburg could be a triumphant reunion of coaching buddies, it won't be — not with Virginia Tech's James Johnson trying to get his team back on track and Miami's Jim Larranaga getting some of the best basketball in the nation out of his players.
Johnson was an assistant coach at George Mason on Larranaga's staff in 2006, when the Patriots made their improbable run to the Final Four. Larranaga stayed at George Mason for another five seasons, but Johnson left after the Final Four appearance to become an assistant coach at Virginia Tech under former coach Seth Greenberg.
Still, Johnson has fond memories of his time working with Larranaga for two seasons — even though those are thoughts for another time.
"I've got a great relationship with him," said Johnson, who was named Tech's coach in May. "At the end of the day, he's coaching his team and I'm coaching my team."
Johnson is wise to deflect attention from the Larranaga connection for now. With No. 14 Miami (15-3 overall, 6-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) in the midst of a seven-game winning streak that included a 27-point victory last Wednesday against then-No. 1 Duke, Johnson's efforts are best placed on trying to find a way to disrupt Larranaga's success.
Tech (11-8, 2-4) has lost two straight and six of its past eight games, including a 77-70 loss Sunday at Clemson. Now, Tech faces one of the most experienced teams in the nation in a Miami program that features six seniors, five of whom are averaging 20 or more minutes per game.
Senior guard Durand Scott leads the Hurricanes with 14.3 points per game, while senior forward Kenny Kadji is adding 13 points and seven rebounds per game. Five Miami players are averaging double figures in scoring.
"Every position, they're deep," Johnson said. "They've got veterans. They've got talent at every position — very, very good basketball team, and they're playing with a lot of confidence, as they should be, right now."
Tech continues to get ridiculous scoring numbers from guard Erick Green, who leads the nation with an average of 25.2 points per game, but he's not getting much consistent support. Jarell Eddie scored 19 points against Clemson, but he's scored nine points or fewer in half of Tech's ACC games this season.
"(Green) is a scoring machine, and he scores in so many different ways," Larranaga said. "He's tremendous in the open court. He's terrific at getting fouled and cashing in at the foul line. He can shoot the three. They set a lot of ball screens, which he's very good at utilizing the screen to free himself."
While Johnson has had his hands full prepping his team to play Miami, Larranaga was far more willing to reflect on his relationship with Johnson.
"J.J. was just an instrumental part of our George Mason program for the two years," Larranaga said. "He was great at every aspect. He was a terrific recruiter, terrific coach on the floor, but most importantly he was a great friend and continues to be. I think he's done a very, very good job with his team. A lot of things when I watch them on tape remind me of us. They're a little bit younger than us, but they do a lot of the things that we like to do."
Sophomore guard Robert Brown is one of those younger players Johnson needs to get more out of if he has hopes of getting an unexpected victory that could jump-start a season headed downhill. Brown, who is averaging 9.6 points per game, has missed 28 of his last 29 shots from 3-point range.
Johnson brought Brown off the bench against Clemson, and Brown had nine points in 26 minutes. Marquis Rankin started in Brown's place against Clemson. Johnson said he isn't sure if he'll start Brown against Miami.
"(Brown has) still got to get better, but I thought he took a step forward (against Clemson), and hopefully we can keep getting him better the rest of the season," Johnson said.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times