Ja’Quan Newton sure knows how to time his misdeeds.
Miami suspended the junior for the second February in a row on Wednesday as Newton received a three-game ban for violating team rules.
Last year, Newton was a bench scorer, and a good one; he competed for the ACC’s Sixth Man of the Year award. But the Hurricanes, on their way to the Sweet 16, had Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan carrying the offense.
This time, Newton is the starting point guard. His absence — he sat out Wednesday’s win over Georgia Tech and will miss games versus Clemson on Saturday and an ESPN Big Monday showdown at Virginia next week — leaves the Hurricanes without their second-leading scorer (15.0 PPG) and someone who had started all 24 games before sitting out.
He’ll be eligible to return for UM’s final three regular-season games: Feb. 25 against Duke, Feb. 27 at Virginia Tech and March 4 at Florida State. And boy, does Miami need him.
Despite struggling with turnovers (87-to-84 assist-to-turnover ratio), Newton is a key part of a team that plays just eight scholarship players. Those players have the Hurricanes squarely on the NCAA tournament bubble; their résumé includes multiple frustrating losses but few eye-catching wins.
Miami (17-8, 7-6 ACC) is 2-6 against the RPI top 50. Its best win of the season came over then-No. 9 North Carolina, but that’s one of only two wins over teams expected to make the dance. Virginia Tech is the other. Both of those victories came at home.
If the Hurricanes miss the cut, it will be because of near misses against No. 18 Duke, No. 15 Florida State and No. 4 Louisville. They led by double digits at halftime against both Duke and Louisville, the latter on the road. They led FSU by as many as seven in the first half.
Miami has an above-.500 mark in a loaded conference and could get to 19 wins or more. But those aforementioned misses, and a lack of hits, means Miami needs to avoid bad losses and pick up a signature win or two. It will have four chances to do that, starting Monday at Virginia. Beating Duke, sweeping the Hokies or defeating FSU would position the Canes well going into the ACC Tournament.
But they’ve made it tough to this point.