When: Sunday 6:30pm
Where: BankUnited Center, Coral Gables
Don't look now, the Tiger hoops squad is on a roll! I must admit to regretting some of my "what have they done for us" mindset back around the UNC debacle. In honor of my folly...
Of course, it could all come crashing down with a pathetic showing, but I'm starting to believe just a little bit in this team as it has finally begun to resemble what I thought it might be in the early going. The defense has improved a great deal and Brad Brownell definitely had the upper hand in the adjustment department between games 1 and 2 with Florida State. Jordan Roper's move to the starting lineup has done wonders for him and for the team, and it is a good thing too because Landry Nnoko continues to find ways to the bench with foul trouble. The decision making on offense, ball movement, and fluidity has come a long way in the last few weeks. Now the team has actually (*gasping for air*) gotten on the fringe of NCAA tournament discussion. While it is certainly premature at the moment, the opportunities against good RPI teams are on the way and the team has a chance to turn what looked like chicken excrement in early December into...
However, this isn't going to be easy as the Hurricanes are a very dangerous opponent who has shown flashes of terrific basketball this season. The good news is they have struggled as of late and have actually been better on the road than at home. The Tigers are oozing confidence now and hopefully can ride that wave into another big ACC victory.
Meet the Hurricanes: Miami comes in at 14-8 and 4-5 in the ACC, so they are fighting for top 8 position right with the Tigers. KenPom has the 'Canes ranked at #67 while the Tigers are now at #85. Clemson's RPI is 74 and Miami is at 58. Although this wouldn't be a top 50 RPI win, any victory against somebody ranked ahead is vital for the postseason hopes of the team. Realistically the Tigers need to get close to a top 50 RPI to realistically hope for a bid to the dance. Last year the team's KenPom ranking peaked at #27 and was at #51 at tourney selection time just to give some frame of reference.
I have a ton of respect for Jim Larranaga as a coach and he's done a terrific job at Miami in my opinion. He won the league two years ago and lost almost everyone off that squad yet still put a respectable product on the floor last season. Now he's got a dangerous team that went into Cameron Indoor Stadium and boat raced the hated Dookies in front of all their nerd fans. That is something I hope to live to see Clemson do (right now the Slab 5's win there ranks #1 on my list). The ACC is a brutal conference because even the lower level teams have some dudes that can really play and if you catch them on a good night you can lose. Look no further than when Georgia Tech rolled into Miami and slapped a 20 point beating on the Canes just last week. Take NO ACC victory for granted, which is why what Brownell has been able to do within the league the last couple of years has been pretty impressive. It's even more impressive when you realize that Oliver Purnell never won more than 3 ACC games in a row even with his best teams. The last team to do it was the 96-97 team that beat Kentucky and was a double overtime loss away from the Elite 8. Some of that is helped by the expanded league and schedule, but is still nothing to sneeze at.
Dealing with Miami is similar to dealing with Florida State in regards to defending them. Florida State has become dependent on Xavier Rathan-Mayes to really be effective on offense, while Miami is usually as good as Angel Rodriguez. He was a dominant force in the Duke win and against their near upset of UVA. The last three games, all Miami losses, has seen Rodriquez go for just 14 combined points and shoot well under 30% from the floor. Clemson's chances of victory stem from how well the Tigers can keep him in this slump. The good news is we have Rod Hall to put on him. Texas transfer Sheldon McClellan is a good player, but in my opinion the 'Canes need Rodriquez to get it going to win.
Outlook: This is not a bad matchup for the Tigers. The Hurricanes are not a dominant team on the glass and can be had for offensive rebounds, which is right in the wheel house of Jaron Blossomgame and Landry Nnoko (provided he's on the floor). Miami can apply ball pressure with their smaller guards, so the Tigers will need savvy play from Rod Hall and Jordan Roper bringing the ball up and getting the team into its offense. Miami also will throw more zone at the Tigers than what they have seen lately, so the team needs to not forget the effective ball movement that helped them deal with the Syracuse zone earlier in the year. The Tigers are rolling while the 'Canes are reeling, but fortunes can change very quickly in this league if you let your guard down. Should the Tigers pull off the upset (KenPom is giving a 30% chance), that Tuesday showdown with Notre Dame in Littlejohn should be a rocking affair with a LOT on the line. We might have some fun with basketball this year after all!
Oh, and here's to rocking those sweet purple road uniforms.