The "First Four" is underway. For the first time in a long time, the 'Canes hoops team was not on the bubble and we had a good idea that the team was going dancing. Together we've celebrated an ACC regular-season outright title and we've celebrated a conference sweep as we obtained the ACC tournament championship crown, as well.
Now it's NCAA tournament time and we're going for the full sweep.
The selection committee decided Miami was a number two seed despite winning the ACC regular season and conference tittles. It's the first time that has happened in the history of the conference. Motivation?
The Hurricanes were sent out to the East bracket that is headlined by the Hurricanes and the Indiana Hoosiers, but the 'Canes have some work to do before a possible matchup with Tom Crean and his boys.
We're Going Dancing!
First up, the lovely 15 vs. 2 matchup. The Hurricanes kick this off Friday in Austin, Texas and take on the Big West conference champions, the Pacific Tigers. I don't know much about Pacific, and if you don't either, check this out. I do know Miami, though, and I don't expect any sort of let down, especially with already suffering a bad loss to a mid-major early this season. Yes, two number-15 seeds won a game last tournament and they shouldn't be taken lightly, but I don't expect anything less than a win for the Hurricanes. This Miami team seems to be on a mission, and while winning the Big West was terrific for Pacific, they're going to be in trouble with a powerful Miami team trying to send a message.
Note: This article is more to take a look at some potential opponents for the 'Canes on their potential road to the final four rather than predicting wins or opponents.
On To The Next One:
The 'Canes would play on Sunday afternoon with a win over Pacific, and they would take on the winner of the Illinois-Colorado game. This match-up is a toss up, so let's take a look at both teams. The fighting Illini had the famous inbounds layup that took down Indiana this season and they finished the season as 22-12 and 8-10 in the Big Ten. Senior Guard, Brandon Paul, is the team's best player. He scored at 16.6 per game during the Illinois season, which lead the team while also snatching down 4.4 rebounds a game, second on the team.
On the other hand, the Colorado Buffaloes have some quality wins of their own. The Buffaloes defeated the Pac-12 tournament champions, Oregon twice in the regular season. Colorado also took down the Arizona Wildcats. Colorado is led by sophomore guard, Spencer Dinwiddie, who leads the team in scoring at 15.6 points per game. The biggest force for Colorado,however, is forward Andre Roberson. The junior forward averages 10.9 points per game while shooting 48% from the field. He [Roberson] also leads the team in rebounding at 11.3 per game. The Buffaloes finished the Pac-12 season as 10-8 and finished 21-11 overall.
With this match-up being so close, I don't know who the 'Canes will be facing or even who would be the better match-up. Going solely on my bracket (so expect the opposite) I have the Fighting Illini moving on and securing a date with the Hurricanes in the round of 32.
Let's Go To A Ball:
If the 'Canes survive the two grueling games in Austin, they move into the sweet 16 for the first time since the 2000 season. In the sweet 16, Miami has four potential opponents. Davidson and Bucknell are outside shots, but still possible foes, so I'll get into them a little bit.
Bucknell finished the season with a 28-5 record and 12-2 in the Patriot League. They are in the tournament because they were able to defeat Lafayette in the Patriot League final. The Bison (which is also my high school's mascot... Sorry, had to get that in somehow) take on the Butler Bulldogs in the round of 64. Meanwhile, Davidson is taking on Marquette, and they could really use Stephen Curry to pull off this upset. The Wildcats finished conference play at 17-1, but the Southern conference is weak to say the least.
Moving on to the two likely opponents
The Butler Bulldogs are into this tournament, and they should be feared. They're not the best team, but just like VCU, you're just scared of them come tournament time. Brad Stevens is a hell of a coach and has his team playing well, yet again. Butler finished off this season at 26-8 and 11-5 in a very good A-10 conference. Butler has three big wins this season. North Carolina early in the year, handing Indiana it's first loss of the season and beating Gonzaga at the buzzer. Three very good players lead the Bulldogs attack. Rotnei Clarke runs this show. The senior guard, averages 16.7 points per game and knocks down 3.5 threes a game. Andrew Smith and Roosevelt Jones lead the way for the Bulldogs in the paint. Smith and Jones are both averaged double-digit points and 5.7 rebounds a game, all while shooting over 49 percent from the field. Butler will have to get by Bucknell and then take down the winner of the Marquette/Davidson game to get a shot at the 'Canes.
Marquette is the third-seed in this region and is another likely opponent for Miami in the Sweet 16. The Golden Eagles finished the Big East season with a 14-4 record and a 23-8 record overall. Marquette has some good wins against Georgetown, Pitt x2, Syracuse and Notre Dame. This team is no joke. They shoot the ball at an incredible 46% clip, which ranks 34th in the nation. Vander Blue is a solid scorer for Marquette. Blue averages 14.3 points per game, which leads the team. However, Davante Gardner is arguably the team's most important weapon. The 6'8, 290 pound beast averaged 11.5 points per game while snatching down close to five rebounds a game for the Eagles, in just 22 minutes per game.
I think Gardner gets some extended minutes in the tournament and can cause some serious problems for opponents in this region. Look out for Marquette to make some noise if everything goes right.
The Elite 8:
If Miami is able to knock off Pacific, and then take down two other teams from the bottom half of the region, the 'Canes are looking at an Elite 8 date with a title-contender. There are no bad teams this late into the tournament and in the East bracket, there are some good opponents. Especially, Indiana.
The Hoosiers have some work to do before getting to the elite 8, like most teams in the tournament do. Indiana has to defeat the winner of the NC State/Temple bout for a sweet 16 berth, while then taking on a possible UNLV team or Syracuse to advance to the Elite 8.
Syracuse is a very good team and can very well upset the Hoosiers and move on to play Miami. Syracuse has Michael Carter-Williams, Brandon Triche, C.J. Fair and Sharpshooter, James Southerland. Those four guys give any team a chance to win. The Orange stumbled to Louisville in the Big East championship game, and the soon-to-be ACC member, finished the season at 26-9 and 11-7 in the Big East.
Realistically, the team that most 'Canes fans are looking forward to playing is Indiana. The Hoosiers are very, very good. Cody Zeller is a good post-presence, Victor Oladipo is a complete player and is a terrific defender. They also have two terrific three-point shooters in Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls. The Hoosiers are 3rd in the nation in scoring at 80 points a contest, while shooting the ball at a 49 percent clip, which is 7th in the nation. The Hoosiers finished the season with a 27-6 record and 14-4 in the Big Ten. This is a team that's picked by many to win the national championship and deservingly so. They've defeated Georgetown, North Carolina, Minnesota, Michigan State x2 and Ohio State.
If Miami can (and they absolutely can) beat the teams mentioned in this post, they have earned the right to play in the first Final Four in the history of the program. The team still has a lot of work to and there are a lot of games yet to be played in this tournament.
In my personal bracket, I have the Hurricanes defeating Butler in the Sweet 16 and then taking down the Hoosiers in the Elite 8.
One thing is certain, however, if the 'Canes want to reach the final four and ultimately win the national title, they'll have to start their road Friday in Austin, when they take on Pacific.