Survive and advance. That's what everyone says you have to do during tournament time, and that's exactly what the Canes did against Illinois. Miami trailed the Illini by a score of 54-52 with 3:23 to play in the game. From that point on, the Canes went on an 11-5 run, including a step back three by Shane Larkin to put the Canes up 57-55, which was a lead they would never relinquish.
Even though Larkin was responsible for the late game heroics, Rion Brown was the true star of this game. Brown finished with 21 points on 7-14 shooting and hit 5 three pointers. He also had 5 rebounds, 2 assists, and did not turn the ball over in 29 minutes of action. Outside of Brown, the team really struggled. Everybody else shot 15-41 from the field (36%) and made only 4 of 15 three point attempts (27%). More concerning than the shooting numbers, however, were the rebounding numbers. Illinois outrebounded Miami 36-33 even though the Canes had a significant size advantage. The effort on the glass is going to have to change if Miami wants to move on to the Elite 8.
By now I'm sure you've heard the bad news with regards to Reggie Johnson: He had a minor surgery on Tuesday, and did not travel with the team to DC. If Miami is fortunate enough to make the Final 4, Johnson may be able to return, but he will not be able to play against Marquette at the very least. While Johnson has been struggling offensively, he's still been a decent rebounder, and has provided a big body in the middle and has allowed Julian Gamble to get rest whenever he needs it. Without Reggie, Tonye Jekiri becomes Miami's first big man off the bench. Jekiri is still a work in progress, but he has gotten better as the season has progressed, and I feel that he is ready for this role. Hopefully he proves me right.
As for Marquette? Their resume is impressive. They finished 6-4 against Top 25 opponents, and 8-5 against the RPI top 50. Here's the thing though: they aren't elite in any one category. They do everything good, but nothing great. They've won their first two tournament games by a combined three points, including a veeerrrryyyy fortunate escape against 14-seed Davidson in the Round of 64.
- The Golden Eagles average 64.7 possessions per game; the Canes average 64.3 possessions per game. Pace won't be an issue in this one.
- Marquette averages 1.06 points per possession, which ranks 72nd in the country. Miami averages 1.09, 30th in the country. On defense, MU allows .97 points per possession, which is 87th overall. Miami allows .94 points per possession, which is 43rd.
- Marquette has an eFG% of 50.2, 108th in the country. Miami's eFG% is 52.3. The reason I chose to use eFG% in this case is that it weighs three point field goals as worth more than two point field goals. Marquette is not a very good three point shooting team - they rank 309th in terms of 3PT%. The thing is, they really don't shoot very many. They only attempt 14 per game, compared to Miami's 19 per game. For a team that only makes about 4 threes a game, that's a solid eFG%.
- Marquette rebounds 52.6% of all possible rebounds, which ranks 63rd in the country. Miami ranks 106th at 51.5%. To go along with that, Marquette rebounds 38% of their own misses, which ranks 19th in the country. That's pretty good, by the way.
So, there's your statistical breakdown of Miami vs. Marquette. While Marquette is not a good three point shooting team, they've shown the ability to make them when they count, hitting three of them while they were trailing Davidson late.
Vander Blue is Marquette's leading scorer at almost 15 points per game. You know that clutch gene that we all talk about Shane Larkin having? Vander Blue has it too. And he also has an incredible name - I just needed to get that out there.
It's even more unfortunate that Reggie Johnson is hurt for this game because it means that we are being robbed of the potential Reggie Johnson - Davante Gardner matchup. Gardner is an absolute beast down low, which makes sense, seeing as he's 6'8", 290 pounds. Gardner averages 11 points and 5 rebounds per game. Gardner also shoots 84% from the foul line, which seems crazy, given how terrible college bigs generally are from the foul line.
I have to make a prediction now, don't I? Making predictions for March Madness games is particularly tough, because nothing is ever as it seems. On the surface, I like Miami a lot in this game. Marquette is going to try to turn this in to an ugly affair, but at the end of the day, the Canes just have more offensive weapons than the Eagles do, and because of that, I like the Canes to win. Then again, I liked Miami to cruise to victory over Illinois, so what do I know? Miami is a 5 point favorite in this game, so I'll trust Vegas' judgment and go with a final score of Miami 66-60.