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Previewing Miami Basketball Vs Providence with Big East Coast Bias

The Hurricanes have a difficult task tonight Vs the Friars. We learned more about the Big East school, how the game might play out, and more, with Mike Hopkins of Big East Coast Bias.

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

By season's end there is a pretty good chance that the winner of tonight's crucial contest between Miami and Providence at Barclay's center in Brooklyn, will look back at this contest as a major boost to their NCAA chances.

The loser however, will see a missed opportunity.  Perhaps the one thing that sends them to the NIT and not the NCAA's.

Of course both teams still have a lot they can accomplish in their respective conferences, however tonight provides that last shot at boosting their OOC resumes.

To learn more about the importance to both teams, what Providence brings to the table, their best players, and more, we caught up with Mike Hopkins from Big East Coast Bias, SBN's site on all things BE.

Here is the full Q&A:

SOTU: The Friars are 9-3, including wins over ACC Teams Florida State and Notre Dame and a (somewhat) competitive loss against consensus #1 Kentucky.  But they also have losses to Boston College and Brown of all teams.  What is the true identity of this squad?  Are they more the team that hung with the Cats and beat a very good Fighting Irish team, or the one that lost to what appears to be an also ran in the Ivy League?

BECB: They are more the former than the latter but I think the thing people tend to overlook about the 2014-15 Providence team is that they are actually pretty young. Ed Cooley is currently asking 4 freshmen to play pretty significant roles on this team so there have been some growing pains. The loss to Brown sounds similar to how you described Miami's loss to Eastern Kentucky. There seemed to be some disinterest and the effort was lacking. The Friars have turned it around since then by reeling off 3 straight wins including their 20 point thumping of UMass on Saturday. I think they are much more the team that beat Notre Dame and is on this current 3 game winning streak than the team that lost to Brown as the 3rd loss in a game losing streak. The problem is there will be more bumps in the road as the freshman continue to develop and learn on the job, especially once conference play begins on December 31st against Creighton.

SOTU: 6'6 wing LaDontae Henton is crazy good.  For those who have never seen him play, can you describe his game?  Which other players on Providence should 'Canes fans keep an eye on?

BECB: LaDontae Henton is a junkyard dog. He plays with a grit and toughness that is a bit old school. The lefty has the ability to shoot from downtown and does a good deal of his damage at the rim finishing through contact. He has stepped up his scoring this season with Bryce Cotton graduating but he has always been able to score. "Buckets" is his nickname and he can certainly fill it up as he went for a career high 38 points in the Friars' win over Notre Dame at Mohegan Sun in November.

As for other players to keep an eye on, Kris Dunn is in the midst of a really good stretch. He is averaging 18.6 points/game, 6.2 assists/game, 6.0 rebounds/game and 4.0 steals/game over his last 5 outings. Tyler Harris came off the bench for the first time this season on Saturday against UMass and it seemed to help the redshirt junior as he played more under control and let the game come to him. He scored 12 points in 16 minutes against the Minutemen. After that it's a barrage of freshmen and they have all been contributing in different ways of late. Ben Bentil replaced Harris in the starting lineup and provides rebounding and toughness down low. Kyron Cartwright began the year starting alongside Dunn in the backcourt and he and fellow freshman Paschal Chukwu have developed a nice alley-oop rapport. Jalen Lindsey is probably the team's best 3-point shooter but needs to gain more confidence and seek shots.

SOTU:  What are the overall strengths and weaknesses of the Friars?   What kind of pace do they like to play?

BECB:The Friars have excellent size at all positions including 2 7-footers and they utilize that size and length on defense to defend the 3-point line very well. On offense they have the ability to grind out possessions and force their pace on the opposing team. The biggest weakness right now may be defensive rebounding which has been a bit surprising considering all their size but they have played a fair amount of zone which can make cleaning the defensive glass a little challenging at times. Ed Cooley likes to run a good amount of flex offense which slows the pace of the game down. There is some ball-screening action but they will run their "tight" flex offense regularly.

SOTU:  Which players and match-ups on the 'Canes concern you the most?

BECB: My biggest concern is Sheldon McClellan. He's the kind of player that can give Providence problems. The Friars have been very good this year at shutting down a team's best player but very few of those teams have a reliable secondary option. So if Angel Rodriguez is the focus of the defense then McClellan may be able to pick up that slack. The other thing that worries me is the offensive glass so a player like Tonye Jekiri could pose a threat on 2nd chance points down low.

SOTU: With this game being played in Brooklyn, who does that favor?  Or is it a true neutral site game?

BECB:It's hard to say it favors anyone but I know Providence fans will show up in solid numbers Monday night. One concern I have about the crowd is that a ticket gets you into both the Providence/Miami game at 9pm and the Manhattan/Fordham game at 6pm so I envision many Manhattan/Fordham fans not sticking around for the later tip resulting in quite a few empty seats. Providence saw this a little bit with their tournament at Mohegan Sun where a ticket got you into 2 games.

SOTU: Tell us about the revamped Big East?  Who/how many teams are expected to compete for NCAA Berths?   Where does Providence fit in the pecking order?

BECB: The Big East is having arguably the best non-conference of any league this season. The conference is 2nd in RPI behind the Big 12 and there have been a number of marquee wins. The strength of this conference is its depth. The teams that will finish 2nd-7th will probably not be separated by much and the teams tend to beat each other up during the league season. Right now it looks like the Big East may get as many as 6 teams into the NCAA Tournament and Providence is in that mix.

SOTULast but not not least, how do you this game playing out?  Who wins and why?

BECB: I think this game could be very competitive. The teams are coming off games with opposite results their last times out but I have a hard time seeing Miami lay an egg against the Friars. I think the game is played in the 60's with Providence trying to slow the pace down and try ton force the Hurricanes into a half court slugfest. I see Kris Dunn having a big game with an x-factor performance by Tyler Harris to lead the Friars to a tight win, 66-65.

Thanks again to Mike for working with us.  Be sure to check out all of the excellent work over at Big East Coast Bias.

And don't forget to tune in at 9PM EST on Fox Sports 1 to catch this critical contest.