Seniors Davon Reed and Kamari Murphy, as well as junior Ja’Quan Newton, have extensive NCAA tournament experience, with each playing significant roles on last year’s Sweet 16 team. Murphy will become the first Miami player to play in four NCAA tournaments, after playing extensive minutes for Oklahoma State in his two seasons in Stillwater. Hurricanes sophomores Anthony Lawrence and Ebuka Izundu also return to the NCAAs, though Izundu never saw the floor and Lawrence averaged about 12 minutes per game during the run. This experience will be vital to Miami making it out of the first round and potentially upsetting a number one seed in the second round. Reed has been highly consistent throughout his Miami career, and this season has been no exception, with the all-conference performer leading the team in scoring and 3-point shooting both in and out of conference (15 points per game overall). Newton was second in scoring at 13.4 ppg, and led the team in assists (3.4), while Murphy led the team in rebounding (7.5) and consistently improved his jump shot as the season wore on.
Cleaning the glass and playing tough defense has been the key to many of Miami’s wins this year, the team’s defense is lead by All-Defensive team performer Reed and Murphy, who garnered votes for Defensive Player of the Year but did not make the team itself. Coach Jim Larrañaga said on Selection Sunday that Michigan State reminds him of a familiar ACC opponent. “There’s two programs that pride themselves on scoring, even after you score, within the first five seconds. The two best teams in the country that do this are North Carolina and Michigan State.” Miami’s defensive specialists will most certainly match-up against the Spartans’ two best players, combo forward Miles Bridges (6’7”, 230 lbs) and power forward Nick Ward (6’8”, 250 lbs), both of whom are freshmen. Bridges is MSU’s leading scorer and rebounder, averaging 16.7 points and 8.3 boards per game, and will certainly be a handful for the 6’6”, 220 -pound Reed. Ward is susceptible to foul trouble, and so goes Sparty’s fortunes when he is on the bench. If an assertive Murphy and aggressive guards can get Ward off the court, it should give the Hurricanes more room to maneuver.
After big games against North Carolina and Duke propelled him into the spotlight, many expect Miami to match with their own freshman sensation, Bruce Brown. However, the key will be Ja’Quan Newton and whether he is able to control the game without the ball sticking in his hands. Newton has been highly inconsistent this year, exacerbated by a late season suspension and poor play following his return. If Newton can pick his spots and get his teammates involved in the offense, Miami should be in great shape to emerge victorious. If he can become the model of consistency that his fellow tri-captains Reed and Murphy are, Miami has a chance to be very dangerous from the eighth seed beyond Friday night.
*A tip of the hat to SOTU’s CanesHoops Consigliere, Josh Frank aka @JoshDaCane for his insights and skillz in helping to craft this piece.