Disclaimer: This is not my official tournament prediction. But for a program who’s highest level of tourney success is reaching the Sweet 16, this time of year leads to a lot of guessing of what cutting down the nets feels like. If this were the year for the Canes to go on a run, however, here’s what it would look like:
1st Round: Miami 81, Loyola-Chicago 68
Loyola-Chicago dominated the Missouri Valley Conference, but facing a team that finished third in the deepest conference in the country proves to be too much for the mid-major. Dewan Huell and Ebuka Izundu can’t be kept off of the boards, and Dejan Vasiljevic, Chris Lykes, and Lonnie Walker IV light it up from outside. It’s a battle early, but the Canes overwhelm the Ramblers late.
2nd Round: Miami 75, Tennessee 71
Tennessee is a team built similarly to Miami, while not as deep. They run a 7-man core rotation with 3-4 main scoring options. The Volunteers were slightly more successful this season, albeit in a less-competitive conference. At this point, the Canes have started to hit a groove offensively, while containing the Volunteers limited scoring on the defensive end. In a hard fought game, Miami’s star freshmen-duo of Lonnie Walker IV and Chris Lykes come up with clutch offensive performances down the stretch to put away the SEC runner-ups.
Sweet 16: Miami 68, Cincinnati 66
In order for the Canes to get on a roll in March, they will have get hot from the outside, especially when they run into the 2nd-ranked defense in the nation in Cincinnati. The Big East Champions have allowed only 57.2 points per game, which is impressive against any competition. At the same time, the Bearcats are not lighting the world on fire on the offensive end. Cincinnati does have capable scorers (4 players average between 13 and 11 points per game), but none that are uncheckable. This matchup comes down to free throws in crunchtime, and the Canes have been doing a great job of getting to the line later in the season.
Elite Eight: Miami 84, Arizona 83
The Canes and the Wildcats put on an instant classic as the 4th and 6th seeds in the South Region have already shocked the college basketball world by making it out of the section with the top 2 defenses in the nation (Virginia and Cincinnati). Miami’s sole focus is neutralizing possibly the best player in the country, forward Deandre Ayton. Similar to the Canes matchup with Duke earlier in the season, Miami is able to contain a multi-talented forward that is the central cog in a high-powered offense. Also like that matchup, a second option takes advantage of the Canes focusing on a transcendent player, and the current beneficiary is Alonzo Trier, who has a huge game to keep Arizona within reach. The back-and-forth contest comes down to a big shot late from Ja’Quan Newton, who once again makes his mark on an otherwise lackluster senior season saved by individual plays. The Canes tackle their senior guard on the court for the second time this season en route to their first final four, and Coach Larranaga’s second trip as a head coach.
The NCAA tournament is one of the biggest spectacles in sports due to its unpredictability, so it’s unlikely that even the South region plays out this way. Crazier things have happened, however, and this isn’t the worst Canes team to make it to the big dance. You could even look at Coach Larranaga’s resume to find a team who made a more improbable run to the final four than if the current Canes were to do it. Right now, anything could happen, so here’s to hoping for a wild ride. Where do you see this team going? Let us know in the comments.