The field is set.
March Madness has arrived and conference championship week has already accounted for some breathtaking moments as college basketball fans across the nation prepare for their favorite teams to go dancin’.
Coaches, players, and fans alike were glued to yesterday’s annual Selection Sunday show, which unveils the 68-team NCAA Men’s Tournament bracket. And for the fifth time in the Jim Larrañaga era, the University of Miami Hurricanes are tourney bound.
This time however, the 10th seeded Hurricanes (23-10) will take their gritty style of play to Greenville, South Carolina inside Bon Secours Wellness Arena to face the 7th seeded USC Trojans (26-7) on Friday, March 18, at 3:10p.m.
Miami Keys to Victory
As is the case in every basketball matchup (college or pro), basic fundamentals can decide the outcome of a contest. Unfortunately, fundamentals of basketball are not emphasized nearly enough in today’s game. But for Miami to pull off the upset over Southern Cal, details such as boxing out, making crisp passes, and defensive communication must be points of emphasis.
- Rebounding - The Men of Troy enter the tournament as the fifth best rebounding team in the nation with 1,325 total rebounds. Of those, 393 were on the offensive end which is good for 26th in all of college basketball. Their average starting lineup height of 6’6” is a huge reason for this number.
Drew Peterson is their tallest guard at 6’9’’ and their tallest front court player, Isaiah Mobley, checks in at 6’10”. Miami’s average starting lineup height is 6’1” with their tallest players being Sam Waardenburg (6’10”) and Kameron McGusty listed at 6’5”. It should be noted that Jordan Miller is a 6’7” guard playing the PF position.
The Canes must combat USC’s height by spacing the floor and creating driving lanes for their guards to meet as least resistance as possible at the rim. This will allow for easier baskets and less chances at rebounds for the Trojans. Being accurate from beyond the arc is also crucial.
It will be interesting to see how effective the pick and roll game is for the Canes versus USC’s length. Miami’s athletic trio of guards along with their “five out” offense will be a test for the Trojans on the perimeter.
At the end of the day, rebounding is about effort and determination. Defensively, Miami must box out to avoid USC from having second chance points. Miller and Waardenberg will need to stay out of foul trouble for Miami to stay in the game.
The Canes do not have to win the rebounding battle, but they cannot afford to be dominated in this category.
- Forcing Turnovers - This is a stat Miami must win being they were one of the better teams in college basketball forcing turnovers all season long. The Hurricanes collected 288 steals throughout the course of the season (13th nationally) and do a good job of trapping, leading to the opposition turning the ball over. Isaiah Wong, Kameron McGusty, and Jordan Miller have been athletic enough to guard multiple positions throughout the season, but USC’s height poses a different challenge.
At 6’9” Drew Peterson is one of the Trojans primary ball-handlers. He struggled early in his career as a sophomore at Rice when he averaged 2.7 turnovers per game playing versus smaller, quicker defenders.
- Pace - Miami can play with anyone in the half court. However they may be better served to push the pace offensively. Doing so gives USC’s length to less of a chance to anchor down defensively. It all comes down to Miami not giving the Trojans second chance opportunities. If the Canes can grab their defensive rebounds and score on the break, their chances of winning increase exponentially considering USC plays at relatively slow pace and likes to work the ball inside to Mobley, their leading scorer (14.3 PPG, 8.5 RPG)
- Make free throws - You never want to point to one reason as to why a game is lost. But if the Canes connect on their season average of 74% at charity stripe during Friday’s ACC semifinal loss versus Duke, they likely advance to play Virginia Tech in the ACC title game. USC on the other hand, makes 66% of its free throws and struggles in tight games because of it. The Canes cannot have a Friday relapse at the line where they made only six of twelve free throw attempts.
Friday’s contest will prove to be a battle of strengths and it will all come down to which team executes their strengths better. Will it be the size and strength of USC or the speed and athleticism of Miami? Whatever the case, Miami needs its leaders to play well.
Miami - 68
USC - 63