The Miami Hurricanes take on the Auburn Tigers at 7:45 pm today in Greenville, SC in the second round of the NCAA tournament. The Tigers present a tall task for Miami, given their roster and respective strengths. In order for Miami to overcome the odds and pull off the upset, they’ll need to find success in the following areas.
1) Limit opportunities in the post to Jabari Smith and Walker Kessler. USC’s length provided a challenge for Miami on Friday. Auburn’s will be even more difficult. Kessler is a 7’1” center who is a challenge on both ends of the floor. He’s a tremendous rim protector and shot blocker, averaging 4.6 blocks per game. On the offensive end, he’s averaging 11.7 points per game and is a menace on the offensive boards. He will - in all likelihood - provide several second-chance scoring opportunities for Auburn. If Auburn feeds the post to either him or Jabari Smith (who can create his own scoring opportunities anywhere on the floor regardless), that’s a huge advantage for Auburn. Miami will have to rotate to whoever is posting up and work to deny those entry passes, keeping the game on the perimeter. Auburn is a very capable three point shooting team, but with their main guards only averaging 29.5 (K.D. Johnson) and 32.2 (Wendell Green) percent from three, they have been more susceptible to an off shooting day than they were in their 2019 Final Four run. It might be a case of picking their poison for Miami, and hope Auburn is off with their deep ball.
2) Continue pushing the action with their transition offense. With a swatter like Kessler under the basket, it will be tougher than usual to have the same level of success on drives to the basket, so scoring in transition and beating Kessler down the floor will be important. Miami already holds the most efficient transition offense in the country, according to Synergy Sports. Push the ball, get someone set up quickly, and let the long balls fly, or beat your defender to the basket if you’ve got numbers or have the one-one-one advantage against your defender. This game needs to be played at a fast pace for Miami to have an optimal chance of winning. And speaking of Miami’s high ranking...
...3) The Canes need to continue to dominate the turnover margin and create scoring opportunities off of them to offset their disadvantage in the half-court set. Miami ranks 6th nationally in lowest turnover rate at plus 4.5 per game, which was on display Friday with only three giveaways. Conversely, they took the ball away 18 times from the Trojans. That turned out to be just enough to get past a pesky USC team. And Miami took some risks to force them, such as when Charlie Moore took off from across the lane and snatched the ball from the USC player that was posting up. Miami will have to take those kinds of risks at times today.
In addition to these areas, Miami will need to continue to do something else they’ve done well lately - shoot with confidence and without being afraid. This isn’t a given. Yesterday, in Michigan’s upset of 3rd-seeded Tennessee, the Vols’ guards look tentative to shoot and shot a paltry 2-of-18, including a bunch of misses with open looks. Miami has to shoot confidently and trust their shots, as an off night shooting the long ball will likely be fatal to their chances.
Hopefully the high-flying Canes will continue to do what they’ve done so well this year - play well away from home. Conversely, that’s something that’s plagued Auburn this season.