In their first taste of 2015 ACC Tournament action, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish will take on the bubble-treading Miami Hurricanes in the final quarterfinal of the night. The Irish are seeking a semifinal appearance and possible revenge opportunity versus Duke, while Miami seeks one last signature win to push them into the field of 68. The game airs on ESPN at 9:00 EST, although it will likely be closer to 9:30 due to the end of the NC State/Duke game.
The first matchup between these two squads was a tale of big runs. Miami, coming off an unbelievable 16-point victory at Duke, took it to the Irish at Purcell Pavilion, leading for the entire first half. Facing a deficit of 12 points with 15 minutes left, the Irish managed to find another gear. They poured in 4 straight deep balls and stormed back to claim a 75-70 victory. You can relive the comeback here via the WatchND highlights:
Fast-forward a couple months, and the ‘Canes are fighting for their lives as Joe Lunardi's first team out of the NCAA Tournament. As the ACC's last true bubble team, a couple of us here at OFD chose them as a potential sleeper in this tournament, citing their dire need to impress the committee. However, their first game against Virginia Tech was a massive letdown. It was as though Buzz Williams sucked up all the energy in the building, and the 'Canes sleepwalked to a close victory against the ACC's worst regular season team. The less said about that eyesore of a game, the better, but suffice to say that Miami will need to step up their intensity to challenge the 3rd seeded Irish.
The Irish, on the other hand, should be chomping at the bit to get back on the court. Since their last game, a convincing Senior Night dismantling of Clemson, Jerian Grant was snubbed for both the ACC media and coaches' Conference Player of the Year awards. Jerian voiced his disagreement with this tomfoolery over Twitter:
Can't say I'm not disappointed but individual accolades are just a plus. Couldn't have asked for a better reg season wit my bros #NotDoneYet— Jerian Grant (@ThatGrant22) March 8, 2015
The Irish have a chance to prove that they are #NotDoneYet by making a serious run at the ACC tournament crown. The team has been in Greensboro since Monday, preparing for a deep run in contrast to their first-round defeat last season. The Irish should be playing with a chip on their shoulder, as they attempt to solidify a top-3 seed in the Big Dance and possibly even make a run at a first ever conference tournament championship.
Keys to the Game for Miami
- Angel Rodriguez's health—As ndroyalsfan pointed out, the ‘Canes's bulldog of a point guard has been hampered by a sprained right wrist, missing two games before appearing in a 10-minute cameo against the Hokies. Rodriguez has been a key contributor in Miami's huge victory over Duke (24 points) and their 2OT loss against Virginia (25 points). When Rodriguez is healthy and knocking down big shots, Miami is dangerous. If he is limited, the ‘Canes will have to rely on All-ACC honorable mention Sheldon McClellan to do the bulk of their scoring.
- The play of Tonye Jekiri—Miami's 30-year-old starting center (I kid, I kid, he is apparently somehow only 20) does almost all the work on the glass for the Hurricanes. The 7-footer pulled down 13 boards (as much as every other Hurricane combined) in their first matchup against the Irish, 4 of which were of the offensive variety. The Irish made their late charge by switching to a 5-guard lineup, which Jekiri was unable to take advantage of on the offensive end. If Jekiri is able to use his size to garner the ‘Canes some extra possessions, this one could be close.
- Jim Larrañaga magic—I don't know how else to phrase Miami's extreme inconsistency. This team lost at home to Eastern Kentucky (by 28!) and beat Duke at Cameron Indoor within a month of each other. If Coach Larrañaga can inspire his guys to make a 2006 George Mason-esque run, they've shown the damage they can do. However, a dud of a performance like last night's is also very possible.
Keys to the Game for Notre Dame
- The post play of Zach Auguste—Z.A. is coming off one of his most impressive performances of the season, flashing a variety of post moves against the bigs of Clemson for 19 points. In the Irish's last game against the Hurricanes, Auguste only played 9 minutes off the bench in his first game after his suspension. Clearly, Miami hasn't seen "Good Zach" this year, and getting him going down low would be huge for the Irish's prospects in the rest of the postseason. If he is not clicking, it will be interesting to see whether Brey returns to the 5-guard lineup.
- The Demetrius Jackson home-road dichotomy—Jackson is the rare player that has shown distinct home-road splits in ACC play. Jackson has tallied more than 10 points just once in his last 6 home games, while he has achieved double-digit point totals in all but one ACC road game this year. Luckily for Demetrius, the rest of the Irish's games will be away from home. If Jackson can live up to his potential as a devastating secondary ball-handler, the Irish offensive machine can put up huge numbers against Miami.
- You guessed it, Jerian Grant—The Irish's leading scorer had one of his best games of the season in the first matchup against Miami, dropping 23 points on 8-10 shooting to go along with 8 dimes. As I mentioned before, Jerian is not too happy with being overlooked as the best player in the league. Expect Grant to play like a man on a mission tonight.
Join us in discussing the game below!