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Notre Dame Basketball: Miami Preview

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The Fighting Irish hope to stay undefeated in ACC play in a road matchup against the Miami Hurricanes

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina State at Miami Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Hurricanes enjoyed a successful run last season, finishing 3rd in the ACC, making the ACC Tournament semifinals, and reaching the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament before losing in a landslide to eventual-champion Villanova, 92-69.

However, that veteran-laden NCAA Tourney 3-seed team is no longer, as the Hurricanes lost 61% of their scoring, 53% of their rebounding, 61% of their assists, and 3 of 5 starters when Sheldon McClellan, Angel Rodriguez, and Tonye Jekiri ended their collegiate careers.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-South Regional-Villanova vs Miami Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

So, with a retooled team and plenty of new faces stepping into significant roles on coach Jim Larrañaga’s squad, Miami began this season hoping for success but not expecting the kind of performance that McClellan and Rodriguez were able to provide. Nevertheless, the team began the year 4-0, beating Stanford by 17 in the process. However, the Hurricanes then dropped two straight games to Iowa State (lost by 17) and Florida (lost by 9), showing some early struggles as they searched for their identity.

Miami won its next 7 games, although the best opponents during that stretch were hardly world-beaters - teams like Rutgers, George Washington, Columbia, and NC State fell at the hands of the Hurricanes. Now, after dropping a game at Syracuse last Wednesday by 15 points (placing them 7th currently in conference standings), 11-3 Miami plays host to the 20th-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish, who sit atop the ACC with a 3-0 conference record and who own a 5-game winning streak that includes an exciting home victory over then-number-9 (now 14) Louisville last week.

Game Notes

  • Notre Dame and Miami have played each other 20 times since 1986, with the two programs splitting those games 10-10. Last season, ND faced the Hurricanes twice, losing both home and road contests. Notre Dame swept the series in 2015, though, including a 70-63 victory over Miami in the ACC Tournament
  • According to KenPom.com, Notre Dame is ranked 25th and Miami is ranked 36th in the country
  • Notre Dame is ranked 8th in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency ratings, while Miami is ranked 26th in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency ratings
  • Bonzie Colson is averaging 16.4 ppg and 10.8 rpg, and has already accumulated 10 double-doubles - tied for 6th-best in the country - all in the last 13 games
  • The trio of Matt Farrell, Steve Vasturia, and Bonzie Colson has been fantastic in terms of scoring in ACC play so far, as Matt Farrell and Steve Vasturia are each averaging 17.7 ppg in ACC games, while Bonzie Colson is adding 17.3 ppg
  • Miami freshman G Bruce Brown recorded a triple-double in the Hurricanes’ December win over South Carolina State (11 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists). It was only the 2nd in program history and 1 of 17 triple-doubles in college basketball so far this season
  • Mike Brey is now 23 wins away from Notre Dame’s all-time record of 393 held by Digger Phelps

When: Thursday, January 12, 2017 @ 7 PM ET

Where: University of Miami Watsco Center, Coral Gables, FL

How to Watch: ESPN, Watch ESPN

Miami Hurricanes (11-3, 1-1 ACC)

Although Miami lost a lot of talent from last season’s Sweet 16 team, the 2016-2017 Hurricanes squad is not without its playmakers. Guards Ja’Quan Newton, Davon Reed, and Bruce Brown are averaging a combined 40.1 points per game, while forward Kamari Murphy chips in 7.4 points and 7.6 rebounds per game down low.

NCAA Basketball: Miami at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

6’11” freshman Dewan Huell has handled the center position since Tonye Jekiri’s graduation, and has been solid for most of the season, although his statistical contributions in ACC play so far have been minimal.

Freshman guard Dejan Vasiljevic is an Australian sharpshooter (42.4% from 3-point range this year) who hit 6 of 12 long-balls against Syracuse last week to score a team-high, and career-high, 18 points in just 28 minutes of play. Forward Anthony Lawrence Jr. and center Ebuka Izundu add size, rebounding, and a smidgen of scoring off the bench to round out coach Larrañaga’s rotation.

NCAA Basketball: Pennsylvania at Miami Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Three Weaknesses

Scoring: If it weren’t for the Hurricanes’ defensive prowess (see below in the “Three Strengths” section for more), Miami would likely not have an 11-3 record this season, considering their inability to score. The team ranks 193rd in the country in points per game (73.6), right behind classic college basketball juggernauts such as Princeton, Loyola Marymount, Furman, Eastern Kentucky, Detroit Mercy, and Vermont.

Shooting: The reason for that poor scoring output? Miami is not a good shooting team. Their overall field goal percentage is a meh 46.7% - good for 84th in the country - but the stats get worse as we delve into more specific shooting stats. Miami is 123rd in 3-point field goal percentage (36.4%), 150th in free throw percentage (70.3%), 262nd in 3-point field goals made per game (6.4), and 329th in total 3-point field goals attempted (247 through 14 games - hey, at least the team is aware that jump-shooting isn’t their thing).

Winning the Turnover Battle: The Hurricanes simply do not take care of the ball well, nor do they force enough turnovers on defense to make up for it. Miami is ranked 167th in the country in turnovers (13.4 turnovers per game), 175th in turnover margin, and have an abysmal assist-to-turnover ratio of 0.9, good for 265th-best in the NCAA. Meanwhile, the ‘Canes force just 13.5 turnovers of their own per game (187th in the nation), hoping to beat opponents by forcing missed shots and gathering rebounds.

Three Strengths

Defense: Most of the Hurricanes’ statistical performance so far this year has been average-to-bad, but Jim Larrañaga’s squad is fantastic at one thing - defense. Miami is currently 7th in the country in points allowed (59.7 per game) and 16th in opponents’ field goal percentage (opponents are shooting 38.4% so far this season). The Hurricanes also rank 26th in KenPom’s defensive efficiency ratings, 38th in 3-point defense (opponents shooting 30.6%), and 30th in scoring margin (average margin is +13.9 points per game).

Out-Rebounding the Opposition: Miami’s raw rebounding numbers are decent but not spectacular, averaging 39.2 total rebounds per game and 12.71 offensive rebounds per game, good for 57th and 48th in the nation, respectively. However, the Hurricanes’ average rebounding margin is +7.4 rebounds per game, good for 22nd in the country.

Not Fouling: Despite the Hurricanes’ stingy defensive numbers, Miami has accumulated the 4th fewest total fouls in the nation so far this season - 223 total, and the 20th-best number of 15.9 fouls per game

Hurricanes to Watch

Ja’Quan Newton - 6’2”, Guard, Junior

NCAA Basketball: Miami at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Ja’Quan Newton is undoubtedly the Hurricanes’ leader this year, as the junior comes into Thursday’s game averaging 15.2 points, 3.7 rebounds, 4.1 assists, and 1.3 steals per game while shooting almost 48% from the floor.

In the 4 meetings between Miami and Notre Dame since Newton got to college, Newton has played in 3 of them, although it might as well be 2 considering he played just 1 minute in the 2015 ACC Tournament matchup. In the two games where Newton saw significant time against ND, he has averaged 14 points and 3.5 assists per game, including the 12 points and 2 assists he had in last season’s 79-70 win for Miami.

Davon Reed - 6’6”, Guard, Senior

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina State at Miami Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Davon Reed is that experienced senior leader in the backcourt for Miami, and has once again improved his performance this season so as to make up for the graduated seniors of 2015-2016. Reed is averaging 14 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 1.4 steals, and 33.6 minutes per game so far in 2016-2017, and he has been efficient doing so, shooting 42% from the field, 39% from 3-point range, and 80% from the free throw line. Besides Dejan Vasiljevic, Davon Reed is Miami’s best shooter on the perimeter.

Considering he’s been a significant contributor on the court since his freshman season in 2013-2014, Reed has played in 5 prior games against the Irish, averaging 9 points and 4.2 rebounds per contest.

Bruce Brown - 6’5”, Guard, Freshman

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina State at Miami Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Bruce Brown came to Miami this season as the 26th-ranked player in his high school class according to ESPN, and the guard has mostly delivered on the hype so far this season, averaging 10.9 points, 7.3 rebounds, 3.2 assists, and 1.6 steals per game.

Similar to Newton, Brown is a guard who can score but not always shoot, as he shoots 45% from the field overall but just 31% from 3-point range and 71% from the foul line. Nevertheless, he will be a difficult matchup on the perimeter and will look to use his athleticism to get to the hoop early and often.

Kamari Murphy - 6’8”, Forward, Senior

NCAA Basketball: Western Carolina at Miami Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Kamari Murphy joins Davon Reed as the other senior on this Miami squad, and has been crucial down low for Miami considering their starting center is a freshman. Murphy is averaging 7.4 points and 7.4 rebounds per game while shooting 53% from the floor, giving them a reliable post presence and relentless rebounder to help ensure opponents don’t get many second chances.

Like Reed, Murphy has been around a while, and he is actually in his 5th collegiate season due to sitting out a year after transferring to Miami from Oklahoma State. Murphy averaged 6.1 points and 6.3 rebounds during his final season as a Cowboy in 2013-2014, sat out the next year, and then played as a junior (in terms of eligibility) last season. In the two games he has played against Notre Dame, Murphy has averaged 6.5 points and 4.5 rebounds per game.

Pick to Click

Matt Farrell - 6’1”, Guard, Junior

NCAA Basketball: Clemson at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Farrell has been sensational so far this season, and anyone who says they saw him coming is absolutely lying. Farrell has gone from a 2015-2016 season where he averaged 2.6 points, 1.6 assists, and 13.4 minutes per game to this season, where he is averaging 14 points, 5.4 assists, and 32 minutes per game. He’s shooting 46% from the field and 42% from 3 (both year-over-year improvements of about 9 percentage points), and has become one of the go-to guys for a Notre Dame team that has plenty of scorers and big-play makers.

Three games into ACC play, Farrell is averaging 17.7 points and 4 assists per game against conference foes, and although Ja’Quan Newton will really test him on Thursday, Farrell’s unflappable response to Louisville’s pressure defense last week should be evidence enough that he is up for the challenge, and will likely meet it with as much aplomb and testicular fortitude as anyone could possibly muster.

Prediction

Notre Dame 79 - Miami 76

Miami’s defense has been strong so far this season, but they don’t force enough turnovers to make me think they will shut down one of the best offenses in the country. Notre Dame has proven over the years that their supposed “live by the 3, die by the 3” mantra was a complete myth, and this team is no different with Farrell and Vasturia driving the ball to the hoop and Colson able to score almost at-will down low.

NCAA Basketball: Louisville at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

I think Miami will make this incredibly close because it’s a home game and they’ll be fresh after an 8-day break, and Ja’Quan Newton might just outplay Farrell (although at this point I would never bet against Matty F), but the Irish have too many weapons on offense - especially if VJ Beachem shoots like he did against Clemson - and will do enough defensively (Rex Pflueger and TJ Gibbs will really bother Newton, Reed, and Brown on the perimeter) and on the glass (Bonzie and Martinas Geben will make waves amongst the Hurricane bigs) to limit Miami’s chances down the stretch and grab a huge ACC road win to improve to 4-0 in conference.

P.S. Don’t you dare think that I could end this preview without including one of the best college basketball-related GIFs ever. How little do you think of me?

Jim Larrañaga can dance, my friends