ACC Basketball

Miami (Fl) Host North Carolina Central

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The Miami Hurricanes sadly missed the NCAA Tournament, even though their resume wasn’t much worse than some of the at-large bids (looking at you UCLA), so they’ll have to settle for a 2-seed in the NIT. This is a Hurricanes team that started the season 8-0 and were 14-5 and ranked. However, a three-game losing streak dropped them down to bubble status and they never were able to regain their footing in the Big Dance because they just couldn’t get a signature win down the stretch, eventually falling to Notre Dame in the ACC Quarterfinals.

Of course, North Carolina Central probably isn’t too happy with their situation either. The Eagles dominated the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, going 16-0. The conference tournament looked like it would just be a formality, especially after they crushed Coppin St., 91-43 in the quarterfinals. Yet against Delaware State, they let a eight-point lead with five minutes away slip away, as the Hornets would end the game on a 17-4 run. Just like that, a 16-0 conference record became meaningless.

North Carolina Central is a dangerous and team would have been a popular first-round upset pick if they made it to the NCAA Tournament. They start four seniors and one junior and have a solid inside-outside game with center Jordan Parks (15.3 points per game, 8.3 rebounds) and shooting guard Anthony McDonald (13.1 PG, 38% from three). Nimrod Hillard is a little turnover prone, but he dished out 6.4 assists per game.

The Eagles are not a big team (no starter over 6’8) and they live to slow it down (#342 in the nation in adjusted tempo), as only a quarter of their shots happen in their possessions first 10 seconds. This of course makes them vulnerable¬†to turnovers, but they take good shots…24th in 2P%, 42nd in eFG.

Their trademark is tough defense. Yes, they play in a small-time conference, but they’re second in eFG, behind only Kentucky, capable of defending both the three-line (4th in 3P%) and inside (5th in 2P%). They force turnovers at a high rate and do a good job keeping opponents off the glass.

As for Miami, what stands out is their depth, as 10 players will get decent minutes. Sheldon McClellan is the man to stop. He averages 14.7 PPG, is second on the team in rebounds (4.6) despite playing the two and is capable of hitting a three or creating his own shot.

Since coming back from injury, Davon Reed is a dangerous three-point shooter, hitting 49% from behind the arc, but eight different players will put up threes for this team, including big men Ivan Cruz Uceda and Omar Sherman.

The key for Miami will be for Tonye Jekiri to dominate inside, especially on the offense end. Despite having the ACC’s leading rebounder, the Hurricanes are just 259th in offensive rebounding %. Yet, Jekiri will be a solid mismatch on the boards against anyone the Eagles throw into the paint. If he can get those rebounds and get the ball back out to the shooters, that’s one easy way to overcome a tough defensive team.

Also, the Hurricanes are going to need a big game from Angel Rodriguez if they are going to score against a tough defensive team. Even before the junior point guard got hurt, he was really struggling to hit shots. He did hit a pair of threes in Miami’s loss to Notre Dame, but prior to that he was just 11-for-62 (17.7%) from deep since mid-January.

In the end though, I’m picking the Eagles in the upset. I’ll take senior leadership over the Canes at home, a place they have lost six times at, including a pair of early season defeats against Green Bay and Eastern Kentucky.

WORTHLESS PREDICTION: NC Central, 63-59

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