Miami Hurricanes Basketball: Three Things You Need to Know Before Miami Takes on Duke


When it was announced a few months ago that the Duke Blue Devils and Coach Mike Krzyzewski would be traveling to take on the Miami Hurricanes in a “Big Monday” matchup, we thought we might be seeing a Top 10 or even a Top 5 game on display.

While the Canes have had their share of struggles this season, the Blue Devils have experienced even more just a year after winning the national championship. In the era of college basketball we live in today though, that’s not much of a surprise considering the freshman talent that year after year bolt for the NBA.

Considering all the struggles, this game is still of immense importance for both teams who feel they still have a shot at making a run for that ACC regular season title. It isn’t necessarily an elimination game, but considering the rugged conference schedule that lies ahead for both teams, this game is a must-win if they hope to have any chance of chasing down the leader of the pack, North Carolina.

Here are the three things you need to know about this massive game before tip-off at 7 p.m. on Monday night.

This isn’t your father’s Duke (especially without Amile Jefferson).

When was the last time you remember a Duke team on the outskirts of the Top 25?

At the time of writing, Duke currently sits at No. 20 in the AP Poll, but after a home loss to an average Syracuse team earlier in the week, there is a potential the Blue Devils could drop out before they take on the Hurricanes.

Coach K’s team has suffered five losses overall and three losses in the ACC after 20 games which is pretty remarkable considering Duke lost just four games all of last season. Even with talented freshman like Brandon Ingram and Derrick Thornton in the fold, the loss of their most experienced player was devastating.

On December 12, 2015, senior power forward Amile Jefferson fractured his foot in practice and underwent surgery and wasn’t given a clear timetable on his return. At the time Duke was 8-1, but since then the Blue Devils have gone 7-4 and have shown an inability to replace their big man.

Jefferson will still be out for the Miami game and the Blue Devils are hoping they can get him back soon especially considering the fact they still have to play Louisville twice, North Carolina twice and they have to take on Virginia. With three losses already and that brutal schedule ahead, Duke is going to come out with all they have against the Hurricanes to both exact revenge for last year’s loss as well as to try and keep themselves in the ACC title hunt.

You can see the impact of Jefferson’s absence not only with wins and losses, but also with their defense. Their offense hasn’t been a problem coming in averaging 85.7 points a game and ranked as the No. 2 offense according to KenPom, but their defense is all the way down at No. 133. For a team like Duke to have that poor a defense is mind-boggling.

A month or so ago I would’ve thought this game would be in the 90’s or maybe into triple-digits, but the way Miami has played defense of late it’ll be interesting to see whether the Canes can take advantage of Duke’s struggling defense and also be able to limit their explosive offense.

That pretty astounding Duke offense includes sophomore Grayson Allen, junior Matt Jones and freshman Brandon Ingram and Luke Kennard. Amazingly, all four of those players average double figures in scoring and that doesn’t include Derrick Thornton or Marshall Plumlee who both average 8.3 points a game.

We’ve heard a lot of late from the Miami players and coach about the Canes improved defense, but they’ll face their toughest test of the season by far come Monday night. If they can shut down or even limit that high-powered Duke offense, there’s a good chance they’ll come away victorious Monday night.

If the Hurricanes can shut Grayson Allen down, they have a pretty good shot at shutting the Blue Devils down.

We just discussed the key to a victory for Miami on Monday night is shutting down the Duke offense and to do that, you have to stop Grayson Allen.

The 6’5” sophomore guard from Jacksonville was last year’s unsung hero among the superstars that included Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow, Tyus Jones and Quinn Cook. In the national championship against Wisconsin, Allen scored 16 points and was the big key to victory. Well clearly that confidence has carried into this year.

Coming into the game against the Canes, Allen is averaging 20.5 points a game and has phenomenal shooting percentages as he shoots 50.2% from the field, 40% from three-point range and 84.9% from the free-throw line. That’s a dangerous player right there.

As one of the best players in the country, the Blue Devils have relied on him at times to carry them to victory, but sometimes they’ve relied too much on him and it’s cost them. In Duke’s 15 wins this season, Allen has averaged 22.9 points a game, but in their five losses, Allen averages just 13.2 points a game. If that’s not telling on what needs to be done to beat this Duke team, I don’t know what is.

I expect Sheldon McClellan to get the Allen assignment from the tip, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Miami coaching staff rotate guys onto Duke’s superstar to give McClellan some rest on the defensive end so he can focus on scoring the basketball as well.

Of course Miami can’t just let Brandon Ingram, Matt Jones and Luke Kennard run free, but shutting down Allen is the first step to stopping this Duke offense. The Blue Devils revolve around Grayson Allen and if that essential piece is cut off, the rest of the team has no direction.

Miami is in need of a big-time win for the resume.

For all the credit that Miami got after their wins against Utah, Butler and Florida, those early season victories have lost a bit of their luster as the season has worn on.

At the time of writing, the Hurricanes hold no wins against teams in the current KenPom Top 25. Those three teams had residence within that Top 25 when they took on the Hurricanes, but life afterwards hasn’t been so bright and in turn, that’s hurt the Canes.

While Duke has had struggles of their own as we’ve touched on, beating Duke is something the committee always looks on favorably no matter their record just like beating any other blue-blood like Kansas or Kentucky. Considering the Blue Devils will get Jefferson back soon as well, I could see Duke starting to pull things together as we move later into the season, especially with Coach K at the helm.

In their only test against one of the top teams in college basketball, Miami lost it late as they fell in Charlottesville to Virginia. While they still will have opportunities to gather signature wins down the stretch, I think it’s important the Canes get a win over one of those big names to gain confidence for later in the year. Even if Duke isn’t last year’s Duke or a normal Duke side from the past, beating the Blue Devils is always a big deal.

You also have to consider how much this game means if Miami wants to contend for the ACC title. Currently, the Canes sit two games back of North Carolina with the Tar Heels still remaining on the schedule. That is a manageable margin the Hurricanes can recover, but if they were to lose and that would fall to three games, the task would become nearly impossible considering the tough games that still lie ahead for Miami.

Even if the Canes can’t catch North Carolina who is clearly the class of the ACC, they should have a goal and expectation to finish in the top four. That would be pretty respectable considering the depth in the league this year, plus that would earn Miami a double-bye when we get to the ACC Tournament.

This game might have had more hype coming into the season than it does now, but while these two teams expect to be a bit higher and have had their struggles, there is still so much that rides on this game.