Miami Hurricanes Basketball: Three Things You Need to Know Before Miami Faces Georgia Tech

Jan 28, 2015; Coral Gables, FL, USA; Miami Hurricanes guard Sheldon McClellan (10) drives to the basket as Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets guard Corey Heyward (5) defends the play during the second half at BankUnited Center. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 28, 2015; Coral Gables, FL, USA; Miami Hurricanes guard Sheldon McClellan (10) drives to the basket as Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets guard Corey Heyward (5) defends the play during the second half at BankUnited Center. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports /

In Miami’s last game against Notre Dame, the Hurricanes put in one of their best performances of the season as they eased past a Fighting Irish squad just outside the Top 25. But for all the momentum Coach Jim Larranaga’s squad built Wednesday night, they could slide right back down with a loss against their next opponent, Georgia Tech.

This pattern has reared its head frequently over the last year and a half as the Canes seem to dominate the top competition, but then falter against teams just looking to climb above the .500 mark. It’s an unsettling trend for a team that aspires to play deep into March and it  cost them a seed line or two when the field of 68 is announced in a little over two months.

The Hurricanes will be looking to end this topsy-turvy, up and down pattern at least for the moment against the Yellow Jackets on Super Bowl Sunday, but before the game, here are the three things you need to know.

Georgia Tech may be near the bottom of the ACC, but as we saw last year, that won’t stop them from giving Miami fits.

Just a year ago, the Hurricanes were trying to find their feet and make a push towards an NCAA Tournament bid, but when the Yellow Jackets visited the BankUnited Center on January 28th, 2015, that all began to go downhill.

In front of a sparse Miami crowd, Georgia Tech dominated the sluggish Canes to the tune of a 70-50 road victory. At the time, that Yellow Jackets squad was 9-10 overall and 0-7 in the ACC, but this year, when Miami travels to play them in Atlanta, they’ll come in at 12-10 with wins over Arkansas, VCU and Virginia. To summarize, this Georgia Tech team still isn’t great, but they’ll bring a better team to the floor Sunday than the one that spanked the Canes a season ago.

Brian Gregory’s squad is led by guard Marcus Georges-Hunt who leads the team in scoring at 15.6 points per game, but has struggled mightily in the team’s last two games. While the 6’5” senior does have seven games this season with 20 points or more, he’s put up just 16 combined points in losses at Syracuse and home to Duke. Against the Hurricanes last year, Georges-Hunt led all scorers with 24 points 10-of-12 shooting from the field.

Behind Georges-Hunt in scoring for the Yellow Jackets are two transfers in graduate student Adam Smith and redshirt senior Nick Jacobs. Smith, who transferred in from Virginia Tech, is a serious sharpshooting threat and has averaged 14.5 points a game this season. The 6’8” Jacobs is more of a danger inside the paint as he’s averaged 11.5 points and 6.1 rebounds a game in his first year as a Yellow Jacket.

The one player that may not get mentioned throughout the ACC, but deserves more attention, is senior forward Chalres Mitchell. The 6’8” former Maryland transfer is averaging a double-double this season at 10.9 points and 10.5 rebounds a game. If the Hurricanes plan on coming away with a victory Sunday afternoon, keeping Mitchell off the glass will be a big key.

With no players taller than 6’8” getting serious minutes, the Canes need to dominate the paint.

While we just talked about Charles Mitchell, the Yellow Jackets come in with a fairly small roster in terms of size. A few bench players stand over 6’8”, but none seem to get serious minutes for Coach Brian Gregory. Now, this could change considering Miami’s physicality and height down-low, but the Canes should be able to take advantage of that lack of size.

Against a Notre Dame team that only had one big that truly played on the interior, the Hurricanes allowed 17 offensive rebounds. While they were able to get away with it, I’m sure Coach Larranaga and his staff will focus on keeping the Yellow Jackets off the glass.

Another reason why Georgia Tech’s lack of size could have a big effect on the Canes is the chance for Miami big man Tonye Jekiri to finally get going scoring the ball this season. Jekiri isn’t necessarily asked to score too frequently considering all the weapons this team has, but a seven-footer with as much skill as he has should have more than four games with double figures in points at this time in the season. If the Hurricanes can get him going Sunday it could lead not only to a win over Georgia Tech, but a hot streak for the senior as we head down the stretch.

The Hurricanes “Big 3” can’t be passengers come Sunday afternoon.

While this game doesn’t seem like a difficult one, last weekend in Raleigh against NC State showed that any ACC team can grab a victory on any given night. For Miami to avoid another loss that wouldn’t look too great on the resume, they need their “Big 3” to come out firing Sunday afternoon.

Of course Miami’s new “Big 3”, Sheldon McClellan, Angel Rodriguez and Ja’Quan Newton have had their share of fantastic games this season, but in the team’s losses, they’ve been a bit too passive to pull the Canes out from a sticky situation.

Against a team like Georgia Tech that clearly doesn’t have as much talent as Miami, the Hurricanes need to assert themselves early and make sure the Yellow Jackets’ faithful and the team itself have no hopes of an upset. In that same NC State game, right from the get-go you could tell the Wolfpack were the more aggressive team. They opened the first possession with three offensive rebounds and even from that early point they never looked back.

On Sunday in Atlanta, Miami’s best players need to be at their best from the opening tip. McClellan and Newton often like to find the flow of the game and then attack the weaknesses in the second half, but they need to be attacking and getting their shots up as much as possible against a Georgia Tech team looking for any sign of hope.

If you see this “Big 3” scoring early Sunday afternoon, don’t be too surprised if the Hurricanes run away with it and head into a stretch in which they play five KenPom Top 50 teams in the next six games. This might not be a “big-time” game, but Miami needs this victory.