Miami Hurricanes Basketball: Three Things You Need to Know Before Miami’s Colossal Clash With North Carolina

Feb 28, 2015; Coral Gables, FL, USA; Miami Hurricanes center Tonye Jekiri (23) looks to pass the ball as North Carolina Tar Heels forward Kennedy Meeks (3) defends in the first half at BankUnited Center. Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 28, 2015; Coral Gables, FL, USA; Miami Hurricanes center Tonye Jekiri (23) looks to pass the ball as North Carolina Tar Heels forward Kennedy Meeks (3) defends in the first half at BankUnited Center. Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports /

About three seasons ago, a red-hot Miami Hurricanes team took on the North Carolina Tar Heels with just a few weeks to go in the regular season. Of course the Canes and Coach Jim Larranaga had some impressive wins that year, but experts thought that they couldn’t really keep it going and thought they needed to show it one more time against Roy Williams and the Heels.

Three years later, the Miami Hurricanes face a similar situation Saturday afternoon in Chapel Hill. Not only will a victory prove that this Canes team is for real, but it also will give them the lead atop the ACC standings.

It’s amazing how history can repeat itself.

A few things have certainly been altered from that matchup in 2013 attended by Lebron James and Dwayne Wade, but what a win can result in for this team has not. That early afternoon in the BankUnited Center, Shane Larkin and Kenny Kadji brought the house down with an alley-oop off the backboard on the way to a dominating 87-61 Miami win. With that in mind, I think Coach Larranaga would love to see some deja vu.

Here are your three things you need to know before Miami takes on North Carolina in Chapel Hill:

Miami needs to find someway to keep North Carolina off the glass.

When you think about North Carolina, especially under Roy Williams, you think about their tremendous rebounding ability each and every year. Through 26 games this season, that hasn’t changed one bit.

In the Top 30 in almost every rebounding category, the Tar Heels bring down an astounding 40.7 total rebounds a game and 13.46 offensive rebounds a game. To say that’s impressive is an under-statement and it’s certainly a chief concern for Larranaga and the Canes.

“With North Carolina it’s not just they are a terrific on the first shot, but they are the best team in the country at offensive rebounding and sticking the ball in the basket,” Miami’s head coach said.

While they aren’t ranked No. 1 in that category, they do rank second in the ACC behind Louisville and average almost four more offensive rebounds a game than Miami does. The Canes felt that in full-force a season ago when the Tar Heels beat Miami 73-64 at the BankUnited Center and out-rebounded the Hurricanes 11-6 on the offensive glass and 42-28 overall.

For a team as talented as North Carolina is, you can’t give them second chance opportunities, especially in Chapel Hill. Tonye Jekiri and Kamari Murphy will have to be huge on the glass for the Canes to keep the likes of Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks and Isiah Hicks off the boards for the Tar Heels. While much of that onus will fall on Miami’s big men, it’ll have to be a total team effort on the glass meaning guards will have to get in on the action as well.

The Hurricanes will have to try to handle many of North Carolina’s talented assets, but it’s clear that winning the battle on the boards will be crucial to Miami’s success.

“If you don’t take care of their five-second layups in transition and you don’t take care of your defensive backboards, you’re going to get your lunch handed to you,” Larranaga said of the dangerous Tar Heels.

Duke showed in North Carolina’s last game that it is possible to beat the Tar Heels even when getting out-rebounded, but to think that would happen in two straight games and result in two North Carolina losses is hard to imagine.

Someway, somehow, the Hurricanes have to find a way to slow down Brice Johnson.

To be compared with Antawn Jamison, former All-American at North Carolina and NBA player for 17 years is pretty astounding and that’s exactly what the Canes will be going against in Brice Johnson on Saturday.

The 6’9” senior received that high praise from Coach Larranaga Thursday and I’m not surprised Miami’s head man is impressed after what Johnson did to the Hurricanes last year and what he’s done all of this year. A season ago, Johnson was the difference-maker in Miami’s crucial loss to North Carolina as he had 22 points and 11 rebounds, with ten of his points coming off of dunks. This year, he’s averaging a double-double with 16.9 points and 10.4 rebounds a game and is coming off one of his best nights of the season against Duke where he had 29 points and 19 rebounds.

“He doesn’t take a lot of time with the ball, he runs the court as well as anybody in the country, he’s a fantastic offensive rebounder and he had a pretty good night against Duke on Wednesday too,” Larranaga said of Johnson.

The man that will likely start on Johnson is 6’9” junior Kamari Murphy and I think that’s a matchup that the Hurricanes think they have a chance in. Murphy’s interior defense and rebounding is perhaps the best on the team and is certainly the key element that they missed against the Tar Heels a season ago.

With Murphy out of the game, I also wouldn’t be surprised if Amp Lawrence got to matchup on Johnson considering his size, strength and speed that can at least give him a shot to stop the talented senior.

By no means is Johnson North Carolina’s only weapon, but he is certainly a big part of what makes them go. Miami has done a pretty decent job in the ACC of shutting down the other teams’ leading scorers and if they do that again Saturday afternoon, Miami may be coming back to Coral Gables with their biggest win of the season.

The big-game Canes need to show up in this game with monumental implications.

Over the past two years in particular, this Miami team has been known to show up when the lights are brightest and the most is on the line. Well, Saturday afternoon fits that description to a T.

With both teams tied at 10-3 in the ACC, the winner will take the conference lead with just four games to play and move that much closer to a No.1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

“We have to take care of business Saturday,” junior Davon Reed said. “We’ve been looking forward to playing [North Carolina]. We had a couple of blessings, they took a couple of losses, so this is the matchup. We just have to come in there, be focused and execute.”

In seven matchups against North Carolina as head coach of Miami, Jim Larranaga’s teams have done just that as the man in his fifth year in Coral Gables has gone 4-3. It’s just one loss away from dropping to a .500 winning percentage, but not too many coaches can boast about a winning record against the Tar Heels in the ACC.

To keep that winning record, Larranaga needs his stars and experienced players to come out with their best performance of the season Saturday. The Canes will have Ja’Quan Newton back after his one-game absence and that should certainly help, but Miami needs an aggressive Sheldon McClellan and a smart Angel Rodriguez to take the court in Chapel Hill.

Roy Willliams’s team plays six players averaging at least 9.4 points a game and has been the front-runner all year in the ACC. A guy like point guard Marcus Paige or small forward Justin Jackson are really talented players that could be playing in the NBA next season and will be as motivated as ever after a loss to their biggest rival and with first place in the ACC on the line.

This will be Rodriguez’s first matchup against the Tar Heels after he was forced to miss last season’s game with an injured wrist. We know how the redshirt senior from Puerto Rico has shown his best in big games and Miami certainly wants a confident Angel, but a smart Angel as well.

This game is providing Miami with their first chance in quite awhile to big up a massive win against a top opponent. All season they have played just one Top 10 team and that was Virginia all the way back in early January. With top teams taking bad losses everyday it seems, Miami is in a position where they can not only snatch the ACC Regular Season title, but a No. 1 seed in March as well.

The tough stretch ahead will dictate both of those outcomes, but to start this stretch of four games in a row against ranked opponents with a win would be a confidence-boost and a chance to gain respect.

Miami took their chance to prove they were for real on their way to an ACC title back in 2013. Now with an opportunity to do that once again in 2016, the Hurricanes and their fans will hope history can repeat itself one more time.