Miami Hurricanes Basketball: Three Things to Know Before Miami-Louisville

Feb 3, 2015; Coral Gables, FL, USA; Miami Hurricanes guard Sheldon McClellan (10) dribbles the ball past Louisville Cardinals guard Terry Rozier (0) during the second half at BankUnited Center. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 3, 2015; Coral Gables, FL, USA; Miami Hurricanes guard Sheldon McClellan (10) dribbles the ball past Louisville Cardinals guard Terry Rozier (0) during the second half at BankUnited Center. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports /

In this absurdly difficult four-game stretch for the Miami Hurricanes, we have already seen them in the first two games at the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. What’s next?

As Jim Larranaga and the Canes host Rick Pitino and the Louisville Cardinals Saturday afternoon, it will be the third consecutive Top 15 matchup for Miami, but yet another chance to pick up a signature win for the resume. After having lost to North Carolina by 25 and beaten Virginia by 3, the Hurricanes will look to prove against Louisville that this past Saturday’s result was the fluke and not this past Monday’s result.

It will be another grind-it-out game for Miami against Pitino’s notoriously tough and athletic team, but if they pull out a victory Saturday afternoon, a Top 7 ranking, a tie at the top of the ACC standings and a No. 1 seed down the line could await them.

The Louisville game just so happens to be senior day as well, where Sheldon McClellan, Angel Rodriguez, Tonye Jekiri and Ivan Cruz Uceda will be honored. Besides the obvious desire to pick up a massive resume win, sending those guys out on a good note seems fitting considering all they’ve done for the program.

Before this monumental game with enormous implications, here are the three things you need to know:

I know it gets old, but once again Miami’s biggest area of focus this Saturday has to be on rebounding.

With the lack of size players on the Miami roster, it is going to be hard for them to win many battles on the boards, but when they compete on the glass like they did against Virginia Monday night, at least rebounding will not be the deciding factor. Against a Louisville team that is like the Cavaliers in so many ways, that battle on the boards will be a big key once again.

The Cardinals will put some quality rebounders on the court Saturday afternoon and that group is led by 6’10” sophomore Chinanu Onuaku. The 230-pound forward filling the Montrezl Harrell role this season has been phenomenal averaging 9.8 points and 8.6 rebounds a game and will be a handful for Tonye Jekiri and Kamari Murphy.

Coach Larranaga said Wednesday that he thinks Onuaku will be a first round draft pick after this year and the Canes will have to find a way to limit him and his ability to create second chance opportunities for the Louisville offense.

Luckily the Hurricanes won’t have to go against the 6’10” Mangok Mathiang or the seven-footer Anas Mahmoud who are both out for the season, but 6’7” freshman Deng Adel has been impressive on the glass when given the minutes.

Even the guards get in on the rebounding action for Louisville and it will require a total team effort from Miami, ranked 205th in rebounding, to keep Louisville, the 53rd ranked rebounding team in the country, off the glass.

I’m not saying the Hurricanes need to absolutely dominate the glass come Saturday afternoon, but like the Virginia game, they at least need to be competitive to stay in the game.

The Canes struggled against Malcom Brogdon and will have another tough matchup against a very similar player in Damion Lee.

On Monday night, the 6’5”, 215 lbs guard and Virginia’s leading scorer Malcom Brogdon lit up the Canes for 28 points. Just five days later, it’ll be just like deja vu for Miami.

After struggling to contain Brogdon, the Hurricanes will face a very similar player on Saturday afternoon in Drexel graduate transfer Damion Lee. He has a nearly identical body type as Brogdon standing at 6’6” and 200 lbs, and leads Louisville in scoring this season at 16.6 points a game.

What makes both Lee and Brogdon so dangerous is their ability to not only step back and hit shots from beyond the arc, but also their ability to get inside and finish over the big men. Miami had no answer for Brogdon, especially with Sheldon McClellan guarding him on a bum ankle, but Saturday could be different with McClellan’s ankle now 100% according to him. We could see Davon Reed on Lee as well, but all that the Hurricanes really need to do is watch tape from last year to figure out how you can stop him.

Playing against Drexel in the Gilden Charleston Classic, the Hurricanes demolished the Dragons 66-46 and were actually able to hold Lee to nine points on 2-of-6 shooting. It was not like he sat the whole game either. Lee played 37 minutes and was frustrated by the Miami defense with not too much help from his teammates around him. With a better cast of characters on Louisville, the Hurricanes assignment will be much more difficult, but they at least showed last year that they have found a way to contain him.

Damion Lee like Malcom Brogdon will get his points in almost every game, it’s just about containing him and not letting him take over. When Lee struggles to score, Louisville often comes up on the losing end and that will be a big matchup to watch Saturday afternoon.

A win over Louisville not only keeps Miami in the race for the ACC Regular Season title, but also for a No. 1 seed in March.

Despite all the panic following Miami’s loss to North Carolina, the Hurricanes kept themselves alive in the ACC Regular Season title race and perhaps the No. 1 seed race with their win over Virginia. To stay alive in both of those races though, Miami needs to beat Louisville Saturday afternoon.

As it stands, the Canes currently sit one game behind North Carolina at 11-4 in the ACC and the Tar Heels have a tough matchup at a motivated Virginia squad on Saturday night. Not only that, but North Carolina still has to play Syracuse and travel to Cameron Indoor to take on Duke in the last game of the regular season. As ugly as Miami’s loss in Chapel Hill was, a Hurricanes win and a Tar Heels loss on Saturday could put the Canes in the driver’s seat with just two games to go.

Winning the ACC Regular Season title would be an enormous accomplishment considering the amazing depth of the conference this year, but perhaps even more crucially for Miami, that regular season title could boost them to a No. 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament.

The Hurricanes do have two, maybe even three bad losses this year which could come back to bite them, but with a win over Louisville, Miami would have four wins against the RPI Top 20. Not many teams in the country would be able to boast about that come Selection Sunday.

Saturday afternoon will be another heavyweight ACC fight, but if Miami comes out victorious, everything is still possible for this team to achieve.