Miami Hurricanes Basketball: Three Things to Know Before Miami-Notre Dame

Feb 3, 2016; Coral Gables, FL, USA; Miami Hurricanes guard Sheldon McClellan (10) drives to the basket as Notre Dame Fighting Irish forward V.J. Beachem (3) defends during the second half at BankUnited Center. Miami won 79-70. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 3, 2016; Coral Gables, FL, USA; Miami Hurricanes guard Sheldon McClellan (10) drives to the basket as Notre Dame Fighting Irish forward V.J. Beachem (3) defends during the second half at BankUnited Center. Miami won 79-70. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports /

When the Miami Hurricanes tip-off against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on Wednesday night in South Bend, everyone will have already had their calendars flipped to March. This entire season for the Canes has been spectacular with buzzer-beaters, monumental wins and finally some national recognition for ‘The U’, but as those calendars flip and hit that third month of the year, now is the time that matters most.

Miami will look to wrap up this brutal four-game ACC stretch as they travel to Notre Dame looking to start March as they hope to end it, with a win. On the heels of possibly the best week ever in program history, a win against the Fighting Irish will keep the hopes of an ACC Regular Season title alive as well keep them in the hunt for a No. 1 seed.

The two teams played just under a month ago at the BankUnited Center and the Hurricanes easily dispatched the Irish in a 79-70 victory. This time around, Coach Jim Larranaga’s squad will have to play in the always difficult Edmund P. Joyce Center and will be without star sophomore point guard Ja’Quan Newton, who will be serving the second game of his three game suspension for violation of team rules.

For Miami to come out of this four-game stretch with a 3-1 record would be quite incredible and would show that the Hurricanes are ready for all the madness later this month. Before tip-off of this crucial game, here are the three things you need to know:

Tonye Jekiri will need to continue to play his All-ACC caliber defense against Zach Auguste.

Against both Virginia and Louisville, Miami center Tonye Jekiri didn’t fill up the stat sheet, but his presence on the court was certainly felt. Whether it was impressive defensive plays both on and off the ball or tough rebounds against some of the most athletic big men in the ACC, the 7-foot senior was crucial to both of the Hurricanes victories. Against Zach Auguste on Wednesday night, he’ll need to do just the same.

In the last matchup between the two teams, Auguste got into foul trouble early and could just never get going, but that also had to do with the defense from Miami’s interior. Keeping Notre Dame’s big forward off the board has been so important to the success of the Fighting Irish’s opponents this season. When Auguste has scored less than 13 points this season, Notre Dame is 5-7 and when he scores more than 13 points, they are 14-2. Obviously the Canes aren’t guaranteed a victory if Auguste finishes below 13 points, but it sure give Miami a significantly better chance at grabbing a victory.

Auguste along with Bonzie Colson are really Notre Dame’s only threats on the boards and after playing Virginia and Louisville back-to-back, the Hurricanes will be more than ready to battle the Fighting Irish on the glass.

Tonye Jekiri will never get the recognition of an Angel Rodriguez or Sheldon McClellan, but just watch him on defense and you’ll see the type of impact he has on this team.

With the Hurricanes on the road and without Newton, Miami needs its offensive leaders aggressive from the start.

Ja’Quan Newton had 12 points in Miami’s last matchup against Notre Dame and that is 12 points the Hurricanes will need to find a way to replace come Wednesday night.

With their sixth man suspended, the Canes are heading into a real tough environment where their leaders are going to need to lead. Sheldon McClellan, Angel Rodriguez and Davon Reed can’t be passive early on and try to find their way into the game because if they do that, Coach Mike Brey’s team will pounce.

In that last matchup, those three combined for 32 of Miami’s 79 points, which isn’t bad, but it’ll need to be better this time around. The star of that game in early February was actually Amp Lawrence, who finished with a career-high 18 points including four three-pointers. Now, I’m not saying Amp can’t go off once again, especially because he is a good matchup against Notre Dame, but the Canes can’t rely on a freshman to lead them on the road against a very solid ACC team.

Sheldon McClellan hasn’t been up to his usual standards with an ankle injury that has limited him a bit the past four games. The Houston, TX native hasn’t scored more than 14 points in any of the last four games, but I expect his ankle to be close to 100% and for him to put in a good performance in South Bend.

Angel Rodriguez will look to build off his magnificent second half against Louisville where he single-handedly pulled the Canes off the mat and was the catalyst in their comeback. He’ll have a tough matchup against Demetrius Jackson, especially with no Newton behind him, but the Hurricanes need that exact same performance on Wednesday night that he delivered against the Cardinals.

In terms of Davon Reed, there isn’t enough you can say about how important he’s been to this team. Night after night, he does exactly what this team needs whether it is scoring, defense or rebounding and has recently been one of Miami’s hottest shooters. He only had eight points the last time these teams met, but the way he’s playing and the way he makes big shots for this team, Reed will certainly be a huge factor against Notre Dame.

Of course Miami could get some unexpected contributions from someone like Amp Lawrence or Ivan Cruz Uceda, but in such a big game in such a tough environment on the road, the Hurricanes need their leaders aggressive from the tip.

The only thing Miami’s resume is missing is a quality road win. Beating Notre Dame would satisfy just that.

The No. 7 RPI, the No. 19 strength of schedule, four wins over the RPI Top 20 and a 13-2 record against the RPI Top 100. Those statistics all reside on the resume of the Miami Hurricanes and with Selection Sunday around the corner, the only thing missing is a quality road win.

Miami’s resume is certainly quite impressive, but all of their big wins this season have come either on a neutral site in Puerto Rico or at home at the BankUnited Center. As it stands, the Hurricanes best road win would be a toss-up between Florida State and Georgia Tech and that’s not too impressive.

If the Canes do fall to Notre Dame, it won’t be the end of the world to not pick up a quality road win all season, but a victory would certainly just add another feather to their cap. When trying to find the little margins to determine whether the Canes should be a 1, a 2 or a 3 seed, not having an away win could be the difference.

A road victory over a Notre Dame team that is currently ranked 30th in the RPI would also give the Hurricanes nine wins over the RPI Top 50, something not too many teams in the country can boast about at this time in the year. While it isn’t necessarily a must-win, beating Notre Dame on the road could serve as a pretty shiny trophy on the resume come Selection Sunday.