Miami Hurricanes Basketball: Three Things to Know Before No. 3 Miami Takes on No. 14 Buffalo

Mar 10, 2016; Washington, DC, USA; Miami Hurricanes guard Ja
Mar 10, 2016; Washington, DC, USA; Miami Hurricanes guard Ja /

We are finally here.

The most exciting, yet agonizing three weeks of sports, March Madness.

The Miami Hurricanes have worked not only since November 13th, 2015 vs. Texas-Rio Grande Valley for this moment, but for this team, Thursday’s game with the Buffalo Bulls is the apex of all the work done since the summer of 2014. That is when this cycle of a program on the rise began.

It started with the transfers of Sheldon McClellan and Angel Rodriguez and continued that year with the development of Tonye Jekiri as a sophomore and Davon Reed as a freshman. 2015 brought in Ja’Quan Newton, James Palmer and Ivan Cruz Uceda as well as a transfer in Oklahoma State forward Kamari Murphy. Oh yeah, it also resulted in a 25-win season and a NIT Tournament Final appearance (should be title).

Which brings us back to this year and November 13th, 2015. Since that day, this team has shown not only that they have the ability to reach a Final Four, but also the ability to win the National Championship. This current Miami squad, now with Amp Lawrence and Ebuzka Izundu, is a result of three years of dedication and pain, but that could be just the extra memories that motivate them.

What makes March Madness so captivating is the fact a team like Miami, who has put three years into this one moment, could assert themselves into the record books with a historic run or lose in one game that dashes the dreams of student-athletes who hoped for so much more. On Thursday night in Providence, RI, the Miami Hurricanes will hope the start of their journey is described by the former.

As a No. 3 seed, the Canes face all the pressure to win and move on, but this team has been through it all and has the experience to fight through this one-and-done style tournament. Miami’s been through a 17-16 season in 2014, an opportunity robbed from them to play in the NCAA Tournament and then to win the NIT Final back in 2015. The road has been bumpy, but they are finally where they want to be in the third year of this amazing reconstruction.

The road to what they hope ends with raising the national title, starts in Providence against the No. 14 seed Buffalo Bulls. The Hurricanes’ goals stretch far behind beating the MAC Tournament champion in the first round, but all national champions have to begin somewhere.

Here are your three things to know before No. 3 Miami takes on No. 14 Buffalo.

The Hurricanes have to find a way to slow down Buffalo’s three-point shooting.

What is the biggest reason behind most upsets. Too much pressure for the favorite? Looking ahead to bigger and better games? Neither of those narratives fit the bill for me, but often you can boil these shocking results down to one thing, the underdog just gets hot shooting the basketball. The scary thing for the Miami Hurricanes is the fact that Buffalo has that potential.

Just look back at Buffalo’s three-game journey to the MAC Tournament title in which they were 35-of-80 (43.75%) from three-point range. It doesn’t get much better than that in crunch time.

Across this season, the Bulls have shot an astounding 750 three-pointers and to put that in perspective, for a Miami team we feel shoot a lot from beyond the arc, the Hurricanes only took 599. To say that Nate Oats’s team relies on the three-point ball may be an understatement.

The three dangerous shooters to watch from deep are CJ Massinburg, Buffalo’s sixth man who shot 40% from three this year, Blake Hamilton who hit 37.6% of his efforts from deep and the currently on-fire Willie Conner who shot at a 34.6% clip this season.

Conner, the team’s 6’5” small forward, is one of those players who could lead a potential upset after the junior won the MAC Tournament MVP on the back of a combined 10-of-23 (43.5%) shooting performance from three-point range.

Overall this season, Buffalo shot at just 33.7% from beyond the arc, but in the clean slate that is March, how much does that really mean? Now, they could have made all the three-pointers they are going to make in March back at the MAC Tournament, but the Bulls might be one of the hottest shooting teams in the country right now.

What the Hurricanes will have to find a way to stop, is Buffalo’s ability to spread the floor and move the ball quickly and efficiently. Good rotation on defense will be so important and Tonye Jekiri’s ability as a shot-blocker could prove vital for the Canes if the Bulls can penetrate into the paint. If he can stay out of foul trouble and the Hurricanes play their usual solid defense, Buffalo’s hot shooting may cool down quite quickly.

Point guards are so important in March and Thursday’s matchup between Angel Rodriguez and Lamonte Bearden will be no different.

We always hear around this time of year how guard play is important and that strikes very true in Miami’s matchup with Buffalo.

Angel Rodriguez makes his return to the NCAA Tournament, but will be faced with a difficult matchup in Buffalo point guard Lamonte Bearden. The 6’3” sophomore and leading scorer (13.6 PPG) and assist man (4.0 APG) for the Bulls is one of only three contributing returning players from a season ago. With some postseason experience already under his belt, Bearden could be a huge danger on the offensive end.

An even bigger concern for the Hurricanes and Rodriguez is his size on the defensive end. In Rodriguez’s career at Miami, we have seen him struggle a lot against bigger guards and Bearden fits that exact description. He isn’t a clunky big guard either and is in fact the exact opposite with tremendous speed and agility. While it remains to be seen if he has enough talent to play in the NBA, he is built exactly like the new prototype point guard in today’s NBA. Think of John Wall, Russell Westbrook or a Kyrie Irving with the size and speed, but the handles of a point guard as well.

We all know how Angel’s performances can sway the team’s as a whole, but all the redshirt senior needs to do is play within himself like he did in his run out of halftime against Virginia Tech in DC.

The point guard matchup can often dictate the result of games in March and this one is no different.

Miami has a tendency to get off to sluggish starts. That can’t happen in the NCAA Tournament.

In a one-and-done tournament, every little thing matters. Whether it is the first five minutes of the game or the last five minutes of the game, every stretch can sway the result. The experienced Miami Hurricanes certainly know this, but on Thursday they have to demonstrate that.

Too often this season sluggish starts have either put Miami in a hole or prevented them from putting away a team early on. For underdogs in the NCAA Tournament, all that they wish for is to just hang around and hope the often neutral crowd and a few breaks begin to go their way. The Hurricanes can’t allow that to happen.

On paper or in Vegas or wherever you want to look, Miami should win this game, but should doesn’t mean will. Sheldon McClellan needs to assert himself from the jump and show why he is worthy of an NBA draft pick and was recognized as one of the best players in the ACC this season.

The Hurricanes need Davon Reed to live up to his Twitter handle, ClutchREED_5, and make the big shots when Miami needs it most.

The way that Buffalo loves to push the pace, the Hurricanes have to avoid foul trouble the best they can and hope that Kamari Murphy and Tonye Jekiri clean up the glass.

Miami’s bench led by Ja’Quan Newton needs to be ready to be called on because as we have seen so many times over the years, sometimes the hero for a team isn’t one that gets big minutes or that you would expect, but who makes the clutch shot when it counts.

Everything on paper says Miami should win this game and advance, but this game isn’t played on paper. For the Hurricanes to thrive, a fast start is necessary. If UM can eliminate any hope of an upset from the get-go, the neutral crowd can’t get behind the Bulls and those breaks that become even more random in March won’t fall decisively towards the way of the underdog.

It is the most enthralling three weeks in sports and if Miami wants to be a part of this glorious event for all three weeks, their start against Buffalo is of the utmost importance.

Viewing Information: Game will be shown on TNT at 6:50 pm ET.