Miami Hurricanes Basketball: Three Things to Know Before No. 3 Miami Battles No. 11 Wichita State for a Spot in the Sweet 16

Mar 17, 2016; Providence, RI, USA; Miami (Fl) Hurricanes forward Kamari Murphy (21) and guard Sheldon McClellan (10) react during the second half of a first round game against the Buffalo Bulls in the 2016 NCAA Tournament at Dunkin Donuts Center. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 17, 2016; Providence, RI, USA; Miami (Fl) Hurricanes forward Kamari Murphy (21) and guard Sheldon McClellan (10) react during the second half of a first round game against the Buffalo Bulls in the 2016 NCAA Tournament at Dunkin Donuts Center. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports /

In 2006, Jim Larranaga and his cinderella George Mason squad faced a hot Wichita State team coming off of a big upset. Despite being the underdogs for the third straight game, the Patriots shocked the Shockers to advance to the Elite Eight and then to the Final Four. While he is now with Miami and the Hurricanes won’t be surprising anyone, Larranaga will have to get by a scorching Wichita State once again in hopes of making it back to the pinnacle of college basketball ten years later.

While the Canes delivered a solid performance against Buffalo, the underseeded Shockers are perhaps playing their best basketball of the season at the exact time you need to. Not only are they coming off of a dismantling of perennial power No. 6 Arizona 65-55 (result was closer than the game actually was), but they also dominated No. 11 Vanderbilt 70-50 in the First Four. For a Miami team that earned a high seed, it doesn’t get much harder than a second round matchup with the Shockers.

No. 3 Miami and No. 11 Wichita State will be the early tip-off Saturday at 12:10 p.m. on CBS, but before they face off for a spot in the Sweet 16, here are the three things you need to know.

This matchup pits two of the best backcourts in the country against each other. Whoever wins that battle will likely have the edge. 

Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker or Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan. It is a choice you really cannot go wrong with and it is a matchup that could decide the game on Saturday afternoon.

Miami fans think of Rodriguez and McClellan as real experienced players and they are, but since VanVleet and Baker arrived in Wichita, KS. four years ago., they have made the NCAA Tournament each season and have an astounding nine wins under their belt in March Madness. That is just unreal. To think the only two programs with more NCAA Tournament wins during that time are Louisville (11) and Duke (10) and WICHITA STATE is tied for third on that list just doesn’t make sense. You don’t think of the Shockers in the same tier as those two teams or a Michigan State or Wisconsin, but they have proved they certainly belong there.

This tournament has started no differently for the stars of Wichita as they have averaged a combined 28.5 points, 10.5 rebounds and 8.4 assists in the two games the Shockers have played thus far. While those stats are quite impressive on the offensive end, you could say VanVleet and Baker have been even better defensively. The duo that made All-Missouri Valley Defensive Team has combined for nine steals in their two NCAA Tournament games and have been the driving force behind Wichita’s stifling defense.

All of this brings us to Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan. There aren’t too many backcourts that will steal the national thunder from these two, but VanVleet and Baker just might. The Miami duo will perhaps enjoy flying a bit more under the radar than usual, especially after they combined for 44 points against Buffalo on Thursday night.

While they didn’t receive All-ACC Defensive team honors in a rugged conference full of lockdown defenders, Rodriguez and McClellan aren’t too shabby themselves. VanVleet and Baker are certainly talented, but in terms of size, skill set and talent, Miami’s guards match up pretty evenly.

The Shockers have a few other scoring threats in the starting lineup and off the bench, but the result could be determined by who wins that matchup between the starting backcourts. They both have talent, they both have experience and the winner of that battle could be leading their team to a spot in the Sweet 16.

Wichita State could be even better than Virginia defensively and that could pose big problems for Miami.

For Miami fans, which team is the first that comes to mind when you think about great defense? Virginia, right? Well, Wichita State is even better.

Coming into the tournament, the Shockers allowed the fewest points per game (59.0 ppg) and the fewest made field goals per game (18). Now of course some of those numbers from the season could be skewed by some of the weaker teams in the Missouri Valley, but it isn’t like that rugged defense hasn’t carried through in the NCAA Tournament. In the two games against Vanderbilt and Arizona, Wichita State has allowed an average of 52.5 points per game and have forced a combined 31 turnovers, including 19 from the Wildcats. You can give all the reasons why you think Wichita’s numbers are flawed, but their defense is superb.

We have seen how Miami has struggled against Virginia’s slow pace in two games this season, but also thrived against it in one. The biggest difference between their losses and wins against the Cavaliers was efficient three-point shooting in addition to the ability to take care of the basketball. Just a week ago, we saw the Hurricanes turn the ball over 16 times which resulted in 19 points off of turnovers for the Wahoos. If Miami wants to secure their spot in the Sweet 16, that just can’t happen Saturday afternoon in Providence.

The Hurricanes got away with a slow start against Buffalo, but against the red-hot Shockers, that will cost them.

On Thursday night, Miami got off to a slow start as Buffalo jumped out to a 15-6 lead in the first seven minutes. Against a team like Wichita State, the Hurricanes will get punished if they do that again.

All season, the Canes have often had to feel their way into the start of game and while they have come back most of the time, letting a hot team like the Shockers get confidence in a one-and-done scenario is not optimal. Against Arizona, Wichita State didn’t even get off to a good start themselves and still dominated the Wildcats to close the game out. With a team with so much NCAA Tournament experience, I wouldn’t want to fall way behind the Shockers early on.

Many people will say Wichita State will be tired and talk about the fact that the First Four is a disadvantage, but I completely disagree. Yeah, they will be playing their third game in five days, but after winning that game in Dayton Tuesday night, they got all the jitters out and built some momentum that carried them into an impressive performance against Arizona. Now, Miami has hopefully gotten their jitters out, but the step up from Buffalo to Wichita State even though they are just three seeds apart is the size of Mount Everest.

The Hurricanes need to have their stars shine as we discussed above, but they will need key contributions from guys like Kamari Murphy, Davon Reed and Ja’Quan Newton. They all played tremendously in Miami’s biggest game this season and will need to play even better against the quality depth of the Shockers that includes Missouri Valley Freshman of the Year Markus McDuffie, Cleveland State transfer Anton Grady and Kansas transfer Conner Frankamp.

Miami is not the underdog, at least on the seed line against Wichita State, but many experts have predicted a Shockers win come Saturday afternoon. If Miami beats Wichita State, it would not surprise everyone like George Mason did ten years ago, but just like it was for Jim Larranaga and the Patriots, it could be the victory and the confidence gained that boosts them all the way to the Final Four.