Miami Hurricanes Basketball: Three Things to Know Before Miami’s Sweet 16 Clash With Villanova

Mar 19, 2016; Providence, RI, USA; Miami (Fl) Hurricanes guard Angel Rodriguez (13) and guard Sheldon McClellan (10) celebrate their win over the Wichita State Shockers in a second round game of the 2016 NCAA Tournament at Dunkin Donuts Center. Miami won 65-57. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 19, 2016; Providence, RI, USA; Miami (Fl) Hurricanes guard Angel Rodriguez (13) and guard Sheldon McClellan (10) celebrate their win over the Wichita State Shockers in a second round game of the 2016 NCAA Tournament at Dunkin Donuts Center. Miami won 65-57. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports /

For many, many years, Coach Jim Larranaga and Coach Jay Wright have shared a friendship not only off the court, but on it as well. The two have shared strategy, vocabulary and drills since they began competing against each other in the CAA and since Larranaga was at George Mason and Wright manned the sidelines at Hofstra, they both have excelled. Despite this friendship between these phenomenal coaches, there will be no love lost between the two come Thursday night in Louisville, Ky., as the No. 3 Miami Hurricanes will clash with the No. 2 Villanova Wildcats in the Sweet 16.

For Larranga’s Hurricanes, the first two rounds against No. 14 Buffalo and No. 11 Wichita State mirrored much of what occurred during the regular season. There were contributions up and down the roster, but when Miami needed a bucket, it was Angel Rodriguez or Sheldon McClellan delivering in the clutch.

Out in Brooklyn, Wright’s Wildcats stomped the competition as they beat No. 15 UNC-Asheville and No. 7 Iowa by an average of 25.5 points on the way to their first Sweet 16 trip in seven years. While Villanova has been known for leaving the NCAA Tournament a bit earlier than expected the last few years, Wright’s senior-laden roster made sure that was not the case in this year’s madness.

Jim Larranaga and Jay Wright have come a long way since 2001 when they led mid-major squads and have molded their teams this year into true national title contenders. Only one coach can take their team through to the Elite Eight and possibly the Final Four though, so with everything at stake, that friendship will be put on hold for two hours on Thursday night.

Before this titanic clash of coaches and teams looking for a spot in the Elite Eight, here are the three things you need to know.

Miami has to find a way to limit Villanova’s three-point shooting.

If there is one drill Coach Jim Larranaga may want to take back from giving Jay Wright a few years ago, it is probably the three-point one. Wright’s Wildcats come in to the Sweet 16 as one of the best shooting teams in the country, especially behind the arc. In their two tournament games, Villanova has hit 23-of-47 from behind the arc and that is no fluke after finishing the year shooting the three at a 35.1% clip. What makes the Wildcats so dangerous is the way that they spread the floor and of their starting five, four players are shooting over 35% from three-point range. Let’s just say that is uncommon in college basketball.

For Miami to stop Jalen Brunson (38% from three-point range), Ryan Arcidiacono (37.5%), Kris Jenkins (37.4%) and Josh Hart (35.6%), they will have to rotate well on the defensive end and make sure that they are finding shooters in transition. Like Wichita State, Villanova also uses ball-screens well and Tonye Jekiri will be a big factor in trying to hedge the screens and prevent any open three-pointers.

The biggest matchup problem for most teams against Villanova is their 6’6”, 240 lb. forward, Kris Jenkins. The Upper Marlboro, MD. native is the definition of a stretch four as he can handle the ball well and can shoot the lights out from deep. In saying all of this, I think Miami has a solid answer for him in 6’8”, 216 lb. forward Kamari Murphy. The Oklahoma State transfer is quick for a big-man and has shown his versatility to be able to defend not only in the paint, but on the outside as well.

For Miami to win this game, they do not need to completely shut down Villanova from deep because that is almost impossible, but they do need to at least limit them beyond the arc. If they come out with the intensity they had on defense at the start and end of the Wichita State game, they should find themselves in a good position at the KFC Yum! Center late Thursday night.

The battle between Tonye Jekiri and Daniel Ochefu will be key.

Much of the focus coming into this one will surround the guards in this game, but the battle in the paint will be a significant factor as well. After two games in which he was not able to make a tremendous impact due to foul trouble, Tonye Jekiri has a matchup better suited for him in Daniel Ochefu. Even though it will be a better matchup for Miami’s center, it certainly will not be an easy one.

The 6’11” Ochefu has averaged 9.8 points and 7.8 rebounds this season, but even coming off of an ankle injury, he has been even better in the NCAA Tournament. The senior center has grabbed a combined 21 rebounds, blocked six shots and after scoring 17 points against UNC-Asheville, he finished with six points and four assists against Iowa.

While his body-type suggests he is a traditional center, much of Ochefu’s game is played outside of the paint on the offensive end as he sets screens for the perimeter-focused Wildcats offense. As we discussed above, Jekiri’s ability to hedge screens and prevent the Villanova guards from moving into open space will be critical if Miami is to slow down Jay Wright’s offense.

Besides Ochefu, the Wildcats don’t have any other player over 6’8” that gets significant minutes, so it is vital that Jekiri along with Murphy can dominate the glass as well as affect as many shots as they can around the rim. Against an Iowa team without a true shot-blocker, the Wildcats had a field day driving into the lane and finishing around the rim, which also opened up the drive-and-kick to open shooters. If Jekiri can stay out of foul trouble, Villanova won’t have the kind of freedom in the lane against the Canes.

Angel Rodriguez has dominated two magnificent guards so far and he will have to do it again come Thursday night.

The obvious storyline from Miami’s first two NCAA Tournament games is the play of Angel Rodriguez. Not only did he dominate a solid, potential-NBA guard in Lamonte Bearden, but he then conquered one of the best point guards in college basketball in Fred VanVleet. After averaging just 11.7 points a game in the regular season, Rodriguez has become a hero in this tournament averaging 26 points a game.

Once again on Thursday night, Rodriguez will be the smallest player on the court, but don’t expect that to slow him down. As Jim Larranaga told us on Monday afternoon inside the BankUnited Center, Rodriguez has a bit of a “Napolean complex,” and against Ryan Arcidiacono, the Puerto Rican will be undersized and overlooked again, but don’t expect that to slow him down.

The way the redshirt senior plays in big games and has been shooting the ball lately, it is going to be pretty hard to stop him on the biggest of stages. Miami probably won’t get 16 points in the first ten minutes from Rodriguez like he had against Wichita State, but they will need another fantastic outing from him to move on to the Elite Eight.

Guard play often results in success in the NCAA Tournament and luckily for the Miami Hurricanes, they have one of the best. If Angel Rodriguez plays anything like he has these first two games, the Canes will be playing Saturday night for a spot at the pinnacle of college basketball, the Final Four.