The Canes finished the season on a 4-game win streak, which propelled them into a 4-way tie for 3rd place, with the tiebreaker going in their favor. That 3rd place finish earned the Canes a double-bye in the ACC Tournament. And with the Canes playing in the night session, that means that by the time the Canes tip off late on Thursday night, only 5 teams (including Miami and their opponent, North Carolina) will be left out of the 15 teams that started the tournament on Tuesday. The bracket is as follows…
#6 North Carolina
Thursday, March 8, 9:30pm, ESPN
A week removed from a win at UNC on a buzzer beater, the Canes get a rematch. Despite the seedings (Miami is the 3-seed and UNC the 6-seed), these 2 teams did finish for a tie for 3rd in the ACC and UNC will definitely be favored.
In the first matchup, the Canes outplayed UNC for large stretches only to see Joel Berry go crazy down the stretch to miraculously pull UNC even, which ended up being all for naught as Ja’Quan Newton tossed in the winning 3 from half court. While the game is unlikely to play out the same way, the game plan for Miami should be similar to the first matchup. First, they must chase UNC off the 3-point line. Second, they must team rebound.
Offensively, UNC will give the Canes looks, so it might sound obvious, but they need to hit 3s. This game will be played at a high tempo, which normally favors UNC. However, the Tar Heels will be on the 2nd night of a back-to-back, which might tilt this the Canes’ way. And, while UNC won comfortably against Syracuse, adjusting from playing that against the Orange’s zone might slow UNC a bit. There are some built in advantages for the Canes here, and hopefully those are enough to balance out the officiating.
#2 Duke or #10 Notre Dame
Friday, March 9, 9:30 PM, ESPN
If the Canes win the quarterfinal matchup, they’ll face either Duke or Notre Dame. The Canes split the games with these 2 teams in the regular season, losing to Duke at home while winning at Notre Dame. The Fightin’ Irish played one game before the QFs, upsetting Virginia Tech in a thrilling, come from behind victory.
Regardless of who Miami plays, expect to see a lot of zone. Duke actually “discovered” their zone against Miami, when they erased a Canes lead to run away with the game. They’ve featured that zone to great success ever since. And while Notre Dame is not a primarily zone team, they do play it some and did play it significantly against Miami in the first meeting.
Both Duke and Notre Dame also feature good big men that score in the post and surround those players with shooters. The Canes will need to set the tone on defense, and if they do that, then they can create offense off that defense. But if they have those defensive lapses that allow Duke/Notre Dame to go on scoring runs, the Canes will struggle to fight the game back. Miami will likely be favored against Notre Dame but not against Duke.
#1 Virginia or #4 Clemson or #9 Louisville or #12 Boston College
Saturday, March 10, 9:00 PM, ESPN
If the Canes make the finals, they will have a tough matchup. Overall, the Canes went 2-3 against the 4 possible opponents and 3 of the 4 teams are likely in the NCAA Tournament. The one team that is not an NCAA Tournament team is Boston College, and the Eagles split the 2 games with the Canes, with Miami blowing the game in Boston before stealing the game in Miami. Miami’s only other win against this group is an OT home win against Louisville.
But Virginia is on the marquee here. The Cavaliers are a lock for a #1 Seed in the NCAA Tournament, and perhaps #1 overall. They also are the only opponent that really appeared to completely destroy the Canes. Absent Virginia, being the opponent, expect a close, competitive game. It’s hard to see the Canes beating the Cavaliers given the way the first game played out. Miami with Bruce Brown would be a different story, but without him, they generally can’t match up with UVA’s guards on defense, and with the way UVA plays defense, that is generally enough.
The first time Miami played North Carolina, I predicted a rather easy victory for the Tar Heels. Miami really impressed me in that victory, and although most will consider it a lucky win because of Newton’s miraculous shot, Miami outplayed UNC all game long and it only came down to that because of typical shoddy ACC officiating. Unfortunately, the officiating is not going to improve, and I believe Miami will be hard pressed to win again. My official prediction is North Carolina by 6, although the Canes need to be careful as they could get run out of the gym if they’re not ready. For what it’s worth, if Miami were to beat UNC, I think they will face and beat Duke in the semifinals as it’s a good matchup for the Canes and an opportunity to exact revenge of their own. The likely championship game opponent is Virginia, and I just don’t see Miami beating them. Even with a loss to UNC, Miami should be a 6 seed, at which point it becomes all about the draw. Cross your fingers!
North Carolina will be seeking revenge, but that doesn’t really matter at this level. I like that Miami will be the fresher team in a battle that will be tight. That is, of course, balanced by the fact that UNC will be used to the arena while the Canes might have to adjust. With that said, I think Miami squeaks out a win. After that, I think we’ll see Duke. They are a much better team than Notre Dame. And I think they are better than the Canes. So I think Miami’s ACC run will end in the semifinals against Duke. With that said, if the Canes do make the finals, I think they beat anyone but Virginia.