The ACC in the NCAAs: Previewing Marquette vs. MiamiPosted by KCarpenter on March 28th, 2013
It wasn’t always easy for Miami to get to this year’s Sweet Sixteen, but it was certainly never easy for Marquette to make the same journey. Ultra-tight games and impressive comebacks highlighted the Golden Eagles’ close wins over Davidson and Butler, while Miami romped over Pacific and held on against Illinois. Say what you will about Buzz Williams‘ team, but improbably this team has figured out how to handle the big gut-check moments. During the regular season, Marquette played four overtime games and won three of them. I’m honestly uncertain if “clutchness” is a real phenomenon, but the Golden Eagles give my doubts doubts.
Big news came for Miami when it was announced that Reggie Johnson would not be traveling with the team for tonight’s match-up, but it’s unclear just how significant this news actually is. Johnson missed a huge chunk of the season with an injury and was out of shape and often ineffectual when he finally returned to the court. Against the smallish Golden Eagles, how much would the lumbering Johnson actually have played anyway? In Miami’s statement game in the ACC championship against small ball North Carolina, the center played all of three minutes. His time instead went to Rion Brown and Julian Gamble, a pair of players who supercharge the Hurricanes’ offense and defense. It feels unlikely that Johnson would have (or should have) played all that much against Marquette. It’s not that this news doesn’t have a big impact on Miami’s title chances, but for the purposes of this match-up, it doesn’t feel particularly significant for those who have watched this team closely.
One of the more interesting aspects of this match-up is that Marquette’s weaknesses largely fall into categories where Miami doesn’t typically press for advantage. The Golden Eagles are a poor defensive rebounding team, but the Hurricanes typically elect to get back on defense instead of crashing the offensive boards. Many of Marquette’s guards tend to be turnover-prone, yet as a team Miami seldom tries to force turnovers. Of course, in all things, the individual match-up is often the most critical and it would hardly be surprising to see ACC Defensive Player of the Year Durand Scott and this year’s conference steals leader in Shane Larkin try to exert a little extra pressure against their backcourt counterparts.
This seem’s like a sound strategy: In games where Marquette’s turnover rate has been over 25%, the Golden Eagles are 2-4. Aside from forcing turnovers, the other defensive key for the Hurricanes tonight is to avoid fouls. Marquette relies fairly heavily on getting to the line to shoot free throws, but luckily for Miami, preventing this is one of the team’s specialties. The Hurricanes have held opponents’ FTA/FGA ratio at an average rate of 28%. Of the six times that Marquette has been held to 28% or less in this measure, the Golden Eagles have gone 2-4. Unsurprisingly, Marquette has never won when it has fallen short in both of these measures.
Miami’s offense has looked excellent at different moments throughout the season, but this is a team that hangs its hat on defense. Nothing about that should change here. Jim Larranaga’s team has the capability to make life very difficult for the Golden Eagles. The backcourt can cause problems for Marquette’s ball handlers and Gamble is as well-equipped as any for the challenge of trying to slow down Davonte Gardner. This game should be a Miami victory, ultimately. The Hurricanes will still likely have to weather an offensive drought or two, but barring a Ryan Kelly-style performance or another signature Marquette heart-attack win, Miami should move on to play on Saturday.