The Miami Hurricanes are a number three seed in the South Region of the NCAA tournament, while Wichita State is number 11. This should give Coach Jim Larranaga, the players or fans any comfort whatsoever.
Miami was never able to put away the 14th-seeded Buffalo Bulls in Thursday night’s first round game in Providence. They held a double-digit lead in the second half only to see Buffalo close to within 72-68 at the two minute mark. Miami held on for the 79-72 victory.
Wichita State was questionable for even making the tournament despite a 24-7 regular season and a 16-2 record in the Missouri Valley Conference. They were upset by Northern Iowa in the conference tournament finals.
Three of their losses came in a stretch when their best player, Senior Fred Van Fleet, was injured. They are at full strength now.
The selection committee gave them an 11 seed and sent them to Dayton, Ohio to play Vanderbilt of the Southeastern Conference in one of the “First Four” games.
Wichita State destroyed the Commodores 70-50, earning them a date on Thursday with sixth-seeded Arizona. The Wildcats are on their way back to Tucson after being harassed into 19 turnovers en route to a 65-55 pounding.
Wichita State Coach Gregg Marshall has his team playing a swarming, ball-hawking defense that is first in the nation in scoring defense. Arizona came in averaging 81 points per game, but managed only 55, including a season-low 19 points at halftime.
“I don’t know anybody at the mid-major level that has done it any better (than Marshall),” said Larranaga. “They make it really, really hard on you to score. They’ve got those two great guards, Fred Van Fleet and Baker, who give them a chance in every game.”
Van Fleet and guard Ron Baker are all-around players and strong defenders. They also lead their team in assists by a mile.
Miami’s guard tandem of Sheldon McClellan and Angel Rodriguez have the ball in their hands a great deal. Not only will the Hurricanes depend on them for scoring, but also for protecting the ball.
Depth will also come into play. Larranaga has only six or seven players in which he has full confidence. In the Buffalo game, the 10 points from Ja’Quan Newton were the only ones scored from the bench.
Newton played 26 minutes or Miami, but two other players combined for only 13 minutes. Wichita had four players contribute double-digit minutes off the bench and scored 27 points.
This is not a good recipe for Miami against a team playing at a frantic pace. At the same time, the Hurricanes have the talent to win not only this game, but make a strong run in the tournament.
How they attack the Wichita State defense without turning the ball over will be the key. The result could blow up a few more brackets and send Florida’s final remaining team home for good.
Did we mention that Wichita State’s team name is the Shockers?
Game time is 12:10 p.m. Saturday on CBS.