ACC Tournament: No. 3 ND vs. No. 6 Miami

GREENSBORO, N.C. – The Irish enter post-season competition playing some of their best basketball of the season. The Hurricanes are hampered by the right wrist injury suffered by Angel Rodriguez, whose shooting slide began at Notre Dame in mid-January game when he converted just 1-of-10 shots.

POST-SEASON SUCCESS/FAILURE
• Mike Brey: It’s been a rough go of it for the three-time Big East Coach of the Year, who arguably could have been picked up the award in his second year in the ACC. Under Brey, Notre Dame has won just two NCAA tournament games in the last 11 seasons after winning four games – including a Sweet 16 appearance – in his first three years with the Irish. Brey is 6-9 with Notre Dame in the NCAA tournament.

• Jim Larranaga: He won 20 games just once in 11 seasons at Bowling Green and never went to the NCAA tournament. In 14 seasons at George Mason, he took the Patriots to five NCAA tournaments with a surprise trip to the Final Four in 2005-06. This is just the second trip to the NCAA tournament in four seasons at Miami, but he won the ACC regular-season and tournament titles in his second year en route to the Sweet 16.

TOURNAMENT TESTED
• Notre Dame: Only two members of the current Notre Dame team have played a significant role in tournament play – Pat Connaughton and Jerian Grant.

Connaughton scored 19 points and grabbed five rebounds in Notre Dame’s only ACC tournament game last year. The year before, he carried the Irish to the semifinals of the Big East tournament when he converted 15-of-24 three-pointers. He was ineffective, however, in the NCAA tournament against Iowa State when he scored just three points in 28 minutes while managing just two field-goal attempts. Connaughton scored 10 points in an NCAA tournament loss to Xavier as a freshman.

Grant – who did not participate in tournament play a year ago – averaged 14 points per game in the 2012-13 Big East tournament. He scored nine points as a red-shirt sophomore against Iowa State in the NCAA tournament. He averaged 10 points per game in Big East/NCAA tournament play as a red-shirt freshman.

Zach Auguste scored six points and grabbed seven rebounds against Iowa State as a freshman when his playing time expanded as the game got away from the Irish.

• Miami: Leading scorer Sheldon McClellan averaged 8.5 points per game in two Big 12 tournament games as a freshman two seasons ago while playing for Texas. He scored 16 points and grabbed six rebounds in Wednesday’s victory over Virginia Tech in the ACC tournament.

Point guard Angel Rodriguez averaged 13.3 points per game as a freshman at Kansas State in the Big 12 tournament in 2012-13. Rodriguez, battling a wrist injury, scored five points in 10 minutes versus Virginia Tech Wednesday night in the ACC tournament.

Seven-footer Tonye Jekiri – Miami’s third-leading scorer – scored just three points with five rebounds in limited action as a freshman during Miami’s ACC tournament action two years ago. He had 10 points and 10 rebounds in three games (31 minutes) as the Hurricanes went to the Sweet 16.

BEST STRETCH
• Notre Dame: During a five-game winning streak from Jan. 14-28, the Irish won at Georgia Tech by three, beat Miami by five at home, won in overtime by three over North Carolina State, and defeated Duke at home by four. One could argue, however, that the Irish played some of their best basketball in their last two games of the regular season with a 12-point victory at Louisville and a 14-point win at home against Clemson.

• Miami: The Hurricanes went 4-1 from Jan. 10-24 with a 90-74 victory at Duke, a 65-60 home win over North Carolina State and a 66-62 victory at Syracuse. Their only loss during that time was a five-point defeat at Notre Dame.

RECENT STRETCH
• Notre Dame: The Irish enter the ACC tournament having won five of their last six, including that solid two-game conclusion to the regular season.

• Miami: After losing four-of-five in early February, the Hurricanes closed the regular season by winning six of their last nine games, including three in a row heading into tonight’s game. One could argue, however, that a victory over a fading Pittsburgh and back-to-back victories over Virginia Tech isn’t particularly significant.

WHO’S HOT
• Notre Dame: Sophomore Demetrius Jackson shot better than 50 percent on the road in ACC play this season. He’s averaging 14.5 points per game in his last four road games on 19-of-34 shooting, including 21 points at Louisville – an individual ACC high for the season.

Zach Auguste bounced back from a shaky performance at Louisville to score 19 points on 9-of-13 from the field in the regular-season finale against Clemson. Freshman Bonzie Colson averaged 16.3 points per game off the bench in the three games prior to the regular-season finale.

• Miami: McClellan led the Hurricanes in scoring Wednesday night against Virginia Tech and tossed in 20 in the road victory against Pittsburgh that started the current three-game winning streak.

Manu Lecomte, filling in for an injured Rodriguez in the regular-season finale against Virginia Tech, tossed in 20 points on 6-of-8 shooting. Six-foot-10 junior Ivan Cruz Uceda had 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting with five rebounds in the regular-season finale against the Hokies.

WHO’S NOT
• Notre Dame: No one in the seven-man rotation is playing poorly per se, although Auguste is prone to hit-and-miss performances and seventh man V.J. Beachem, who tossed in 10 points against Wake Forest and Boston College, managed just eight points total in the last three games of the regular season.

• Miami: Rodriguez, the Hurricanes’ second-leading scorer, played just three minutes of the North Carolina game while nursing a wrist injury, which prompted him to sit out the final two regular-season games. He played just 10 minutes and scored five points against Virginia Tech Wednesday night.

X FACTOR
• Notre Dame: Steve Vasturia – The underrated sophomore appears to be an unlikely stopper on the defensive end. But he’s long and knows how to stay between his man and the basketball while using his feet and upper body to prevent dribble penetration. He’s also scored in double figures seven of his last nine games while shooting 45.0 percent (18-of-40) from three-point range and connecting on all 11 of his free-throw attempts in the last four games.

• Miami: Davon Reed – The 6-foot-6 sophomore averages a modest 7.7 points per game, but he has explosive scoring games, including 19 points at Pittsburgh last week, 18 points in a home victory against Florida State a week earlier, and 19 points in a two-overtime victory over Boston College the week before that. He also made 7-of-8 shots for 19 points against Louisville. Reed is a perfect 6-of-6 from three-point range in the last three games.

INTANGIBLES
• Notre Dame: There may not be a hungrier team in the ACC tournament with so much to prove in the post-season. The lack of post-season success has reached a bursting point for Notre Dame. That can turn both ways, but this is a strong-willed team, led by seniors Connaughton and Grant.

• Miami: This is a young basketball team with six of the top 10 scorers underclassmen. And yet the top three scorers on the squad – McClellan, Rodriguez and Jekiri – were members of the 2012-13 ACC champions and Sweet 16 participants. Plus, Larranaga has been there before and Miami needs at least another victory to give itself a more legitimate shot at an NCAA bid.

FINAL ANALYSIS
If the Irish are loose and playing their spirited, unselfish, free-flowing game, the Hurricanes should not have enough consistent offensive productivity to defeat Notre Dame.

One area where Notre Dame always has to be leery is on the opposing team’s offensive glass, where the Irish are vulnerable. Tonye Jekiri, the seven-footer averaging 8.5 points and 10.5 rebounds per game, has an impressive 101 offensive rebounds, although he can be susceptible to foul trouble, which is where Bonzie Colson could come into play for the Irish.

The injury to Miami point guard Angel Rodriguez has not shown up on the scoreboard in the last three games against Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech twice. Look for his playing time to expand from the 10 minutes he logged Wednesday night, but he’s clearly not close to 100 percent. Despite his shooting woes, that would be the equivalent of the Irish losing Demetrius Jackson, which at this point of the year, would be a significant blow.

Never underestimate a Jim Larranaga-coached team during tournament play, whether it’s with upstart George Mason en route to the Final Four or upstart Miami, which swept through the 2012-13 ACC regular season and tournament.

By the same token, the Irish are as motivated as any team in the country. If Notre Dame fans are sick and tired of the tournament collapses – not just under Brey, but pretty much throughout the history of Notre Dame basketball – imagine how the players feel when they are reminded over and over and over again how their regular season will carry little value if they don’t make some noise in the ACC and NCAA tournaments.

Sheldon McClellan, the Texas transfer, is a dangerous player for the Hurricanes while youngsters Manu Lecomte, Davon Reed and Deandre Burnett take turns getting hot during Miami’s best stretches of basketball. This is an unheralded – for good reason -- yet dangerous basketball team.

If the Irish stay in character, the better basketball team should win, particularly in an environment that favors Duke, North Carolina and North Carolina State, but not the Hurricanes, who could use just such an intangible boost against a better basketball team.

• Pointspread: Notre Dame by 5
• Irish Illustrated Prediction: Notre Dame 78, Miami 71
• Season record: 21-10 straight up; 12-11 vs. points


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