• Game 22: Notre Dame (15-6; 6-3) @ Miami (16-4; 5-3)
• Date: Feb. 3, 2016
• Place: Coral Gables, Fla.
• Time: 7:00 p.m. ET
• TV: ESPN2
• Opponent Nickname: Hurricanes
• Head coach: Jim Larranaga (577-387; 107-53 at Miami)
• Conference: ACC
• Location: BankUnited Center, Coral Gables, Fla.
• 2014-15 record: (25-13; 10-8)
An ACC-best 23-7 since the outset of league play in January 201 , Mike Brey’s Fighting Irish enter tonight’s contest as 5.5-point underdogs to No. 15 Miami in Coral Gables.
The Hurricanes are led by the veteran trio of point guard Angel Rodriguez (double figures in five of his last six), swingman Sheldon McClellan (52% field goal; 87% free throw), and seven-foot, 245-pound defensive stopper Tonye Jekiri (8 ppg. 10 boards per, and 1.4 blocks).
JEKYLL AND HYDE ‘CANES
Last season, Miami ripped apart eventual national champion Duke on the Blue Devils home court, but later lost by 20 in Coral Gables to lowly Georgia Tech. To conclude the calendar year 2015, head coach Jim Larranaga’s Hurricanes beat Butler, then turned around four days later and lost at home to Northeastern.
The ‘Canes concluded January with another humbling of the Blue Devils but followed that last weekend with a 16-point loss at N.C. State.
In short, Miami Hurricanes Basketball is like a box of chocolates: You never know what you’re going to get.
At present, Larranaga’s veteran crew boasts seven wins in their last eight league games and are battling the Irish for third place in the conference standings.
A LITTLE PAYBACK?
Miami’s once-promising 2015 campaign concluded with an unexpected NIT bid, and more than any other foe, Notre Dame was responsible for relegating the Hurricanes to the ranks of the also-rans, beating Miami 75-70 in South Bend and then 70-63 in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals.
The ‘Canes were one of two ACC programs to finish 10-8 in the league standings but it was the other, N.C. State, that earned an NCAA bid.
Notable in Notre Dame’s victories last season were a pair of in-game adjustments, the first made by Mike Brey in his squad’s five-point regular season win, the second by Larranaga in the conference tournament.
Brey put away Miami in South Bend by going small…very small – no big man with six-foot-four-inch Pat Connaughton playing “center” to key a 37-18 run, turning a 12-point deficit into an unorthodox comeback win.
Two months later, Larranaga brought his squad back from a 20-point halftime deficit last March – taking the lead over Brey’s bunch at the 6:30 mark – thanks to a zone defense that challenged Notre Dame’s previously red hot shooters.
The Irish played with poise to conclude both contests, winning with a combined 11 of 14 effort from the charity stripe.
Irish guard Demetrius Jackson first dominated, then handled Miami’s Rodriguez in two matchups last season, holding the playmaker to 1 of 10 shooting in the regular season win, then limiting the Hurricane’s rudder to one assist and seven field goal attempts in the ACC quarterfinals.
Jackson had connected on 17 of his last 27 field goal attempts before suffering a hamstring injury on Jan. 23. He returned from a one-game absence to hit 5 of 13 shots while collecting 7 boards with 8 assists and 6 steals in a bounce-back win over Wake Forest.
-- Junior swingman Steve Vasturia will likely draw Hurricanes leading scorer Sheldon McClellan as his defensive assignment. Vasturia limited McClellan to 2 of 11 shooting from long range in last season’s meetings though McClellan managed 17 and 10 points, respectively.
-- Zach Auguste played sparingly in last year’s regular season matchup but battled the seven-foot Jekiri in the tournament matchup, scoring 11 points and grabbing nine boards to offset Jekiri’s 11/11 outing. Jekiri fouled out due in part to Auguste’s nine free throw attempts.
-- Irish forward V.J. Beachem has connected on 8 of his last 11 three-pointers while netting 37 points over the last two games – the best two-game set of the junior’s career.
-- Miami’s starting five boasts free throw percentages of 87.4, 80.6, 80.3, 75.2, and 66.7 percent.
O’Malley/Prister Prediction: Miami 79 Notre Dame 70