Canes Come Storming Into Providence

Contrary to what a few pundits and a lot of fans may think, there is basketball in late March outside of the NCAA Tournament. The NIT has remade itself since being taken over by the NCAA, and Providence finds itself making its 18th appearance in the venerable tourney and its first postseason appearance in two years.

Were the Friars heavily discussed as a bubble team for the NCAA Tournament or did PC's resume leave them well short of a bid? Unfortunately, that's something that's known only to the men inside the selection committee room. But, whatever the case, as the brackets flashed across the screen, it quickly became obvious that the Friars weren't going to make the cut.

That being the case, PC seemed to be in good shape for the NIT. Many experts had the Friars pegged for no worse than a three seed in the NIT, which would have likely guaranteed at least two home games. However, at shortly past nine o'clock on Sunday night, the Friars were surprisingly given a five seed and matched up against four seed Miami of Florida from the ACC.

With Miami's home stadium booked on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, the game shifted to the Dunkin' Donuts Center in Providence, awarding the Friars with a home game despite the lower seed. Will that lucky bounce provide the margin necessary against a tough Hurricane squad?

In many ways, this game may be decided by whichever team comes to play. Both teams hoped to be in the NCAAs, and have to be disappointed in settling for the NIT. Both teams feature seniors who had banked on playing in the Big Dance, and now have nothing left in their college careers to play for other than pride.

Miami is a very difficult first round draw. The Canes finished the season 18-12 and 7-9 in what many experts considered a very difficult ACC. Miami started the season well, going 11-2 in their out of conference schedule, with the losses coming by thirteen to Connecticut and five to Ohio State. Among the OOC wins were a six point decision over Kentucky, a fourteen point win over St. John's, and an eight pointer over Robert Morris.

By January 21, Miami was 14-4 overall and 3-2 in the ACC. They lost 91-72 to #21 Clemson and 82-65 to #3 North Carolina, but beat #16 Florida State 75-69, Maryland 62-60 and Boston College 77-71. After the 21st, though, the Canes would stumble down the stretch, going 4-7 in the league. The only key wins were a 79-52 thrashing of #11 Wake Forest and a 69-58 win over Boston College to complete a sweep, but the Hurricanes missed out on marquee wins when they lost narrowly to North Carolina and Duke, and also went down to Georgia Tech, North Carolina State and Maryland. They were soundly bean, 65-47 by Virginia Tech in the first round of the ACC Tournament.

The key to stopping Miami is to contain star guard Jack McClinton. McClinton, who is suffering from a sore left knee, was held to nine points by Virginia Tech. Tech assigned two taller players to shadow him all over the court. The message was implicit: fear no one on Miami other than McClinton. With only two Hurricanes averaging in double figures for the season, stopping McClinton is the key to any game plan. Unfortunately, McClinton is exactly the kind of player who has hurt PC this season; even though you know he's going to score, and you plan for it, he can go off for 30 at any time, against any defense.

The 6-1 senior averaged 19.3 ppg and shot 91-200 from three point range. McClinton shoots 45% from the field overall and 89% from the line, so PC must find him at all times. If his knee is truly a problem, that could be a huge advantage for Providence. His double point companion is Dwayne Collins, a 6-8, 240 pound junior power forward, who hurts teams inside to the tune of 10.5 ppg and a team leading 7.1 rebounds a game. Collins is a poor free throw shooter but is money around the basket.

James Dews is a 6-4 junior swingman from Ohio, who averages 8.2 ppg and has made the second most three pointers on the team, shooting 41-124, while Brian Asbury is a 6-7, 225 pound senior forward who chips in with 8.1 ppg, 5.1 rebounds and leads the team with 28 steals.

Miami has decent depth. Up front, for example, Jimmy Graham is a 6-8, 260 pound senior who plays only 19 minutes a game and scores just 3.8 ppg, but is productive with his minutes and is second on the team in rebounding at 6.0 rpg, while leading the team with 36 blocks. Lance Hurdle, Adrian Thomas and Cyrus McGowan all pitch in as well. Hurdle is a 6-2 senior guard who averaged 7.2 ppg and shoots 26-74 from three. Thomas, a 6-7, 230 pound junior, helped fill the void against Virginia Tech by burying four first half threes, averages 5.2 ppg and is 39-104 from three. McGowan is a 6-9, 235 pound junior who averaged 4.8 ppg, 4.5 rpg and blocked 19 shots.

The rotation is rounded out by jet quick 6-0 Eddie Rios, a 4.7 ppg scorer, 6-6 freshman forward DeQuan Jones and Julian Gamble, a 6-9 250 pound freshman center,

The Canes do not like to get out and consistently run. They look to push the ball when the opportunity arises. The 47 points scored against Tech were a season low, but Miami averaged 73 ppg on the season, on 43% shooting, 68% free throw shooting and an impressive 37% from three, keyed by McClinton's 46% from long range. They also gang rebound, piling up an average of over 40 rebounds per game, and are wide bodies, but are not necessarily a lot taller than PC.

The Friars may have revenge on their mind. This is largely the same team that beat PC by a 64-58 score in Puerto Rico in November of the 2007-08 season, and the seniors on Providence definitely remember. The key may be how much they care.

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