How about that game the other night? There was some serious intrigue as to how Alabama would respond to former coach Anthony Grant's dismissal in the opening round of the NIT Tuesday night, and the Tide answered with an emphatically positive performance. The Crimson Tide played with a fiery passion that hadn't been seen in quite a long time and the first half was one of the best halves of basketball Alabama has played in years. Interim coach John Brannen will now try to extend the Tide's season another game as he leads the team into Coral Gables, Florida for a meeting with the second-seeded Miami Hurricanes (22-12, 10-8 ACC). The Canes advanced to the second round after surviving a frantic come-back from seventh-seeded North Carolina Central on Tuesday, 75-71. Miami's been an up-and-down team all season, capable of beating Duke in Cameron Indoor, yet also somehow getting blown out by Eastern Kentucky. This is a talented team, though, and they can really shoot the ball when they are on.
- PG Angel Rodriguez (12.2 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 4.0 APG, 1.9 SPG)
- SG Sheldon McClellan (14.7 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.0 SPG)
- SF Davon Reed (7.7 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 1.5 APG, 0.9 SPG)
- PF Ivan Cruz Uceda (5.2 PPG, 3.1 RPG)
- C Tonye Jekiri (8.6 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 1.2 APG, 1.5 BPG)
The "U" is led by the junior guard McClellan, who has been an extremely good player at the two spot for them. The guy is a fantastic scorer (49.7%FG%), shooting 36.1% from three and 81.0% from the free throw line. He can hold his own on the boards, and his consistency has been huge for a Miami team that has put on such a Jekyll and Hyde act all season long. Speaking of which, consider one Angel Rodriguez. He's a high volume shooter, who is constantly looking to put the team on his back. Here's the problem: that isn't always a good thing for Miami. Rodriguez has been a very inconsistent shooter (33.5% FG%, 30.6% 3P%, 74.5% FT%), but when he is on, look out. McClellan has been the rock for Miami, but Rodriguez is the guy who makes them go. If he gets going, it will be tough sledding beating this team. If he is off though, he can really cost his team at times. His 4.0 APG is also pretty telling, especially when coupled with his 2.4 TOPG. Rodriguez has his hands all over the ball when the Canes are on offense. Reed rounds out the starting back court and he has really emerged as a lights out shooter himself (49.6% FG%, 49.3% 3P%, 75.0% FT%). Reed is much more reserved than the other two, however, attempting only about half the shots that McClellan and Rodriguez individually take.
In the front court, Miami has some serious size in Uceda (6'10) and Jekiri (7'0). Jekiri may be one of the more underrated post players in the country, averaging a near double-double per game. He's an absolute hoss around the glass, as he can rebound as well as anybody in the country. He scores at a 50.9% clip and he can really protect the rim. Uceda is a solid post player, but truthfully the most notable thing about him is that he has a large frame. His actual basketball skills are a bit lacking, especially on the defensive end of the court. However, he can knock down the occasional three (34.1%).
- G Manu Lacomte (7.9 PPG, 1.3 RPG, 1.8 APG)
- G Deandre Burnett (6.8 PPG, 2.0 RPG)
- G James Palmer (3.9 PPG, 1.4 RPG)
- G Ja'Quan Newton (3.5 PPG, 0.9 RPG)
- F Omar Sherman (4.9 PPG, 2.3 RPG)
- F Joe Thomas (1.1 PPG, 2.0 RPG)
The Hurricanes are one of the deepest teams Alabama will have faced this year, at least as far as quantity is concerned. Miami goes eleven deep, meaning that they continue to run the court with fresh legs all game. This could be an issue for a Alabama team that is currently utilizing an eight man rotation. All of Miami's bench players are built in the same kind of mold: they are athletic, can score and rebound with varying degrees of success, and they don't play defense very well. Miami's starting five are the best five defensive players on the team, which has no doubt played no small part in their respective spots in the rotation. Lacomte is the best of the bunch off of the bench, as he can really shoot the ball (43.7% FG%, 46.2% 3P%, 86.5% FT%).
Three Keys to Victory
- Force Bad Angel to Show Up. Miami really lets Rodriguez have his way with the offense when he is in the game. It doesn't matter if the guy is on or not, he is going to get his ten shots. Considering he is the starting point guard, he will have his hands on the ball most of the game. Miami really struggles when Rodriguez tries to do too much on an off-night, reminiscent of how Marshall Henderson used to sabotage Ole Miss at times. While Alabama has no control over whether or not Rodriguez is on, they can take away good looks and force him into taking bad shots.
- Extend the Defense. The Hurricanes live and die by the three. Miami is 29th in the country in 3PAs and 232nd in 2PAs. Alabama needs to make sure that the "U" will die by the three in this game. It will be a tough task, as the Tide will have significantly less fresh legs than Miami will. Regardless, Bama has to continue to work on defense. Slow defensive rotations and a failure to contest shots from outside could prove costly against this team, as the Canes are 84th in the country at 36.4% from the three point line.
- Continue the Offensive Roll. Alabama looked like they had turn the calendar back to November on Tuesday night, as the team played arguably its best offensive game of the year. Levi Randolph and Rodney Cooper were all over the place. Retin Obasohan was taking the ball to the rim with authority. Justin Coleman was knocking down open jump shots. And even Jimmie Taylor was playing well around the rim. The offense flowed better than it has in some time, and it was a major factor towards Alabama quickly piling on to their early lead while Illinois was struggling to get anything going. Miami is not a very good defensive team, so the Tide should be able to get plenty of favorable looks and match-ups. If Bama can duplicate their performance from earlier this week, they have a really good chance of coming away with another win.
Alabama faces a tall task on Saturday, as Miami is capable of really lighting it up. After the show the team put on in Tuscaloosa the other night, there should be no shortage of confidence in this team. Was the blowout win over Illinois a sign of things to come? Or was it simply an example of a team playing over their heads for their lost coach? If Bama wants to make a serious run at Madison Square Garden, they will have to continue the momentum that they have created in such a short period of time.
The game will tip-off in a rare morning slot at 10:00 AM CDT, and it will be televised on ESPN again.