(2) Miami vs. (15) Pacific
(2) Miami Hurricanes
In 2006, Hurricanes head coach Jim Larranaga led George Mason to one of the most improbable runs to the Final Four we have ever seen in the history of college basketball. Now, seven years later and two years after taking over the Hurricanes basketball program, he has a team capable of getting back to that stage. Led by the fearsome trio of Shane Larkin, Kenny Kadji and Durand Scott, the Hurricanes (27-6, 15-3) won their first outright ACC regular season championship in school history. They’re 13 years removed from the last time they survived past the tournament’s opening weekend. That should change, although the Hurricanes had their struggles toward the end of the regular season. Their slip up was directly correlated to their defense, which had been a strength of theirs, letting up. The Hurricanes only average 11 assists a game as a team, but they do take pretty good care of the basketball. The Hurricanes’ RPI and strength of schedule were ranked fourth. They went 6-0 against the RPI top 50, but had two bad losses late against Georgia Tech and Wake Forest. As long as their defense picks back up and their big three comes through, this is a team that could advance deep in the tournament.
(15) Pacific Tigers
A six-year NCAA Tournament drought has come to an end for the Tigers (22-12, 14-5). They finished in second place in the Big West during the regular season, but closed out the year as winners of seven straight in order to earn their ninth trip to the NCAA Tournament. The Tigers are a balanced team, with Lorenzo McCloud serving as the closest thing they have to a go-to player. He does lead the team in points (11.4) and assists (4), but the Tigers have five other players who score six or more on average. The three-point shot is a major weapon of the Tigers, as they make 6.5 on average at a 38 percent clip. The Tigers don’t guard the three particularly well, though, allowing their opponents to shoot 35 percent from deep on the year. The Tigers went 0-1 against the RPI top 25, falling to Gonzaga. Their best win came against St. Mary’s, who they topped by 10 early in the year before losing to them by 28 just a couple weeks later. The Tigers will have to be red hot from three and hope to draw a team that can’t beat them up too bad inside in order to stay dancing for long.
HOOPSWORLD’s Pick: Miami. The Hurricanes are a special team, while Pacific is just happy to be a part of the field.