When you get to this point in the season, teams that aren't sure of their fate really, really need big wins. For Miami, that chance comes tonight: a win over #6 Duke would negate a lot of their struggles and some of their weak scheduling as well.
To add to the aura for this game, Miami is retiring three jerseys - Jack McClinton, Don Cornutt and Dick Hickox are all going up. So they're trying everything possible to crank up the emotion in Coral Gables. Will it work?
Well the better place to look is at the talent, and in some respects, Miami matches up fairly well with Duke.
Between Durand Scott (6-5), Malcolm Grant (6-1), Dwayne Collins (6-8), James Dews (6-4), Adrian Thomas (6-7) and DeQuan Jones (6-6), the 'Canes have a nice athleticism.
Dews, Collins and Grant have provided the most points with 12.1, 11.6 and 10.1 per game.
At times, Collins has been spectacular - he had one game against Duke that was just brilliant - but at others, he just fades away. Miami has never gotten reliable service from him.
Where Miami should be strong is at point guard, where Grant and Scott have combined to average 21.7 ppg and seven assists per game.
At the beginning of the season, Frank Haith talked optimistically of replacing McClinton with a more traditional point guard, which has met with mixed success, but both guys are certainly capable.
Where Miami should be capable is on defense. Duke has at times struggled with more athletic teams, and Miami has enough midsize players to pressure Duke.
Duke of course should have an advantage in the frontcourt, and in the paint. Miami does not have a lot of size -- Julian Gamble is 6-9, as is Reggie Johnson, who's still listed at 295.
Both are from North Carolina by the way.
Otherwise, it's Cyrus McGowan, who hasn't been particularly effective, Collins, and perhaps Kirk. Duke has an advantage with Brian Zoubek and Mason and Miles Plumlee.
Miami, though, is likely to be more concerned with the big three: Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler, and Nolan Smith. Any one of the three is capable of torching an opponent -- and the other big guys aren't there to vacuum rebounds.
As good as they are though, they are not necessarily designed to defend Miami's best frontcourt threats. That job falls as it so often does to the underappreciated Lance Thomas.
If Collins gets out of control, Thomas is the first line of defense. If Jones starts channeling his inner Michael Jordan, Thomas will be the one who's asked to remember the Detroit rules. He can also step out on guards.
In this game, his defense may be paramount.
And lest Duke fans get overly confident, don't forget that Miami took Duke into overtime last year in Cameron. They have certainly struggled in the conference, partly because their nonconference schedule is so weak, but it's a capable team.
And again, lest you get too excited about the size difference, please note that while they have struggled in the conference, they did manage to beat Wake Forest and lost to Georgia Tech by just two.
Both teams have dynamic and talented and very big frontcourts.
Another thing to keep an eye on here will be how they defend Scheyer, or rather how well they defend him. As Al McGuire said long ago about another ACC point guard, if you cut the head off the body dies.
Miami can throw Scott, Dews, Jones, and maybe Garrius Adams at Scheyer.
On the other hand, if it's a close game at the end, Duke has a distinct advantage, starting with Scheyer. the Chicagoan is averaging nearly 90% from the line, and Duke as a whole is averaging 75.5%. Miami by contrast, is averaging 64.9%
This game, unless it's a blowout by Duke, will probably not go by any pattern that we've seen so far this season. Duke is favored in should be, but Miami, while erratic, is nonetheless capable of an upset. The emotional props are in place, and while it's a minor factor perhaps, there are three players on their team, who are from North Carolina (Adams, from Apex, is the third) and they may well get fired up to play a Big Four team.
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