Published January 13, 2015
The ACC champion Miami-Florida Hurricanes will get set for what they hope will be a deep run in the NCAA Tournament as they square off with the Pacific Tigers in the East Region's second round at the Erwin Center on Friday.
The Tigers are sending off long-time head coach Bob Thomason in style. They are making their fifth appearance during Thomason's 25-year career with the team. That tenure will end when this campaign is over after he announced earlier in the year that he would be stepping down. With wins in seven straight games the Tigers earned the Big West Conference title, a 22-12 overall record and the 15th seed in this East Region. The Tigers have only three wins all-time in this event.
One of the biggest surprises of the season was Miami's rise to the top of the ACC. Normally a conference dominated by Duke and North Carolina, Jim Larranaga's Hurricanes were the team to be reckoned with this season and collected both the regular season and conference tourney crowns. As the second seed, Miami is making its first appearance in the NCAA Tournament since 2008. The Hurricanes will have to reverse their tournament history, as they have never made it past the Sweet 16.
These teams have never been matched up on the hardwood before. The winner of this matchup will move into the third round against either 10th-seed Colorado or seventh-seed Illinois.
With three wins in as many days, Pacific earned the Big West Conference tournament title this past weekend. The Tigers' defensive effort carried it to the victory in the final round against UC Irvine, holding the Anteaters to just 35.8 percent shooting.
Pacific is not a team that will run past opponents as they are scoring just 67.5 points per game, despite shooting a solid 45.2 percent from the field. The Tigers don't have a dominant scorer leading the way, as Lorenzo McCloud (11.4 ppg, 4.0 apg) is the only player scoring in double figures. McCloud has had at least 12 points in four of the last six games, including a team-high 16 against UC Irvine. McCloud is perhaps more important for his ability to run the offense and get the rest of his teammates involved. The rest of the scoring load is spread among a number of contributors, with Travis Fulton (9.1 ppg) representing the next best option.
On Sunday the Hurricanes knocked off North Carolina to capture the ACC Tournament title. Shane Larkin dropped in 20 points and Trey McKinney Jones netted 20 with the two combing for 10 of the Hurricanes' 12 3-pointers in the contest. The Hurricanes shot 50.8 percent from the field as a team and had a 36-28 edge in rebounds.
Larkin (14.6 ppg, 4.4 apg, 2.0 spg) has been on fire all season, but especially of late. The sophomore guard has scored at least 20 points in five of the last seven games, while adding at least four assists in six of those contests. Larkin, the ACC Tournament MVP and 2013 Coaches ACC Player of the Year, is just as effective on defense where he has quick hands to create steals. Durand Scott (13.2 ppg) and McKinney Jones (9.4 ppg) add versatility in the backcourt, while forward Kenny Kadji (13.3 ppg, 7.0 rpg) is a tough matchup in the frontcourt.