Here is a look at Thursday's NCAA South Regional semifinal, set to tip off at 7:10 p.m.
The Wildcats excelled last weekend in winning their first two NCAA games by an average of 24.5 points. They shot 58.6 percent from the field and 48.9 percent from three-point range and held the opponent to 41 percent shooting. So it's a matter of making Miami off balance by keeping its defense stretched out with the threat of the three-point shot while driving to the hoop on occasion. Defensively, the Cats must stop the Hurricanes guards from penetrating and getting to the rim, particularly Angel Rodriguez, who averaged 26 points in his team's first two games but turned the ball over 10 times.
The Hurricanes are at their best when they are driving the basketball and getting to the free-throw line. They have made more free throws than their opponents have attempted. They also shot the ball well last weekend, knocking down nearly 49 percent overall and 44.4 percent from three-point range. But they committed 30 turnovers to 25 for their opponent. Sheldon McClellan and Rodriguez, a pair of fifth-year seniors, will be the spark with their constant motion. But they also have to be able to sink the perimeter shots as well.
The Wildcats got stellar defensive play last weekend from 6-foot-11 Daniel Ochefu, who pulled down 21 rebounds, blocked six shots and had four steals in the two games. However, he must stay out of foul trouble should the Wildcats guards get beat off the dribble and he becomes the last line of defense at the hoop. The Hurricanes were a middle-of-the-road defensive team in the ACC, allowing 42.6 percent shooting by opponents and forcing an average of 11.7 turnovers. Rodriguez leads the team with 1.65 steals per game, and 7-foot Tonye Jekiri and 6-8 Kamari Murphy each blocked at least 30 shots.
Everyone shot the ball well for Villanova last week, but the key figure Thursday night appears to be Kris Jenkins, who may force Miami to play smaller should he hit the three-ball consistently and bring Murphy away from the paint. It is important to give Ochefu touches in the low post to keep the defense honest. Miami's top four guards all shoot 44 percent or better from the field, while McClellan and Davon Reed have shot the three well enough to keep defenses from sagging inside. McClellan and former Neumann-Goretti star Ja'Quan Newton each have converted more than 100 free throws.
Villanova will find out if the momentum from its two excellent performances in Brooklyn can carry over four days and about 800 miles, but the Cats played with a lot of confidence. Plus, they have put all the questions about second-round failures to rest and will be able to play more freely. Miami has veteran leadership that doesn't get rattled as it proved in Saturday's win over Wichita State when it blew a 21-point lead but steadied itself to advance to the Sweet 16. Hurricanes players said they felt disrespected being an underdog to a No. 11 seed, and they may keep that chip on their shoulder for Thursday night.