Miami (Fla.) Hurricanes (22-10) vs. St. Mary's Gaels (25-6)
When: Friday, 12:15 p.m.
Where: Little Rock
1. The Saving Grace of South Florida Sports. South Florida is not exactly considered a college hoops hotbed. The Canes have long been an afterthought even for their own students and the community. But with every team associated with the Miami area deciding to suck all at once, the Canes basketball team has emerged from relative anonymity at the start of the season to be the saving grace of South Florida sports in 2008. The Canes' 22 wins this season are more than the Hurricanes football team, Dolphins and Heat combined. It will also most likely rival the number of wins the Marlins pick up this season.
2. In Frank We Trust. How Frank Haith wasn't named ACC Coach of the Year remains a mystery. Picked to finish dead last in the ACC preseason poll, Haith officially stamped his mark on the program with a 96-95 won victory over Duke on February 20. Haith, a well traveled coach with previous assistant gigs at Wake Forest, Texas, Texas A&M and Penn State, has done a remarkable job in rebuilding the Canes while competing in the best conference in America. Don't be surprised to hear his name swirling when big name vacancies start popping up in few weeks.
3. Jack in the Box. Jack McClinton's shooting range begins once he crosses mid-court. The leading scorer for the Canes (17.0 ppg) has the sweetest shot in college basketball that no one knows about. The first team All-ACC selection struggled throughout the conference tournament (just 24 points in two games) and Miami will need him to heat up soon if they are to have any shot of winning a game in the Dance. — Storming The Floor
ST. MARY'S GAELS
1. That Confusing Nickname. Saint Mary's, out of the West Coast Conference (aka Gonzaga's Conference) cannot be found on a map by many (or any?) but is 20 miles from Oakland and San Francisco in the hills of the East Bay. They may suffer from having the most confusing name in college basketball. To Clarify, a Gael is not a bird, nor a storm, nor wizard, it is a Scottish or Irish knight who fought on foot.
2. Mate! A big part of the Gaels' success and media recognition this year can be accredited to the country that has given us Mel Gibson, Marion Jones' Olympic platform, Andrew Bogut and Corey Delany Washington. That's right, the Land Down Under continues to impact the American landscape. Patrick Mills, a freshman Aussie Aboriginal point guard has attracted a lot of attention this year, not only for being second native Australian (after his uncle) to play for his country's Olympic team but for ROASTING Oregon for 37 points early in the year. He was named All-Conference, All-Freshman, All-Around popular kid. He's been supplemented by big impact from backup point, Carlin Hughes, and athletic forward Lucas Walker, both Aussie transfers from Montana St. Billings. Redshirting is Indiana transfer Ben Allen. Next year the Gaels will run 4 Aussies at once at times. (Be afraid Gonzaga, be very afraid.) And true to stereotype, they are a people that like to have fun. (Be afraid Campus Police, be very afraid.) Regardless of what you may have heard (in the previous paragraph), they have more than Men from the Land DownUnder. Local talent Diamon Simpson, a junior, was named first team All-Conference this week. He's only 6-7 but is so long...7 footer's wingspan. He works extremely hard on the glass, blocks shots, and usually can out-quick his matchup on the block. Omar Samhan, 6-10 center and Honorable Mention All-Conference, is another local product; he has a great touch around the rim and also works extremely hard underneath. What he doesn't have is athleticism so if the Gaels face a team with some athleticism and size to match, he's pretty ineffective.
3. Problems Around. For those you looking here for insider bracket help — you're better off picking based on mascots if you're turning here for insider analysis — a few criticisms that might be helpful: St. Mary's really prefers a faster paced game where they can spread the floor and get early shots, they really struggle when the game slows down (76.3 pts/game average yet scoring 61.2 pts/game in loses). Also, no statistics to back it up, but teams that bang on the perimeter are terrible match-ups for Gaels (i.e. Southern Illinois, Kent State losses). Lastly, and not to be a dick, but they don't make in-game adjustments. — Matt O'Leary