Hurricanes present big challenge
By KERRY SMITH
When the Miami Hurricanes arrived at the banquet hall of the Sugar Bowl Classic in late December, Mike Brey did a double-take.
"They come walking in and I almost choked," the Irish head coach said.
What Brey and the Irish saw at the New Orleans tournament was a team that boasts seven players who measure at least 6-foot-7.
Two months later, Brey and his players repeat their initial impression of the Hurricanes over and over again: "They're just so long."
And the Irish will find out just how their shorter roster will match up against that height Saturday when the two teams from the conference's West and East divisions clash in Coral Gables.
The Irish own the third spot in the West division, behind Pittsburgh and Syracuse, with an 8-5 Big East record.
The Hurricanes, who also have an 8-5 conference record, have captured the second spot in the East division and the second best conference and overall record in the Big East.
Playing Miami on the road will not make Notre Dame's task any easier — the Hurricanes have dropped only one game on their home court in 14 outings this season.
"They are a great basketball team, a very effective machine," Brey said.
For the Irish, who are coming off a dominating Wednesday win against conference bottom-dweller West Virginia, a victory against No. 17 Miami is key in securing the team's post-season plans.
"A win would mean a lot," freshman point guard Chris Thomas said. "They have big wins. They're a great team. Their RPI is so high it would definitely help our RPI."
Notre Dame has had mixed results against ranked teams this season.
The good news for the Hurricanes is that the Irish own only a 2-4 record when matching up with ranked opponents. But the bad news is in the four games they have dropped, the Irish have lost by a combined total of 16 points, meaning they can hang with the best of them.
And that's exactly what the Irish plan to do Saturday.
"It's going to be a hell of a game," forward David Graves said. "It's going to be fun."
According to Brey, the keys to an Irish win will lie in his team's ability to rebound and take care of the ball.
"Their length bothers you on the court," Brey said.
Miami has much riding on Saturday's outing.
One more notch in the win column will give the program its best regular season record in more than a decade, with two games still left to play.
A win would also give the Hurricanes their fourth-consecutive victory against the Irish.
Coming into the game, Miami boasts a balanced attacking field. All five starters average double-figure scoring numbers and the team has outscored its opponents by an average of almost 10 points a game. Forwards Darius Rice and John Salmons lead the Miami offense, averaging about 14 points and six rebounds game.
"They don't have one single go-to player, but they play very well together," Graves said.
But Irish forward Ryan Humphrey thinks the Irish pose a similar challenge to the Hurricanes with the depth Notre Dame has coming off the bench.
"It's tough for people to just key in on the starters," he said.
One starter who may be noticeably absent from the Irish line-up is junior guard Matt Carroll. Carroll re-injured his foot in the first-half of Wednesday's game and according to Brey on Wednesday night is "questionable" for Saturday.
The match-up with Miami is the third-to-last regular season game for the Irish before they head to New York for the Big East Championship.
All Sports Stories for Friday, February 22, 2002