Reasons Miami Should Be One of the Favorites in March

Jonathan Munshaw@@jon_munshawCorrespondent IFebruary 20, 2013

Reasons Miami Should Be One of the Favorites in March

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    With a month to go before March Madness, the Miami Hurricanes are looking to take the nation by storm and win their first national title in school history.

    It seems that as other teams stumble over seemingly easy games, the Hurricanes continue to make their case for a No. 1 seed in the tournament. The No. 2 team in the nation even received 20 votes for first place at the time of the most recent AP poll.

    As each game goes by, Miami continues to build its case as a favorite to win a national championship this year. 

    If the Hurricanes continue this trend of beating solid teams, it's hard to say if there is any team who could bring down Miami when March comes around.

Strength of Schedule

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    Not only has Miami beaten almost every team they should have this season, but they've beaten a number that they shouldn't have. 

    They've been tested this season, and they've pulled off a number of surprises, including an upset of No. 1 (at the time) Duke 90-63.

    The 90 points that the Hurricanes put up were the most Duke has allowed all season. 

    Miami has the second highest rating percentage index in the country, with a .6869, according to ESPN. The RPI measures how tough a team's schedule is, and how they perform against their opponents.

    Some of the opponents that Miami has taken down include Michigan State, Duke, North Carolina State and several other notable ACC opponents including Maryland.

    The schedule that Miami has faced, and will face, as they come up against Virginia Tech and Duke in the coming weeks, has prepared the team for the tournament.

    When they face the other top teams on their road to the national championship, they'll be ready. 

The Return of Reggie Johnson

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    After missing eight games with a broken thumb, Reggie Johnson has returned to the Hurricanes and has made a huge difference.

    The 6'10" center hasn't put up the best stats on the team, but he is arguably the heart and soul of the team, and has been for the past four years.

    Johnson has been back for eight games, and is making his presence felt on the court, especially when it comes to rebounding.

    The 292-pound senior is averaging 8.3 rebounds per game, and is averaging the highest number of blocked shots per game in his career.

    The big man can score, too putting up 22 against Stetson in the opening game of the season, 19 against Massachusetts in December and 15 in Miami's win over North Carolina State.

    Johnson has been a presence since he started at Miami, and with him healthy, he provides a spark to the Miami roster. His heart and attitude could be a deal breaker in the final minutes of a tournament game. 

Poor Performance from Other Teams

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    Just looking at the results of other teams who have been ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the country this season just leaves one question. Why not Miami?

    It seems that almost every team in the No. 1 spot has only gone on to disappoint, most recently the Michigan Wolverines. After being ranked in the top spot, the Wolverines fell to the Indiana Hoosiers, and then lost two out of their next three games. 

    Before that, it was the Duke Blue Devils, who fell to Miami. Indiana also fell to the curse of No. 1, losing to the Illinois Illini, but not losing their top spot.

    Some other notable No. 1 teams to take a tumble include Louisville, and Duke and Indiana have rotated in and out of the spot a number of times this season.

    Miami has slipped up this season, though, losing to Florida Gulf Coast in their second game of the season, and then later on in the year to Indiana State.

    However, they've won enough games to prove that they can win, and since no other team has proven to be dominant, the Hurricanes can easily move right in.

The Play of Shane Larkin

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    If Reggie Johnson is the heart of the team, then point guard Shane Larkin is everything else for the Hurricanes.

    In 24 games this season, Larkin is leading the team in minutes and assists. Larkin averages 36.1 minutes per game, shooting almost 48 percent from the floor. The sophomore also does a solid job of setting up teammates Durand Scott and Kenny Kadji to score, averaging 4.3 assists per game.

    Larkin is nothing short of a workhorse for this squad, putting in the time and effort necessary to lead this team on the floor.

    In addition to putting up points and dishing out passes to his teammates, Larkin gets involved on the boards, averaging 4.1 rebounds per game. He also can force turnovers on defense, averaging 2.1 steals per game.

    Every team needs a solid point guard to set up the offense and get the forwards and shooting guard in a position to score, and that's exactly what Larkin does.

    If his play keeps up, it will be hard to find a team that can beat out Miami on the floor.

Solid Defense

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    Even when Shane Larkin and the rest of the Hurricanes' offense struggles, the defense has been able to step up this season.

    Miami ranks 25th in the nation in scoring defense, only allowing 58.7 points per game to opposing teams.

    Their individual statistics reflect that, as Miami has three players that average one or more blocks per game, and three players who average 1.7 or more steals per game.

    The defense has especially stepped up in games against some of the highest scoring offenses in the country.

    Against North Carolina, who averages 78.5 points per game, the defense held the Tar Heels to only 59 points.

    The same goes for Duke, who ranks 13th in the country in scoring offense. When they faced the Hurricanes, they were held to just 63 points, about 15 points less than their average.

    While timely shooting plays a large role in a team's success in the NCAA tournament, defense can mean just as much, and right now, it's hard for anyone to score on the Hurricanes.