The 2013 March Madness bracket has been set (available here), with the Miami Hurricanes finishing as the No. 2 seed in the Eastern region.
The Hurricanes will be looking for a strong showing at the NCAA tournament as one of the top contenders for the title. And with their recent success in the ACC tournament over North Carolina still fresh in their memories, they'll no doubt prove tough to stop in this knockout tournament also.
Let's take a look at the Hurricanes' path to the 2013 NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Championship, highlighting the key opponents they'll likely face in their run to the trophy.
Opening Rounds: Pacific, Colorado/Illinois
Drawn against the Pacific Tigers in the second round, it's hard to see Miami not going through with a win in this one. The Tigers are on a seven-game winning streak, but the Hurricanes are simply a class above and, as shown in their recent win against UNC, can be very potent at their best.
Should they win that, their opponent in the third round will be either Colorado or Illinois, with the Fighting Illini perhaps the likelier of those two.
Illinois has a strong defense and gritty style of play that does tend to suit March Madness basketball, but so does Miami. And as simple as it sounds, the Hurricanes are just better at getting stops on defense and converting them into points at the other end of the court than Illinois.
It should stay relatively low-scoring, but Miami will move its way through to the regional semifinals without too many concerns.
Regional Semifinals: Butler, Marquette
Butler and Marquette appear the likeliest opponents for Miami in the regional semifinals for 2013, and either would be a very tough matchup for the Hurricanes.
Butler had a strong showing throughout the year in the Atlantic Ten conference and was only stopped in the postseason tournament by a very strong Saint Louis side. It was crippled by turnovers in that game (20 in total) and will be looking for a much more disciplined performance here.
Marquette also looks like a very big threat to Miami, given the strength it has shown throughout the Big East conference all season. In the past month, the Golden Eagles have scored big wins against Syracuse and Notre Dame—both of whom showed their strength in their 2013 tournaments.
Moreover, the Golden Eagles are growing in their offensive effectiveness. Coupled with their strong defense, that makes them a very difficult opponent for Miami to overcome.
If Marquette is drawn, we could well see an upset take place, but I think the Hurricanes should just survive.
Regional Finals: Indiana, Syracuse, UNLV
Should Miami progress through the semifinals, many quality opponents such as Indiana, Syracuse and UNLV could potentially await in the regional finals.
Out of those three, it seems like the first two are the biggest threats for Miami this year—as expected, being two of the region's top seeds.
The Orange have been on a real roll lately, and with their offense firing the way that it is, the Hurricanes would seemingly have a tough time keeping up with them. Especially given Miami's tendency to use its defense to stick with opponents.
And Indiana, well, the threats are well-known with the Hoosiers.
Third in the country for points scored per game and top 10 for field-goal percentage, Indiana is an incredibly difficult team to keep under wraps—even for a strong defense like Miami's. Thus the Hurricanes' ability to score on the Hoosiers defense would be key in that one. Given Indiana's recent strength defensively, that doesn't seem like an easy feat at all.
Only twice in their past six games have the Hoosiers allowed 70 points against them, all whilst averaging close to 80 points on offense—making it very tough for the Hurricanes to find any real dominance over their opponents at either end of the court.
A regional finals matchup between those two would be an incredibly fascinating fixture, with the Hoosiers probably just shading Miami in the end.
Final Four and Beyond
If it did progress, Miami would be looking at a Final Four berth and then potentially an NCAA Championship Game against one of the top teams in the country.
The Hurricanes would be up against the winner of the Southern region in their Final Four game, with Kansas, Florida, VCU and Georgetown all possible opponents. And in regard to their championship game, it could be literally any one of 34 teams awaiting them.
For Miami to win, its opponents will likely need to have a focus on defense—allowing them to keep this one close and use their big men to work inside.
The Hurricanes have one of the best defenses in the country at their best and could find success in March if they can utilize that to their advantage.
Personally, I can't see Miami getting past Indiana or Syracuse in the Eastern region, but the road to the NCAA Championship remains the same nonetheless.
The question now remains whether they're going to get there or not.
How far do you see Miami going in the 2013 NCAA Championship?
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