Normally, a game between No. 2 seed Miami and No. 15 seed Pacific wouldn't receive much attention. After all, the Hurricanes should roll as they begin their journey toward a potential Final Four appearance after winning the ACC tournament.
Every No. 2 seed is on high alert this season, however, after two massive upsets in last year's NCAA tournament. A pair of No. 15 seeds, Lehigh and Norfolk State, pulled off first-round shockers. Coaching staffs will be using that example to keep their teams focused heading into the opener.
The Hurricanes' accomplishments speak volumes. They won the ACC regular-season title, edging Duke by one game, and then backed it up by winning the tournament with a win over North Carolina in the final. Even though the conference wasn't as deep as years past, it's still an impressive showing.
Pacific earned a spot in the tournament by winning the Big West. The Tigers are on a seven-game winning streak heading into the matchup with Miami, but were blown out in their only game against a ranked opponent this season.
Here's a look at all the key information for the opening game for both teams, followed by some players to watch, a matchup that will play a key role in deciding the game and a prediction for which squad will reach the Round of 32.
Where: Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas
When: Friday, March 22 at 2:10 p.m. ET
Live Stream: March Madness Live
Betting Line: Miami -12 (via Vegas Insider)
Injury Report (via USA Today)
Miami: Garrius Adams (out, knee)
Pacific: No injuries reported
What's At Stake?
The most important thing for Miami is taking control of this game early. Not only would that allow them to avoid the emotional drain of a tight first game, but it would establish the Hurricanes as a legitimate threat to Indiana if they can score a blowout victory.
They don't want to get dragged into a close, grind-it-out game that will land them on upset alert in the second half. The first few rounds are crucial when it comes to building confidence. Struggling with Pacific certainly wouldn't help.
As for the Tigers, they are hoping to pull off a stunner and go down in history alongside Lehigh and Norfolk State. While they are a low seed for a reason, they have enough outside shooters to pose a threat. If they get hot from beyond the arc, Miami will be in for a battle.
The winner will take on whichever team emerges from the matchup between No. 7 seed Illinois and No. 10 seed Colorado in the East region.
Players to Watch
Miami: Kenny Kadji
The biggest advantage Miami owns over Pacific is in the paint. It must use its size effectively to dominate in the post because there's simply no way the undersized Tigers will be able to slow down the likes of Kadji and Reggie Johnson.
Kadji, who's improved steadily during his collegiate career that began with Florida, has been Miami's most reliable big man all season. He's averaging 13 points, seven rebounds and over a block per game while also showing the ability to step outside and knock down perimeter jumpers.
While that versatility will be key in the later rounds to stretch the floor, his main focus on Friday should be establishing himself in the paint. The door is open for a monster game if he gets rolling in the first half; the Tigers don't have anybody to contain him.
Pacific: Travis Fulton
The Tigers relied on a deep scoring attack throughout the season. There are 10 different players on the roster averaging at least nine minutes per game, showing they really try to keep everybody fresh and hope that depth pays off.
In order to beat a team like Miami, however, Pacific is going to need a couple of players to step up. Leading scorer Lorenzo McCloud will need to be one of them. Fulton is the other. He actually leads the team in rebounding at four boards per game.
Whether it's rebounding, scoring or helping run the offense, the Tigers really need Fulton to elevate his game across the board in order to cause problems for Miami. If he doesn't, it will be a real struggle trying to keep pace.
Key Matchup: Shane Larkin vs. Lorenzo McCloud
This is the type of matchup that fans are going to see throughout March Madness. Two guards that lead their team in scoring, can fill it up from anywhere on the floor and are also expected to lead the offensive attack.
Larkin's improvement in his second season is a major reason the Hurricanes have emerged as contenders. He's nearly doubled his scoring output and has become a much better decision maker on the court, both in terms of taking the right shots and finding open teammates.
Pacific will counter with McCloud, who's struggled with his consistency. But if he's on his game, he's capable of going possession-for-possession with Larkin. If he does that, the Tigers will at least have a puncher's chance at the upset.
Ultimately, the Hurricanes are the more talented team and should win going away. The two most important things are establishing their dominance in the paint right from the opening tip and making sure Pacific isn't given a chance to find a rhythm from beyond the arc.
Miami is a fringe contender for the national championship. A favorable draw, at least until a potential matchup with Indiana, should help. But the Canes can't afford to have any disaster performances like earlier in the season against Florida Gulf Coast and Indiana State.
The ACC tournament victory should give them the confidence boost they need to avoid that type of letdown in the opener as they eliminate Pacific.
Miami 77, Pacific 62
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