Preview: Marquette vs. Miami (Fla.)
(Updated: Adds injury to Miami C Johnson in lede ABOUT MIAMI: Adds possibility Johnson could play in Final Four)
After both survived scares last weekend, the road will end for either third-seeded Marquette or second-seeded Miami when they clash Thursday in the NCAA Tournament round of 16 in Washington, D.C. The Hurricanes continued their charmed season by holding off Illinois 63-59 on Sunday, reaching the Sweet 16 for only the second time. They have never advanced to the Elite Eight, but will have to do so without reserve C Reggie Johnson, who underwent arthroscopic knee surgery Tuesday.
The Golden Eagles are in the Sweet 16 for the third straight year, but they haven't advanced past this point since a Final Four run in 2003. Marquette was fortunate to get out of the round of 64, needing a late rally to fend off upset-minded Davidson 59-58, and the Golden Eagles denied another challenge in a 74-72 win over Butler on Saturday. The teams have split four all-time meetings and are squaring off for the first time since 1989.
TV: 7:15 p.m. ET, CBS
ABOUT MARQUETTE (25-8): The Golden Eagles have been forced to rally in the second half of their first two games in the tournament, and junior guard Vander Blue has been the hero in both. Blue made the winning basket in the final seconds against Davidson and poured in 29 points against Butler. "We had two close games - we had a lot of those this year," Blue told reporters. "What we went through earlier this year prepared us." They ought to expect another tight contest in a matchup of defensive-minded teams. Blue and junior forward Jamil Wilson are the only Marquette players averaging double-digit scoring in the tournament.
ABOUT MIAMI (29-6): The Hurricanes already have enjoyed what could be described as the best season in school history, winning the ACC regular-season and tournament titles, and they're not ready to send off six seniors yet. "Words can't describe it," forward Julian Gamble told reporters. "It is the first time (in the Sweet 16) for our school since the year 2000. To be going with this group of guys and continue with this dream season of sorts is really hard to put into words right now. We are really excited about the opportunity." Junior Rion Brown helped keep the season going with 21 points against Illinois, as the Hurricanes overcame a tough offensive night from senior Durand Scott. There's a chance Johnson could return if Miami reaches the Final Four.
1. In five postseason games, Miami's Shane Larkin, Trey McKinney Jones, Scott and Brown all are averaging more than nine points, have hit 10 or more 3-pointers and are shooting better than 80 percent from the foul line.
2. Marquette is 4-6 this season when trailing at halftime, including two wins in the NCAA Tournament. The Golden Eagles are 20-1 when leading at half and 1-1 when tied at the break.
3. The Verizon Center is the same site where Miami coach Jim Larranaga led George Mason to the Final Four in 2006. The Patriots beat Wichita State in the regional semifinals and Connecticut in the regional final in Washington, D.C.
PREDICTION: Miami 65, Marquette 63