It feels like it was a lifetime ago, but this time last year, the Miami RedHawks were six games under .500 and heading into the Mid-American Conference (MAC) tournament as the 12th seed.
Despite this, the ’Hawks went to Buffalo and stunned the fifth-seeded Bulls, 85-79.
The team was supposed to move on to the next round to play Northern Illinois, who it had beaten at home less than a month prior.
Instead, COVID-19 turned the world upside down. The MAC tournament and March Madness were canceled, and college sports weren’t played again until the fall.
This season, after some internal improvement, Miami jumped from dead last in the standings a year ago to seventh this year, earning a second straight bid to Cleveland.
The RedHawks will face Buffalo again this year, who will be looking to avenge last year’s loss. The Bulls have beaten Miami by at least 20 points in both matchups this year.
The RedHawks are on a hot streak, though, winning four of their last five games. The team’s last game was an 84-79 overtime victory over Bowling Green.
If Miami wins its first game, it will play the winner of BG and Akron, whom the RedHawks were supposed to play last Friday before the game was canceled due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols.
Buffalo is also rounding into form at the right time, winning five straight and eight of its last nine games.
On Thursday, there will be four games played in Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse, starting at 11 a.m, with each game tipping off 30 minutes after the previous game ends. Miami will play in the third game of the day, which will tip off at approximately 4 p.m.
After being robbed of playing in Cleveland last year, the ’Hawks get another chance Thursday.
Players to Watch
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To advance to the next round, the RedHawks need strong performances from senior forward Dalonte Brown, junior guard Mekhi Lairy and sophomore guard Dae Dae Grant.
The team’s role players also need to step up. Redshirt sophomore guard Myja White has been more productive lately, shooting 40% from behind the arc and being very active on defense. White has taken on the other team’s toughest assignment on defense at times, and he may have to do the same in this game.
A couple bench players — redshirt freshman forward Javin Etzler and redshirt junior forward James Beck — may also play key roles in Thursday’s game. Etzler’s combination of size and shooting may come in handy playing a team with a bit more size than the RedHawks.
Beck, who is mostly a backup center, may need to shift down a position and play power forward. Either way, his hustle and activity on both ends is important in a game that may be decided by a possession or two.
The Bulls have multiple ways to beat teams, as they have four players averaging double-digit scoring for the year. Senior guard Jayvon Graves was named MAC Player of the Week on Monday, as he averaged 15 points, 9.5 rebounds and nine assists per game in two games last week.
Tipoff: approx. 4 p.m. Thursday at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse
Radio: Miami Radio Network
Record: 12-10, 9-8 MAC
Offense: 72.7 ppg
Defense: 71.5 ppg
Player (position, height, key stat)
Mekhi Lairy (guard, 5’8”, 13.2 ppg)
Dae Dae Grant (guard, 6’2”, 13.7 ppg)
Myja White (guard, 6’1”, 40% 3-pt fg)
Dalonte Brown (forward, 6’7”, 13.4 ppg)
Precious Ayah (forward, 6’6”, 53.6% fg)
Record: 14-7, 12-5 MAC
Offense: 82.7 ppg
Defense: 72.7 ppg
Player (position, height, key stat)
Ronaldo Segu (guard, 6’0”, 12.7 ppg)
Jayvon Graves (guard, 6’3”, 14.6 ppg)
Jeenathan Williams (forward, 6’5”, 17.3 ppg)
Josh Mballa (forward, 6’7”, 15.1 ppg)
LaQuill Hardnett (forward, 6’8”, 71% fg)