NCAA Tournament Predictions: Hurricanes hopeful for deep March run

Taylor Mason celebrates after the Hurricanes defeated then-No. 4 Notre Dame Fighting Irish 72-65 Feb. 7 at the Watsco Center.

9 p.m. March 22 — No. 4 Miami vs. No. 13 Florida Gulf Coast

For the second time in the past three years, the Hurricanes are hosting the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament.

Just like in 2017, the 4th-seeded Hurricanes will take on the 13th-seeded Eagles to tipoff the postseason.

Florida Gulf Coast enters the tournament as one of the hottest teams in the country, despite losing point guard Lisa Zderadicka because of a knee injury. The Eagles have won 19 consecutive games after sweeping both their regular season slate and conference tournament in the Atlantic Sun Conference.

FGCU (28-4, 16-0 ASUN) is the lone squad from its league to make the tourney, so its competition wasn’t exactly as tough as the mighty Atlantic Coast Conference.

However, the Eagles outright dominated their competition. FGCU outscored its opponents by a whopping 18.9 points per game, the seventh-best mark in the country.

The Hurricanes (24-8, 12-4 ACC) can be vulnerable against 3-point shooting. Miami allowed 14 triples against Syracuse and Virginia Tech, dropping both contests.

The Eagles can exploit opponents with 11 makes from distance per game coming in as the second-most in the nation.

Redshirt junior Laura Cornelius, sophomore Mykea Gray and the rest of Miami’s perimeter players must close out consistently to avoid falling again because of another onslaught of threes.

With Zderadicka sidelined, Keri Jewett-Giles has picked up the slack. Jewett-Giles is averaging five assists and increasing her shot attempts greatly in the six full contests without Zderadicka.

Junior Nasrin Ulel leads FGCU in scoring with 14.9 points per game. Ulel has made at least four threes in eight games this season.

The Hurricanes main advantage is their size.

The Eagles’ don’t have a single player listed bigger than 6-feet tall, which bodes well for Miami’s tandem of 6-foot-3 senior Emese Hof and 6-foot-4 redshirt junior Beatrice Mompremier.

Expect UM coach Katie Meier’s game plan to feature plenty of post touches.

Hof should drop at least 20 points, using her intricate low-post game to get easy looks. The pair should each pick up a double-double.

FGCU is a talented team who will surely put up a fight against the Hurricanes, but Miami has simply been too good this season to expect them to get upset in the first round.

Meier and the Hurricanes will keep on dancing as they look to advance past the opening weekend for the first time in her 14-year tenure.

Prediction: Miami 74 — FGCU 63