Beware the mid-majors.
The Miami Hurricanes had their season ended last year by one of those non-glamour teams, South Dakota State, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. And it nearly happened again on Saturday as 13th-seeded Florida Gulf Coast was a couple of plays away from stunning the fourth-seeded and 16th-ranked Canes.
Host Miami escaped 62-60 and advanced to play on Monday night at 9 against … another mid-major, 12th-seeded Quinnipiac in a second-round NCAA Tournament game at the Watsco Center.
If the Canes advance, they will play either top-seed South Carolina or No. 8 Arizona State in a Sweet 16 game on Saturday at Stockton, California.
Quinnipiac had never won an NCAA Tournament game before beating Dwyane Wade’s alma mater Marquette 68-65 on Saturday.
But on the night when NCAA pairings were announced, one Marquette player said she had never heard of Quinnipiac. Miami players are unlikely to make such a mistake.
Here’s a quick primer on the Bobcats:
▪ They are 28-6 and have won 11 games in a row. College Insider recently ranked them the nation’s fifth-best mid-major team — two spots ahead of South Dakota State and 14 better than FGCU.
▪ Over the past three seasons, the Bobcats are 54-6 in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, winning the league’s regular-season title all three years.
▪ Even though they dominated their league, they didn’t place a single player on their All-Conference first team, and that’s because the Bobcats have balanced scoring. Nobody averages more than 10.6 points.
“Quinnipiac is a really good team — I’m not surprised they moved on [over Marquette],” said FGCU coach Karl Smesko, whose team lost 66-56 to Quinnipiac on Nov. 11. “Quinnipiac can score.”
But Miami should have several advantages over the Bobcats, including experience. Quinnipiac starts four sophomores and one one senior while Miami opens with three seniors and two juniors.
Size is another Miami edge, especially with 6-3 Emese Hof, 6-2 Erykah Davenport and 6-1 Keyona Hayes.
Miami, by virtue of its Atlantic Coast Conference membership, has played a much tougher schedule and also has the quickness of guards Jessica Thomas and Adrienne Motley.
However, Miami’s three top guards shot a combined 7 for 25 against FGCU, and the Canes scored zero points on the fast break while turning the ball over 20 times.
The Canes also made just 1 of 14 on three-pointers, a fact that disturbs coach Katie Meier.
“We need three-pointers. I mean, we do,” Meier said, emphasizing the point. “But we’ll get there. I promise.”
Quinnipiac is already there. The Bobcats made themselves very comfortable on Miami’s home court, shooting 52.8 percent from the floor Saturday.
Meier said that she has never once — in her entire career — looked ahead, which means she and her staff are now on information overload, studying the Bobcats.
Their scouting report will likely have lots to say about 6-0 forward Jen Fay, a slick ballhandler who scored 20 points in the win over Marquette, making 9-of-16 shots. She missed last season because of a knee injury but has recovered nicely, averaging 10.2 points
Two other players to watch are 5-8 senior guard Adily Martucci and 5-11 Aryn McClure. Martucci, who averages 10.6 points, came up with the defensive play of the game, a timely block in the final seconds, to beat Marquette. McClure, the 2016 MAAC Rookie of the Year, averages 8.8 points.
“My staff is tremendous,” Meier said when asked about coming up with a Quinnipiac scouting report. “We have a great [basketball] IQ on this team. My players are going to want my game plan, and they’re going to want it pretty quick.
“We’re going to be ready.”