(1) VITAL SCHEMATICS: A year removed from an up-and-down campaign that saw the Hurricanes finish 9-7 in the ACC and 20-13 overall, Miami's arguably been the revelation of the 2012-'13 college basketball season, laying waste to the ACC with a 15-3 record, handing Duke its worst loss in, like, ever, beating Carolina three times, and making a damn strong case for a 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament with a 27-6 record overall. In the Dance, the ‘Canes blasted Pacific in the Round of 64 and eeked by Illinois in the Round of 32, using a clutch performance from Shane Larkin (17 points, 5 assists, one step-back "grab yer nuts like Sam Cassell" 3-pointer to give Miami the lead with a minute to play) and a sublime turn from Rion Brown (21 points off the bench) to dispatch the hot-shooting Illini.
Miami also features a coach whose name contains the most oddly-placed tilde I've ever seen. So it's officially Larrañaga, yes? Do I pronounce it "lair-uhn-YAY-ga" instead of "lair-uh-NAY-ga," then? I forget how tildes work.
(2) PRIMARY WEAPON: LARKIN LASER (damage rating: 9.0 out of 10): I can throw a bunch of numbers and clips and adjectives at you, or I can sum things up in four words: Shane Larkin is awesome. And while Miami gets contributions from a number of outstanding players (Durand Scott is great, Kenny Kadji is terrifying), Larkin makes the engine go: he never leaves the court (playing 90.5% of available minutes), he's a deadly jump-shooter (hitting 40% of his 3-point attempts), he's careful with the rock (18.1% turnover rate) ... I would write more, but I'm having flashbacks to what Peyton Siva and Russ Smith and Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton did to Junior Cadougan in the post-season last year and oh god I've made sick on my keyboard.
(3) DEFENSIVE MATRIX: (armor rating: 9.5 out of 10): And here's the really scary part: for as well as Miami can play on offense, they're just as good defensively. The ‘Canes rank 18th in the nation in KenPom's adjusted defensive efficiency, ceding just 0.894 points per possession. They don't turn you over very much (turnover rate is just 18.4%, and steal rate is just 9.8%), but they block a ton of shots (12.5%, good for 44th in the nation, according to KenPom), don't give up many open looks, keep the opposition off the offensive glass (28.2%, which ranks 47th nationally), and don't foul much. So. Yeah.
(4) EXPLOITABLE WEAKNESS(ES): When you get to this stage of the game, friends, you're not going to run into many teams that have an Achilles' heel that makes for easy exploitation. Unless you draw a true Cinderella (and I'm not sure any of this year's Sweet 16 teams qualify, because Wichita State is really good and so is LaSalle and Oregon is grossly underseeded and Florida Gulf Coast is a 10-seed dressed up as a 15), your best hope is to find a small kink in the armor. And maybe that's what big man Reggie Johnson's loss represents for Miami. I know the ‘Canes have played alright without him (and they've got a bit of experience doing it), and I know his production has been spotty since he returned from injury, but at the same time: he was still a load in the paint, even on one leg, and his absence makes the already-paper-thin Miami bench even shorter. And they did lose to Indiana State (ranked 101 in KenPom) without Johnson earlier this year. It ain't much, but it might be enough