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2015 NIT Championship: Stanford vs. Miami

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Tonight is the NIT Championship! Go Stanford! Beat Miami.

Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

What's with Stanford playing all these teams in the NIT they haven't seen in ages? Well, that odd stretch is continuing in the NIT final Thursday against the Miami Hurricanes.

Before the tournament Stanford had not matched up with any of their NIT opponents in the 21st century. When the Canes last competed with the Cardinal, Joe Montana was hoisting a Lombardi trophy in San Francisco; so it's definitely been awhile.

The most recent game between the two resulted in a crushing 93-59 Stanford victory in front of the home crowd on Jan. 16, 1989. Prior to that game, at the 1986 West Palm Hurricane Classic, Miami took down the Cardinal 71-58. It goes without saying that these two programs are very unfamiliar with one another.

Miami (25-12, 10-8 ACC) may be a very young team, with eight of their fourteen players being underclassmen, but have shown that they can be a dominant basketball team throughout the course of the 2014-2015 season. The Canes started off the season hot with an 8-0 record, but started to become fairly inconsistent as the year went on and finished the regular season 21-12. They have appeared in the NIT 11 times and have a combined record of 9-10.

"The U" plays in a system that they often substitute and play a bevy of different players, which therefore shows they are a roster that has terrific versatility. All but two of Miami's players log in at least 10 or more minutes per contest. With good length and size, a roster that plays well together and is run by a terrific coach in Jim Larranaga, Miami is arguably the best opponent Stanford has seen in the tourney so far.

The Cardinal will need to keep a close eye on the Hurricanes' Sheldon McClellan (14.4 ppg, 4.7 rpg, .491 fg) if they want to raise their second NIT trophy in the last five years. With point guard Angel Rodriguez (11.9 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 3.9 apg) missing his third straight game with a nagging wrist injury, McClellan scored 12 of is 16 points in the second half as Miami topped Temple 60-57 in the semifinals.

7-footer Tonye Jekiri, who averages a team-high 9.9 rebounds, didn't return to the game after he was inadvertently struck in the face. Even without two highly important players in Jekiri and Rodriguez not in the lineup, the Canes and McClellan showed they could rally together, diminishing an 11-point first half deficit and making it to their first NIT final in program history.

For Stanford (23-13, 9-9 Pac-12), Chasson Randle is coming off the biggest night of his career as he became Stanford's all-time leading scorer in the team's 67-60 win over the Monarchs Tuesday night.

Headed into his final game as a Cardinal, Randle has tallied 2,350 career points and also ranks third all-time on the Pac-12 conference scoring list, trailing only Arizona's Sean Elliott (2,555) and UCLA's Don MacLean (2,608). The senior guard is averaging a team-high 23.3 points in the NIT.

Where Stanford might actually find a serious advantage is within Miami's current inability to stay healthy. If the Canes were healthy, they would probably match up with Johnny Dawkins' squad very well, but with injuries plaguing the ACC team, they hold a serious disadvantage.

Senior big man Stefan Nastic, who scored 17 points in the win over Old Dominion, would be a great matchup for Jekiri, but with the 7-footer out, Miami will have to drum up another way to contain the Pac-12 All-Academic Second Team honoree. With Manu Lecomte and Rodriguez also out, the Canes will have to find a defensive answer for Randle when it comes to their guards.

Will the Cardinal take advantage of Miami's depleted roster? Will Johnny Dawkin's job be in jeopardy if Stanford doesn't take home the NIT title? Will Anthony Brown, Nastic, and Randle end their college careers with a hat and t-shirt? Here's how you can see the championship action:

HOW TO WATCH

WHEN: Thursday, April 2, 6 PM (PT)
WHERE: ESPN
LISTEN: KNBR 1050 AM
STREAMING: WatchESPN

For more on Miami check out State of the U.
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