The Hokies all but wrapped up an NCAA tournament bid in Boston College over the weekend, but have a chance to strengthen their resume with Miami coming into town tonight. A year after Jim Larranaga led the Hurricanes to one of their best seasons in history, Miami is one of the hotter teams in the conference. They have won six of their last seven and are coming off a week where they beat both Virginia and Duke. The Hokies are on a similar run, as they have won four of their last five games.
In the last meeting against Miami, Virginia Tech was actually competitive on the road until a late 8-0 run in the first half gave the Hurricanes the momentum they needed to pull away. Miami’s largest lead of the game was 17 points and the Hokies’ comeback effort was simply too little, too late. They ended up losing that game 74-68.
What went right in the first meeting?
The Hokies managed to battle for the majority of game before Miami went on their elongated run. That was because they were able to rebound the basketball. The Hurricanes remain one of the best teams on the glass in the nation, snagging 54% of missed shots which ranks 32nd in the country. Virginia Tech showed outstanding energy crashing the boards and Zach LeDay led the team with 10 rebounds. Eventually, that energy ran out. But if the Hokies want to replicate their first half success for the entire 40 minutes tonight, they will need to compete on the glass.
Virginia Tech also made a late run to cut the lead down to six with about 30 seconds left. In that timeframe, the gobblers were able to get into the paint and score in transition. Part of that may have been due to Miami not wanting to foul, but the Hokies were outstanding when playing to their bread and butter. The Hokies shot 25 free throws total and were able to generate 16 points off turnovers. At home, the Hokies’ energy on the defensive end could be the key to creating scoring opportunities against a Miami team that does not push the pace too often.
What went wrong?
Everyone knows the weakness of this Hokies’ team is on the glass, especially without key rebounders Chris Clarke and Kerry Blackshear. Miami was able to exploit that weakness over the course of the second half, and although the Hokies’ matched the Hurricanes’ 32 rebounds, Miami was able to attempt 18 more shots than Virginia Tech. As Buzz Williams puts it, the Hokies are “playing with fire” due to their lack of great size. As I stated before, the Hokies need to put up a better effort on the glass for the entire game.
Another key issue which also manifested itself in Chestnut Hill was turnovers. The Hokies turned it over 15 times in the first meeting and Miami scored 22 points off those turnovers. On Saturday, the Hokies turned it over a whopping 19 times which just cannot happen. That was why Boston College was able to hang around for the majority of the game before the Hokies pulled away. Virginia Tech is already giving extra possessions to their opponents on the offensive glass, and they cannot afford to compound that problem through reckless turnovers.
One of the problems in the first game that looks to have been solved has been three-point shooting. The Hokies only made four threes but have been on fire over the last four games. They currently lead the conference in 3P% as they shoot the three ball at a 41.7% clip during conference play. That has opened up so much for the offense, which is why the Hokies have been so much more effective going inside as well during the last four games. Ty Outlaw and Justin Bibbs, and Seth Allen all rank in the top 11 in 3P% in the ACC. Virginia Tech would certainly benefit if they can stay hot tonight.
While a loss would not hurt the Hokies’ resume all that much, a win would be huge. Miami also sits just above the Hokies in the conference standings, and Virginia Tech would love to leapfrog them in order to have a higher seed entering the ACC tournament next week. I get the feeling that the Hokies are on a mission to prove everyone wrong, just like at the end of last year. I think the Hokies are competitive enough on the glass at home to get the job done defensively, which should translate to opportunities on offense.