After a week hiatus since being demolished in Charlottesville, the Hokies seek to get back into a rhythm tonight against Miami. The Hurricanes (15-7/5-5) enter the game with the exact same conference record as Virginia Tech, but rank one spot below them in the ACC standings. Even though last year’s star trio graduated, Jim Larranaga has his team making another push for the NCAA tournament after reaching the Sweet Sixteen last season. This is another prime opportunity to add another good-to-quality win on their resume.
The Hurricanes play a similar brand of basketball that the Hokies saw when they played UVA, and that brand is defense. Miami only allows opponents to score 64 PPG and they rank 58th in the country in Defensive Efficiency. Obviously, those numbers are not as good as Virginia’s, but Miami is still one of the better defenses in the ACC (4th in points allowed during conference play).
One of the reasons Miami’s defense is so good is because they just do not allow teams to generate quality shots. As a result, they have faced the second fewest field goal attempts during conference play. Virginia Tech will more than likely have to exert a lot of energy offensively, through ball movement and penetration, every possession. It will be another “grind-it-out” type of game, especially on the road where the Hokies seem to mightily underachieve every game. This is a defense that held the star-studded UNC offense to just 62 points and 35% shooting from the field.
Another reason why the Hurricanes face so few shot attempts is because they consistently finish defensive possessions with securing the rebound. With a TRB% of 54.8%, Miami ranks 20th in the country in pulling down missed shot attempts. That spells troubles for the Hokies, who have struggled to gather even the easiest of missed shots.
Miami may not put have the most impressive offensive statistics, ranking just 210th in points scored per game and 87th in efficiency, but they can put up points in a variety of ways. Virginia Tech actually matches up well defensively with the Hurricanes, since Miami’s three best players are guards or wings.
Senior Davon Reed leads the Hurricanes in scoring with 15.8 points per due his efficiency from behind the arc. The 6-6 wing is shooting 41.3% from three on the year and over 42% in conference play. Virginia Tech has not defended the three-point line well, over the last few games, allowing five of their last six opponents to shoot over 38% from three. It is a combination of a lack of effort and a lack of execution, and it needs to be fixed heading into the final stretch of the season.
Miami has other shooters on the team as well. Guard Bruce Brown, who has been excellent as a freshman, scores 12.1 points and shoots the ball downtown at a 40.7% clip. He also does an excellent job leading the break off a defensive stop, as Brown is second on the team in rebounding per game, which is unusual to see for a guard. But at 6-5, he is incredibly athletic and long for his position which enables him to be a playmaker in addition to a scorer, averaging 3.3 assists per game as well.
The third player the Hokies need to key in on is JaQuan Newton. While he is not as proficient a shooter as the other two listed above, Newton excels at getting downhill and being physical driving the ball to the rim. This is a big reason why he draws so many fouls, as Newton attempts about five free throws a game. However, Newton has struggled taking care of the basketball this season, turning it over 3.5 times per game as the primary ball handler. If the Hokies can force a turnover or two early, it may end up impacting how aggressive Newton is to seek out contact and teammates.
Despite having three excellent backcourt players, Miami has some talent in the frontcourt as well. Senior Kamari Murphy, a 6-8 forward, does not do a whole lot of scoring but pulls down 8 boards per game which leads the team. The Hurricanes’ top recruit from this past cycle, Dewan Huell, possesses outstanding length and athletic ability. He could be a real difference maker if LeDay fails to contain him on the glass. The freshman averages over 6 points and 3.7 rebounds per game. Anthony Lawrence Jr. is another player to watch out for from the perimeter. He scores 7 PPG and shoots a solid 37.1% from downtown.
As a team, Miami shoots the ball from the perimeter at a relatively low percentage compared to other teams. They have the fourth lowest three-point attempt rate in the ACC this season, even though the Hurricanes present plenty of perimeter threats. The Hokies will need to be especially stout on the interior, which they have not been during this rough patch of play, because of Miami’s propensity to drive the ball. Virginia Tech has gone to a matchup zone more over this last stretch, which has not worked out too well. Defenders are getting beat too easily, forcing rotations and creating opportunities for offensive rebounds.
Effort won’t likely cure everything for Buzz Williams’s side, but an increase in this factor could provide a big boost. The Hokies need to get back to playing swarming defense they had been prior to the NC State game, and maybe the week of rest will help. Virginia Tech seemed to wear down rather quickly, and it would not be surprising if fatigue as a result of playing 4 games in 11 days was a key contributor to that.
Either way, this game could one of the better wins of the season for the Hokies if they can pull it off. It will all be decided by who takes control of the paint and who can simply make their open looks. That is another aspect the Hokies have had problems in, with Bibbs and Hill being cold for the majority of the last five games.
This upcoming stretch is where Virginia Tech can define their season. Building momentum with a road win against a Miami team the Hokies have beaten just once in the past three seasons would certainly be beneficial. I don’t see a win here, but I think the Hokies do play with much more fire and intensity than they have shown recently. Miami’s presence on the glass is probably the difference maker in this one, along with a stout defense that can stifle the Hokies perimeter shooting.