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Virginia Tech vs. Miami - Q&A with the SB Nation’s State of the U ahead of Tuesday game

The Hokies travel to Coral Gables for what now becomes a must win affair.

NCAA Basketball: North Florida at Miami Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

After what looked like a probably road win against Boston College, the Hokies let the game slip away in the second half. While we will have the typical three takeaways piece from the BC game later today, first up a look at the next contest. Virginia Tech travel down to Miami on Tuesday for what both schools will see as a must win game.

To get an understanding for how things are going with Miami we talked with Austin Pert from State of the U, SB Nation’s site on all things Hurricanes. We got his thoughts on expectations heading into the season, their coach, under the radar players, what to expect tactically on Tuesday, and a prediction for the game.

GC: Heading into the season what were the expectations around the program - total wins, ACC place, and postseason chances?

SofU: Fans of the program were hopeful that this season could be better than last year. The absolute optimists pegged this team to return to the dance, but that was about it. UM was slotted in 9th by ACC Coaches before the season, which was about where the consensus in South Florida believed this team would finish in the conference before the season started, with about 15-20 total wins on the year. Obviously now, with hindsight being 20/20, perhaps those hopes were a bit overly optimistic.

GC: This is Jim Larrañaga’s 9th season in charge of the Hurricanes, which has included 4 NCAA Tournament bids and winning the ACC back in the 2012-13 season. How is he regarded amongst the fan base now and do you see the program continuing under him for the foreseeable future?

SofU: The past season and a half have been less than ideal in Coral Gables. However, Larañaga still remains popular with fan base for a variety of reasons. Obviously, people still remember that 2012-13 run, along with a handful of other solid seasons. Given UM’s lack of historical basketball success (Miami didn’t even have a basketball program at all from 1971 to 1985), Canes fans feel that Larrañaga ushered in an unseen level of success that won’t be forgotten—even when the team isn’t winning consistently.

Much of the program’s shortcomings have also been out of the coaching staff’s direct control. When the FBI launched their investigation into college basketball a few years ago, Miami’s name was mentioned in the report. Even though Larrañaga and the program were cleared of any potential wrongdoing, the damage had been done on the recruiting trail and Miami was unable to sign a single Class of 2018 recruit. That has resulted in considerable damage that lead to some serious depth issues that have continued into this season and worsened by a few key injuries, among other factors. Long story short, Larrañaga is a potent recruiter and can revive this team, but it may very well take some time because several year’s worth classes to refill the locker room in its entirety.

GC: Miami has a deep roster, with 10 different players averaging at least 10 minutes per game. Juniors Lykes and Waardenburg seem to be the leaders at the moment, who is someone going under the radar at the moment?

SofU: Depth is actually a big concern at the moment. Of those 10 players, big men Keith Stone and Deng Gak are out indefinitely, with Gak done for the year. And of the remaining eight, only three average more than 10 points per game (Chris Lykes 15.7, DJ Vasiljevic 14.6 and Kameron McGusty 14.5). However, Lykes and McGusty were out against UNC , further limiting Miami’s depth and chance to challenge against ACC teams.

If there is someone else who can break out and have a good game on any given night, it is Rodney Miller, a center who took a redshirt a season ago to work on his conditioning. Now 45 pounds lighter, he averages 6.6 PPG, and with two of his fellow post players out, it’s his time to shine. He has scored at least 13 points in two of the last three contests and notched his first double-double at Duke. So look for him to continue this momentum.

GC: The Hurricanes have struggled so far in league play, but have had quite a difficult schedule already - Duke twice, Louisville twice, Flordia State and at NC State. Do you feel like results will level out?

SofU: There are definitely some relatively winnable games remaining on the schedule, with the key word being relatively, because any team that isn’t Duke and Louisville is more winnable than when playing either of those two squads.

UM has been able to beat Pitt and Clemson in ACC action so far, so there isn’t a doubt that Miami is capable of competing with most of the league’s teams. I think the season will largely be looked at based on whether or not the Canes can get the job done against the Virginia Tech’s, Boston College’s, Georgia Tech’s, etc down the stretch.

However, the injuries to Lykes and McGusty are scary in regards to this team’s chances to pull off any signature wins, and until they return, I don’t see Miami having much success.

GC: Break down for us where Miami’s strengths have been this season so far, in regards to the style of play, and where they’ve had issues.

SofU: Depth is by far the biggest issue, with the Hurricanes down to just eight healthy scholarship players in the rotation. This lack of depth has magnified another big question mark, which is that the freshmen haven’t quite lived up to expectations so far. As stated earlier, developments over the past few years have made each individual player’s given development critical. First-year guys Anthony Walker, Harlond Beverly, and Isaiah Wong have shown signs of promise but none of them average more than 6.5 PPG.

Miami’s defense also allows 74.1 PPG, highest in the ACC.

On the other hand, the biggest strength of this team has been their ability to shoot the basketball. DJ Vasiljevic leads the conference in 3FG% (.426). Two Canes rank in the ACC’s Top 11 in overall FG% (McGusty is 8th at .445 and Lykes is 11th at .432). And as a team, UM ranks 5th in the league in 3FG% and 3rd in FT%. But if Lykes and McGusty remain out, Mimai will need multiple players to step up and perform at higher than average levels to pull out the win.

GC: Give us your prediction for the game on Tuesday?

SofU: If the Hokies win, it will be largely due to their ability to limit opponents from beyond the arc. VT allows opponents to shoot only .304 from deep, third-best in the ACC. This game could go either way, but I think the home crowd helps Miami earn a close, high-scoring, bounce-back win to inject some life back into the season. But until Lykes and McGusty are confirmed to return I give the edge to Virginia Tech.

Virginia Tech 80-71 Miami

Thanks to Austin and State of the U for answering our questions.