Miami had another strong week, going 2-0, has now won 4 of 5 games to go from 2-3 in the ACC to 6-4, and has firmly planting themselves in the NCAA Tournament as of now. According to TeamRankings.com, which runs a simulation of all outcomes for the rest of the season, repeatedly, to determine the likelihood a team makes the NCAA Tournament, Miami has a 92% chance of making the Big Dance.
The week started off with a comfortable win over a clearly overmatched Pitt team. Miami started the game off strong, and built a huge lead behind a strong defense performance. But they fell asleep in the second half, and Pitt went on a 14-0 run to take a 1-point lead featuring a technical foul on Ja’Quan Newton that saw him benched for the remainder of the game. But Lonnie Walker quickly restored order, scoring 7 points in a row, and the Canes ran away from there. In addition to Walker, Chris Lykes, Dewan Huell, and Amp Lawrence also had strong games. The Canes went on to win by 12.
Miami followed it up with their second most impressive win of the year (after the road win against NC State), by controlling the game from almost start to finish. Virginia Tech opened the game with a 7-2 lead, but the Canes scored 13 points in a row, and never trailed again. The big thing that lifted the Canes this game was shooting. Miami shot over 50% from the field, and 47% from 3. Amp Lawrence was brilliant, with one of the all time performances in Canes history, shooting 9-10 of the field, 3-3 from 3, scoring 25 points, and also grabbing 13 rebounds. He had some help from his supporting cast too. DJ Vasiljevic did work from 2 and 3 point range, Ja’Quan Newton made several big shots while also playing excellent defense, and when Miami was staggered, Lonnie Walker once against scored 5 quick points to build the lead back out. But it was Lawrence who could not be stopped, and the Canes pulled in a 9-point, impressive road win. That is now 2 high RPI road wins for the Canes.
This week, they once again have 2 winnable games, and will need to take advantage to continue to march towards the NCAA Tournament.
Wednesday, February 7th, 7pm, ESPN2
Wake Forest has clearly established themselves as the second worst team in the ACC, with only Pitt being worse. They are 2-9 in the ACC, and win-less on the road. Out of conference, they also struggled, with losses to Georgia Southern, Liberty, Drake and Houston (in addition to a loss to a good Tennessee team). The one thing you can say for the Demon Deacons is they do have 2 wins over tournament caliber teams, Syracuse and Florida State.
Wake Forest struggles both offensively and defensively, and actually has a negative point differential. They are outside the Top 100 and 200 in scoring offense and defense, and overall rebounding. So where can Wake Forest hurt the Canes? They have 3 players that average in double-figures, but the most intriguing player that the Canes might have to adjust to is junior center, 7-1, Doral Moore. Moore averages 10.1 PPG, and also grabs 9 rebounds. With the Canes operating without a traditional center, we might end up seeing some Rodney Miller (who came off the bench against Virginia Tech). The other 2 players averaging in double-figures are guards Keyshawn Woods and Bryant Crawford. But Wake Forest will need mote than just those 3 to win, so lookout for performances from Mitchell Wilbekin and Brandon Childress. Both players are capable of getting hot from 3, and that is the type of thing that can lift Wake Forest.
Overall, though, the Canes are the far superior team, and playing at home, this should be a win.
Saturday, February 10, 2:00 PM, ACC Network/ESPN3
Boston College has been up and down this year. They are 13-9 overall, and 3-6 in the ACC. But they have proven capable of beating anyone, particularly at home, where they have wins over Duke and Florida State, and also played Virginia Tech extremely close, losing in overtime. The Eagles play Notre Dame on Tuesday before hosting the Canes.
BC averages in the 70s in points scored and points allowed, and is decent rebounding. There is nothing that jumps out as elite, but of course, they’ve proven capable of beating good teams. How did they do it? Scoring. Against both Duke and Florida State, BC scored in the 80s. And we’ve seen the Canes play uneven defense this year, so a poor defensive performance could allow BC to repeat the formula they used against Duke and FSU. Against Duke, they caught fire from 3, making 15-26. Against FSU, they didn’t shoot as well, but cleaned up at the FT line.
The one thing that does stand out about BC is their short rotation. No one outside of the starters is expected to play in double-figure minutes, and that happened even in an OT game against Virginia Tech. So who are the 5? Forwards Nik Popovic and Steffon Mitchell, and guards Jerome Robinson, Ky Bowman, and Jordan Chatman. Robinson is the leading scorer, and all but Popovic can step out and hit 3s. Also, look out for Bowman as dual threat with scoring and rebounding. Overall, this will be a difficult team for the Canes to guard, but with no depth, you hope the Canes will come at the Eagles in waves.
Miami should be favored in this game, and it presents another opportunity to notch a decent road win and climb the ACC standings.
The Canes are in a stretch of playing pretty good basketball, and notching two wins without arguably its best player in Bruce Brown is huge. Returning home to face Wake Forest, this is a game that Miami should still be able to win even without Brown. Wake Forest has really struggled away from home, and Miami is clearly the superior team. Miami let Pittsburgh hang around, so I suspect the Demon Deacons will as well, but Canes emerge victorious by 9.
Returning to the road to face Boston College, Miami needs to play defense at the same level as it did against Virginia Tech if it wants to win yet again on the road. If Miami were to lose this game, it will not be nearly as bad as a lot will make it to be (unless it’s a blowout), but I think Miami steps up and gets it done again. Miami by 4.
Wake Forest has been particularly bad on the road. Earlier in the year, I said the issue with the Canes is that they have too many redundant pieces and not enough shooting. Well, the shooting has come, in a big way. The Canes are hitting 3s. And those redundant parts have allowed them to overcome the loss of Bruce Brown. Coach L has this zone working to buy time on the defensive end. Waardenburg has become a contributor, and DJ has never played better. Quan moving to the bench has helped his game, and Walker continues to improve. I don’t see any reason this Wake Forest game will be anything other than a win, comfortably. Miami by 10.
BC is certainly capable of beating anyone. They don’t really have a rotation, but they do have 5 very good players that work together, have a lot of shooting, and have been tough at home. With that said, the Canes are a good road team and only have one bad road loss, to GT. Close losses to FSU and Clemson are fine, and they’ve also won 2 really tough road games. BC will be tough, but I like Miami to win a close-ish game. Miami by 7.