Miami started its week off last week on a positive note, hosting and defeating Wake Forest 87-81 in a game in which the score was much, much closer than the play on the court, thanks to some ridiculous made shots by Wake Forest and the Canes splitting free throws down the stretch. We have talked all season long about how the Canes have to be better at making free throws, especially in crunch time, and the reason for that was on full display against the Demon Deacons. However, when it mattered, the Canes did what was necessary to get the needed victory and avoid a bad loss. While the Canes were led by star freshman Lonnie Walker, a special shoutout is owed to senior Ja’Quan Newton who had one of his better games of the season, as well as Sam Waardenburg, who notched 12 crucial points in easily his best performance in his young Hurricane tenure.
Things were not as successful on the road against Boston College. Foul trouble to Lonnie Walker and Ja’Quan Newton allowed the Eagles backcourt to exploit the Hurricanes as Jerome Robinson and Ky Bowman went off for 29 and 24 points respectively en route to a 72-70 Eagles victory. That being said, this is a game the Hurricanes basically gave away, as they had a 70-63 lead with 6 minutes to go, only to not score for the remainder of the game. The turnover bug struck again, and Miami just could not find the bucket when it was needed.
Before going into next week, I want to take a minute to address any concerns that a road loss to Boston College is a “bad loss”. Boston College is a top-100 RPI team (actually 79th currently), and will not be considered a “bad loss” by the committee whereas road wins against top-100 are considered “good wins”. So while it had the potential to be a good win, it’s not a bad loss. Comparatively, Duke has lost three road games to top-100 RPI teams (Boston College, NC State, and St. Johns). The loss to Boston College hurts, but mostly because it was the chance to add to the resume and obtain a higher seed come March. And with that, let’s turn to this week’s games as Miami turns down the home stretch with the opportunity to really improve its resume with two HUGE home games both featured on national television.
Tuesday, February 13th, 9pm, ESPN
Miami opens its week by hosting the ACC’s best team, Virginia (23-2, 12-1), coming off its first ACC conference loss of the season after being upset by Virginia Tech at home by 1 point in overtime. This was supposed to be somewhat of a rebuilding year, after Virginia lost all-everything guard London Perrantes from a year ago. Instead, it’s the more of the same for the Cavaliers as the team features a suffocating defense and a balanced 8-man rotation that wears down opponents. The offense flows mostly through 6’2″ sophomore guard Kyle Guy (15 ppg, 39% from 3) and 6’5″ wing senior Devon Hall (12.5 ppg, 46% from 3), but it’s truly a balanced team. The trademark of Tony Bennett teams, Virginia has the #1 defense in the country, that does everything extremely well. If there was a weakness, it would be on allowing offensive rebounds, but we’re nitpicking because nobody does a better job of forcing missed shots than Virginia.
Offensively, the Cavaliers are known for their slow, methodical pace that makes watching games very difficult. However, if they catch you sleeping, they are deadly- so it requires a full 30 seconds of commitment to defense in order to succeed. The advanced metrics show an offense similar in production to that of Miami except in one key area: turnovers. Virginia does not turn the ball over, which allows them to get more opportunities to score despite playing fewer possessions. Finally, Virginia’s style of play does not lend itself to many free throw attempts, so the key is to limit second-chance points.
Overall, in order to defeat Virginia – other than the obvious of making more shots – the key is to be patient on offense and not be frustrated by the away from the ball grabbing, holding, etc.. that somehow referees allow but only for Virginia. Good shots are difficult to come by, so when you have an open look, you must capitalize. As mentioned above, on defense, you have to play the full 30 seconds, as Virginia is perfectly fine waiting until the shot clock is near zero if it means getting the look it needs. This is a huge opportunity for Miami to notch an important victory.
Saturday, February 17, 12:00 PM, CBS
Miami caps its week with the first time this season that it plays back-to-back home games in conference play when it hosts Syracuse (17-8, 6-6). The Orange come into this game having won 4 of its last 6 and playing its best basketball season of the season. Syracuse had to replace 6 of its 7 leading scorers from a year ago, so perhaps the early conference struggles were to be expected, and this will be an extremly important game for both teams. The Orange are on the early bubble for the NCAA tournament, although trending in the right direction, and notching a road victory over Miami would go a long way to securing a bid. However, before Syracuse makes the trip south to Coral Gables, it hosts North Carolina State at home, making this a big week as well for them.
As mentioned above, Syracuse had to replace a lot of scoring from a year ago. However, the one that returned is extremely good: 6’6″ sophomore Tyus Battle comes into this week averaging 20.3 points per game, and just dropped 34 points on Wake Forest and 25 points on Louisville last week. Battle is very proficient at getting to the free throw line (where he rarely misses), so Miami will need to play extremely good team defense to keep Battle on the perimeter (where he is capable, but less proficient). One thing you will notice is that he does not come off the court, as he has played at least 37 minutes in every ACC game (and even all 50 in a double OT game against FSU). When it’s not Battle, the scoring comes from 6’8″ junior Frank Howard (15 ppg, 5 apg) and 6’8″ freshman Oshae Brissett (14 ppg, 9 rpg).
Overall, you know what you are getting when you face Syracuse: a dificult defense to uncrack in which you have to make open shots, especially from outside. If MIami is going to win this game, it needs guys like DJ and Walker to hit from 3, but having a potential mismatch in Waardenburg could be a difference maker as well. Syracuse is prone to turnovers (even moreso that Miami), so when those happen, getting a quick, good-look before Syracuse has an opportunity to set up its defense will be key.
This is a huge, huge week for Miami as these two games are both extremely quality opponents that will go a long way to securing a good seed for both the ACC and NCAA tournaments. I believe Miami is more than capable of pulling the home upset against Virginia, but I have a hard time picking against Virginia when this Miami team has shown the tendency to go lax on defense all too frequently. You can’t do that against a team of Virginia’s talent, and so I think Virginia wins by 9.
Assuming a loss to Virginia, the game against Syracuse becomes even more important as Miami does not want to drop two games at home (no matter how good the opponent) and return to .500 in conference play. Overall, I think Miami matches up well with Syracuse, although I worry about Battle’s ability to draw fouls on perimeter defenders. Miami cannot afford to go long stretches without Lonnie Walker, as the Canes will need his shooting and scoring. In what should be a great game, I’m taking Miami to shoot well enough to get the home victory. Miami wins by 4.
Virginia is the best team in the ACC, clearly. And without Bruce Brown, the fire power might not be there. I know it is counter-intuitive, but Miami also needs to be methodical. Trying to artificially force pace will just lead to turnovers. And the Canes have had issues with playing too fast this year. I think Miami has a lot of turnovers, gets frustrated, and ultimately gets choked off in a very low scoring game where the first team to 50 points will win. That team will be Virginia, who will win by 6.
This concerns me, just because we’ve seen how Miami plays against the zone. With that said, DJ, Waardernburg, and Lykes have really started to stroke it from 3 (not to mention Walker and Lawrence). If they can continue that, they can shoot Syracuse out of the zone and pull away. At home especially, Miami tends to shoot well, and I think they will here and win comfortably. Miami by 11.