The Canes got their season back on track, first with an impressive road win in South Bend, then with a miracle comeback against Boston College. At Notre Dame, the Canes came out strong, and controlled most of the game. The big change this week was a shift in the starting lineup, with Chris Lykes and DJ Vasiljevic moving to the bench and Ja’Quan Newton and Ebuka Izundu moving to the starting lineup.
This paid immediate dividends as both Newton and Izundu had strong games against Notre Dame, with Izundu in particular dominating late on the glass. Lonnie Walker also starred, as he continues to turn into the team’s leader, putting in 19 points.
Against Boston College, no one played defense in the 1st half, and BC took a 41-39 lead into the half. The Eagles then dominated most of the second half, building a 14 point lead with a little over 5 minutes left. At that point, Chris Lykes swung the game in the Canes’ direction. Down the stretch, Lykes made a tough layup, 7 FTs, and played great pressure defense, including fouling out BC point guard, Ky Bowman. Miami dominated at the FT line, and shot almost 87%. With less than a minute left, DJ made a tough drive to cut the game to 1. After BC and Miami traded 2 made FTs, BC only went 1 of 2, leaving a 2-point game with 18 seconds left. And leaving Lonnie Walker enough to win the game for the Canes, by 1 point.
With what can only be described as a stolen win against BC, Miami moved to 9-7 in ACC play, with 2 games left. One more win this week should all but clinch an NCAA Tournament bid. Also at stake is ACC Tournament seeding, with the Canes involved in a pack of teams at 9-7.
The Top 4 teams get a double bye in the ACC Tournament, while teams 5-8 get a single bye.
In terms of NCAA positioning, the Canes look to be around an 8 or 9 seed, but there is a big opportunity to improve that this week.
Tuesday, February 12th, 9pm, ESPN
The Canes start the week with an opportunity to notch another quality road win in Chapel Hill. North Carolina comes into this game as at 22-7 overall and 11-5 in conference. UNC had 2 out of conference losses, a blowout to Michigan State and shock loss to Wofford. They started off a bit slow in conference play, and were 5-5 after 10 games with losses @FSU, @UVA, @Clemson, @FSU, and NC State at home. But since then, they’ve found their groove and won 6 games in a row.
The defending National Champions are powerful, offensive force. The Tar Heels are the best rebounding team in the nation, Top 25 in PPG, and 5th in Assists. The Canes defense will be tested. Fortunately, where the Canes can make some moves is on offense. UNC is outside the Top 200 in points allowed. The Canes want to play this game as low scoring as possible, while the Tar Heels will want to push the pace.
UNC has a deep team with 4 players averaging in double figures, and a 5th just shy of 10 PPG. Luke May and Joel Berry are the leading scorers, but they also get a boost out of Cameron Johnson and Kenny Williams. UNC has about a 7-man consistent rotation, but rotates several players in for token minutes. The big thing is to slow them down, because they average 83 PPG and shoot a high 37% from 3. If the Canes can control the pace and cover the 3-point line, they should have a decent shot at this game.
Saturday, March 3, 12:00 PM, ESPN2
The Canes played one of their better games of the season against Virginia Tech in the first meeting, winning 84-75 in a game where Anthony Lawrence put on one of the best performances in school history. Ja’Quan Newton also played a strong game and Lonnie Walker hit several big shots despite struggling overall. The Canes also shot 10-21 from 3. This go ’round, Miami will need to play better defense.
Since that game, Virginia Tech has gone 4-2, with losses at Duke and to Louisville at home. They take on Duke before heading to Coral Gables on Saturday. In the first meeting, Justin Bibbs, Justin Walker, and Nickeil Alexander-Walker scored in double figures, but no one else really contributed. Robinson in particular poured in 22 points, repeatedly getting in the paint. With the Canes’ new starting lineup, expect Newton to get the first shot at Robinson. If Newton can check Robinson, then it will fall to the rest of the team to pick up the scoring slack. With that said, if the Canes can replicate the defense on Kerry Blackshear and Ahmed Hill, who collectively average almost 25 PPG but in the first meeting only scored 2, then they are likely to win.
Overall, this is a decent matchup for the Canes, and Virginia Tech struggles on the road (although they did notch a huge win in Charlottesville). If the Canes lose to UNC on Tuesday, this game becomes critical for the Canes to lock up an NCAA birth. On Senior Day, with an NCAA bid potentially on the line, the Canes should have their best effort.
Miami has played disappointing basketball against the truly elite teams on the schedule this year (Clemson, Duke, and Virginia). While the win against Notre Dame last week was a big step in the right direction, it makes the lack of focus against Boston College even more perplexing. North Carolina may be playing the best basketball in the country right now, and it is going to take a herculean effort by the Canes to win this game. Perhaps UNC has a letdown coming off two big road wins last week and a trip to Cameron Indoor on tap after Miami, but honestly, even if UNC were to play down a level, it’s probably enough to beat Miami right now. This one isn’t pretty – Tar Heels by 14.
I think Miami makes March Madness no matter what at this point, but you certainly don’t want to jeopardize that by losing these two games, and then losing its first ACC Tournament game. As such, that puts the onus on the Canes to secure a home win on Senior Night against the Hokies. Miami’s last game against Virginia Tech was one of the more impressive victories of the season. I think this will be a much more difficult matchup than that one, and Miami will need a lot more from Dewan Huell this time out. But I’m confident the Canes finish this regular season with a victory. Miami by 7.
North Carolina is playing well, so expect them to come in aggressive and push the tempo. Miami will have to weather a storm early and hang in. If they can get to halftime with a reasonable score line, then there will be an opportunity to steal it. DJ Vasiljevic and Lonnie Walker must hit 3s and Newton and Lykes need to control Joel Berry. If that happens, the Canes can win. But I think they come up just short. North Carolina wins by 5.
Miami will need this game to cement ACC seeding and an NCAA Tournament bid. It’s hard to be a team twice, but I think Virginia Tech is a decent matchup for the Canes. They don’t really have the players to defend the Canes, and that showed in the first meeting. If Miami commits defensively, they should be able to win this. It’ll be tight, but the Canes pull out a close one on Senior Day. Miami by 4.