3 Things to Watch for No. 12 Virginia Tech at Miami

By: Tim Thomas | @TimThomasTLP | Jan 30, 2019
After picking up a dominant 78-56 win over Syracuse led by a career game from Justin Robinson, No. 12 Virginia Tech heads back on the road looking for their second ACC road in against a struggling Miami team looking to turn their season around. With that said, here is our 3 things to watch for tonight's game.

1. Justin Robinson Following Up Saturday's Performance

Okay, Justin Robinson most likely won't have a career performance tonight like his 35-point, 8-assist game against Syracuse this past Saturday. However, all signs are that Robinson is well out of his early ACC slump and not simply because of his standout performance against the Orange that earned him ACC Player of the Week honors. Robinson has picked it up recently shooting 50% from the field in each of his past three games. Additionally, Robinson seemed to have started to escape his slump against North Carolina when Robinson had 17 points and 6 assists shooting 4-6 from the field including 3-4 from three-point range and 6-7 from the free-throw line. While Robinson's improvement has largely focused on his great three-point shooting against Syracuse, it's clear that Robinson has once again found his rhythm looking like his old self from faking out defenders with his eyes on his passes to attacking the rim with intensity and confidence that had seemed to be missing. Justin Robinson is most likely not going to match what he did against Syracuse (if so, you can tag me over at "Freezing Cold Takes"), but Robinson is out of his slump and back to being one of the ACC's elite point guards. Don't expect another drop-off in form from Robinson either especially as ACC play nears its latter half.

2. Two Teams Lacking Depth

While Virginia Tech's lack of depth with their now seven-man rotation has been a major talking point, they also aren't alone taking on a Miami team with a seven-man rotation. The fascinating thing with this matchup is the fact that while Virginia Tech lacks depth in their frontcourt, Miami has a lack of depth in their backcourt with only three true guards and then combo forwards in Anthony Lawrence and Anthony Mack. While Miami's depth issues are a little easier to cover given the versatility they do have with their personnel, it does give Virginia Tech the option of going small and simply try to push the tempo against a bigger, less athletic team. Meanwhile, the Hurricanes could look to go bigger to try and earn more second chance opportunities though the Hokies have shown improvement on the offensive glass with 18 offensive rebounds in their past two games. The issues of depth vary for both teams and could create an interesting matchup that gives Buzz Williams and Jim Larranaga differing options for their approach in this game.

3. Matchup to Watch: Nickeil Alexander-Walker vs. Anthony Lawrence

Nickeil Alexander-Walker may have been quiet in terms of points, but his role proved quite valuable against Syracuse with 8 assists working largely out of the high post. With no zone defense to deal with this game, Alexander-Walker will be back in a more normal role and could give Miami lots of problems as a scorer. For the Hurricanes, the man likely for the job will be senior 6'7'' combo forward Anthony Lawrence. Lawrence has once again forced turnovers at a fairly high rate averaging 1.4 steals per game, but Alexander-Walker has only been averaging 2.4 turnovers per game, pretty good for a player receiving as many touches as he does. While Robinson has VT's best single-game scoring performance of the season, there's still no doubt that the Hokies are built offensively around Alexander-Walker who can do it all on the offensive end. Lawrence's length may be a better matchup to try to limit Alexander-Walker's ability to attacking to rim though Alexander-Walker has shown he's more than capable at getting the job done battling around the rim when driving against forwards. If Miami can find a way to contain Alexander-Walker, they can give themselves a shot at pulling off an upset.

Prediction

Virginia Tech has had their fair share of issues in true road games with a 1-3 record including a pair of 20-point losses at Virginia and North Carolina along with a loss at Penn State that makes less sense every day. However, the Hokies head to Coral Gables with momentum against a Miami team that has started ACC play 1-6 despite more than half of those games coming at home. With NC State looming Saturday, the Hokies need to build some confidence on the road and the Hurricanes seem like a fitting choice. One of the most fascinating matchups may be the surging Justin Robinson against the struggling Chris Lykes, Miami's leading scorer and 5'7'' point guard who has only 9 points in his past two games on 4-27 shooting (including 0-12 in his previous game). While Miami has a solid lineup as a whole that has been underperforming, Virginia Tech is the better team and has the more talented, reliable scorers in Robinson and Nickeil Alexander-Walker. That duo being able to rotate in initiating the offense should give Miami lots of problems. Meanwhile, Ahmed Hill could be the x-factor as the senior has five-straight games with double-digit points in ACC play for the first time in his career. While Miami does have a size advantage, they haven't been a great rebounding team while the Hokies have made quiet strides as a rebounding team with 18 offensive rebounds against North Carolina and Syracuse. Miami will keep it interesting and show that they are better than your normal bottom of the conference team, but the Hokies will pull away by the end for a comfortable victory over the Hurricanes.

Pick: #12 Virginia Tech 78, Miami 68

Photo Credit: Harley Taylor

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