After beating Miami to end the regular season, Virginia Tech will look to go 3-0 against Miami after the Hurricanes beat Wake Forest in the opening round of the ACC Tournament. The Hokies are the heavy favorites as they face a Miami team that they beat by 14 last week on Senior Night and by 12 earlier in the season during a game in which Justin Robinson suffered the injury that has prevented him from playing more than 1 second on Senior Night.
With that said, here is our 3 things to watch for the Hokies against Miami.
1. Can Virginia Tech Continue Their Improved Three-Point Shooting
Against Miami, the Hokies appeared to have finally broke their three-point shooting slump that we had seen for most of February, going 14-26 from beyond the arc led by a 5-5 night from Ahmed Hill and 5-9 from Ty Outlaw.
The question that remains is whether that was a fluke or a sign of things to come?
There is no doubt that the Hokies are a significantly more dangerous team when they are living up to their potential as one of the best three-point shooting teams in the country. Whether Justin Robinson returns or not, the Hokies need to have their three-point shooters get going if they want to make a deep run and have the potential to bust some brackets from a 4 or 5 seed.
While the competition won't be steep today, it'll be a chance for Outlaw, Hill, and Nickeil Alexander-Walker to keep their momentum going. If they can do that, it could be a very good sign of things to come and make them a more feared 4 or 5 seed for any 1 seed in a couple of weeks.
2. Is Nickeil Alexander-Walker Finding His Rhythm?
There is no denying that Nickeil Alexander-Walker hasn't been the same player without Justin Robinson, showing that he is more effective as an off-the-ball shooting guard rather than a part-time point guard who isn't able to let the play come to him as well. However, Alexander-Walker has started to find his rhythm with 19 against Florida State and 21 against Miami while shooting over 40% from the field in both those games.
Now that shooting percentage may feel like a low bar for a player of his talent, but simply getting out of his below 40% shooting slump is a step in the right direction especially given his volume and how he does pretty well at getting to the free-throw line.
There is no denying the fact that this team is more dangerous when Alexander-Walker is playing at an All-ACC level unlike what he's done shooting the basketball over the past few weeks. If Alexander-Walker is scoring at the high level that he did at the start of the season and early in ACC play, Miami will be in for a very long afternoon and the Hokies will begin to look like a more dangerous sleeper for the NCAA Tournament.
3. Find Ways to Limit Minutes for Key Players
If Virginia Tech does what most expect them to do, then it will be critical for Buzz Williams to make sure that he limits the minutes of guys like Kerry Blackshear and Nickeil Alexander-Walker to keep them fresher for a potential quarterfinal against Florida State.
The back-to-back turnaround is always one of the toughest especially when going against a top 4 seed who, unsurprisingly, is really good and has earned their extra rest for a reason. There's a reason why picking chalk in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament is a safe bet and though there are occasionally upsets, it's much harder in a situation like this where your opponent has significantly more rest.
Now the Hokies are better than most teams that will have been in this situation in the past, but that doesn't minimize the challenge. In order to position themselves well, they have to make sure that they blow this game open in the first half and manage minutes of their star players in the second half. If they can, it'll set them up for a better chance at taking down Florida State tomorrow.
This game has the potential to get quite ugly as Virginia Tech is the more talented team with the advantage of having a lot more rest compared to Miami playing their second game in two days. Additionally, this is a Miami team that doesn't have a lot of depth, something that will likely be on full display especially as the second half gets rolling.
Miami has some veteran guys like Anthony Lawrence and Dejan Vasiljevic who can break out for big games alongside star point guard Chris Lykes, but the Hokies are by far the more talented team. That'll show as Kerry Blackshear and Nickeil Alexander-Walker seem poised for big performances while Ty Outlaw and Ahmed Hill should be able to build off their strong Senior Night performances against a Miami team playing 24 hours after beating Wake Forest to take care of business and comfortably advance to the quarterfinals.
Pick: No. 16 Virginia Tech 78, Miami 61
Photo Credit: Bobby Murray
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