Photo Credit: Liam Sment
After having a full week between games, Virginia Tech ended their five-game losing streak this past Saturday with a comfortable 67-57 victory against Pittsburgh. Now, the Hokies will look to keep the momentum going against a Miami team that will be looking for a sweep of the Hokies after winning the first game in Coral Gables.
Virginia Tech is on the bubble for the NIT with a recent projection from Mid-Major Madness having them as a 6 seed. Now that may seem relatively comfortable but given that 8-10 auto bids will go to regular season conference champions who fail to earn NCAA Tournament bids, the Hokies are right on the NIT bubble needing a win tonight to build more momentum.
With that said, here are our three things to watch for Virginia Tech against Miami.
1. Paint Defense
In the first game between Virginia Tech and Miami, the Hurricanes dominated around the rim with a 36-24 scoring advantage in the paint. More notably, the Hurricanes' two primary big men stepped up with Rodney Miller and Sam Waardenburg going 8-10 from the field combining for 20 points and 14 rebounds.
For two guys who are not primary or secondary options usually, that impact proved significant and created space for Miami's more talented guards even without Chris Lykes.
In this game, the Hokies will need their interior defense to be better which may included turning to John Ojiako for a greater amount of minutes given his size. Ojiako had his best game as a Hokie this past Saturday with 4 points and 9 rebounds, and the Hokies probably a quality 10-15 minutes from him in addition to a better defensive performance from Tech's other taller players like P.J. Horne and Landers Nolley.
Expect Miami to test the Hokies' paint defense early to see if Tech has improved in an area that failed them the last time these 2 teams met.
2. Three-Point Shooting Will Matter
Even with Landers Nolley struggling from three, Virginia Tech's three-point shooting was significantly better this past Saturday as the Hokies were 12-32 from three on their way to victory. Part of that was because of P.J. Horne stepping up especially in the second half going 4-6 from three while Jalen Cone was efficient in his 19 minutes going 4-5 from three.
One of the unique things about facing Miami is the fact they have one of the league's smallest players in Chris Lykes who will play 30+ minutes. Because of that, it's not crazy to imagine the Hokies increasing the minute load for Jalen Cone given how Cone won't have a size disadvantage if on Chris Lykes.
Additionally, the Hokies will need other three-point options to step up like Nahiem Alleyne, Hunter Cattoor, P.J. Horne, and Landers Nolley. Part of Tech's three-point success is built around a diverse group of options stepping up to be relatively efficient from three just as we saw from Cone and Horne this past Saturday.
If Tech can have another collectively strong performance from three, they should avenge their previous loss at Miami.
3. Will Landers Nolley Be Offensively Efficient?
Landers Nolley struggled shooting this past Saturday going 3-15 from the field including 0-6 from three-point range on his way to only 7 points. However, Nolley found other ways to make a big impact even on the offensive end with 6 assists in addition to having 12 rebounds with Nolley turning a couple of those rebounds into transition buckets thanks in part to the hustle of Tyrece Radford.
In general, Virginia Tech won't be able to win a lot of games when Nolley is shooting with that level of ineffiency. While Nolley has had some shooting struggles of late, his 20% field goal percentage is quite the outlier that suggests a bounce back game is more than likely.
The question that remains is how big of a bounce back can Nolley have?
One thing that should help is the fact that the star redshirt freshman should be well-rested after having that full week off leading into this back-to-back home game stretch. The lack of travel and last week's rest could prove beneficial against a Miami team making a long road trip having not had an elongated break between ACC games to date in 2020.
This will be a tougher matchup for the Hokies against a Miami team that will have their star Chris Lykes to lead the charge. However, the Hokies not only have momentum coming off a Saturday victory, but also are in a back-to-back home game stretch rather than flying to Coral Gables after a long trip to Chestnut Hill.
That rest advantage will prove to be a major factor that will help the Hokies especially guys like Tyrece Radford in regards to creating transition. More importantly, Jalen Cone seems poised for a larger role given how his size won't be an issue with the presence of Chris Lykes for Miami, and could be a major difference maker to take the pressure off Landers Nolley.
The Hokies will have to keep an eye on Miami freshman Isaiah Wong who has shown lots of star potential lately scoring in double figures in the past 7 games, shooting at least 50% from the field in 5 of them while taking at least 6 shots in all 6. Tech was able to hold Wong to his lowest output during this stretch at 10 last time and they'll need to do so again with Wabissa Bede being a likely candidate to guard Wong.
While having Lykes is a boost overall for Miami compared to last time, the Hokies have been the better team overall and will benefit from being more rested and playing at home. Additionally, Tech's interior defense will be improved at home, and their three-point shooting will be more than good enough to get the job done.