Virginia Tech at Miami Preview and Pick

By: Tim Thomas | @TimThomasTLP | Feb 08, 2017
When these teams first met, Virginia Tech was on a three-game winning streak and ready for a big home performance. Instead, Miami made a statement in that game despite being without Bruce Brown taking down the Hokies and showing that they could still compete at a high level without him. However, that game became a turning point of sorts for the Hokies. Following that loss, Buzz Williams inserted Devin Wilson into the starting lineup and since then, Virginia Tech has become one of the ACC's best defensive teams. Both teams enter this game knowing that will be a part of March Madness, but hoping to improve their seed with Miami being in the 6-7 range currently and VT being in the 7-8 range. The Hokies also have aspirations to get a double bye with a win guaranteeing them no worse than a 5 seed in Brooklyn next week. Both teams enter this game coming off big wins thanks to last second shots with VT beating #5 Duke thanks to a Chris Clarke putback with 4.1 seconds to go and Miami beating #9 UNC on a near half-court shot from Ja'Quan Newton. Miami and Virginia Tech are firing on all cylinders entering this game as two teams who could be sleepers next week in Brooklyn.

Star Watch

Virginia Tech: Kerry Blackshear

After a three-game stretch with no more than 9 points, Kerry Blackshear has found his scoring rhythm with 14, 14, and 13 in his past three games. Blackshear wasn't the most efficient against Clemson, but was efficient in the other two games. The biggest difference has come from the free-throw line where Blackshear has gone 17-20 in those three games. As the Hokies head on the road, they'll need Blackshear to continue to be effective against a Miami frontcourt that includes their leading scorer Dewan Huell who has been quite efficient himself averaging 11.7 points and 6.7 rebounds in 26.2 minutes per game while shooting 58.1% from the field. Blackshear was a big reason for the Hokies' big wins over Duke and Clemson, and the Hokies will need Blackshear to keep his strong play going in the coming games.

Miami: Chris Lykes

Chris Lykes may only be 5'7'' but Miami's freshman point guard has stepped his game up since Bruce Brown went down. Lykes may still only be averaging 9.5 points per game, but that doesn't show how Lykes has been significantly improved lately with scoring in double figures in 6 of his past 7 games, averaging 14.9 points per game during that stretch. The 5'7'' point guard is a big reason why Miami has continued to play at a high level and has taken some of that freshman spotlight away from the former five-star Lonnie Walker. When Bruce Brown went down, Miami needed others to step up and no one has stepped up more than Chris Lykes. In this game, the Hokies will have to step up and try to slow down the 5'7'' PG who plays much bigger than his size would suggest.

Keys to the Game

1. Crash the Defensive Glass Better

When these two teams faced off in Cassell Coliseum last month, Virginia Tech gave up 12 offensive rebounds that Miami turned into 16 second chance points. This time, Virginia Tech will have to do better on the glass, one area where they've continued to have their fair share of struggles even as their offensive rebounding numbers have improved. VT will need their frontcourt to step up and carry the load. While Kerry Blackshear has been very good this season, he hasn't been a great rebounder statistically with double-digit rebounds only once in ACC play. However, Blackshear's rebounding has improved in recent games with no less than 6 in his past three games. Against Miami, the Hokies will need him, Chris Clarke, and PJ Horne to have strong games on the glass. One benefit for VT is that the loss of Bruce Brown has taken away one of Miami's best rebounders, but the Hokies will still need some of their bigger guards like Justin Bibbs and Devin Wilson to be effective boxing out.

2. Protect the Basketball

One thing that has helped Virginia Tech do well at home is the fact that the Hokies have done a great job of protecting the basketball in recent games. Miami has done a fairly good job at forcing turnovers averaging around 7 steals per game, making it very important for the Hokies to protect the basketball. While a great rebounding team like Louisville was able to get away with lots of turnovers when they faced VT, the Hokies simply don't have the rebounding to lose the turnover battle unless they are ultra efficient from the field. If the Hokies want to go to Miami and take down the Canes, they have to protect the basketball well and force some turnovers of their own, limiting the difference in the number of shots taken.

Prediction

This is a very interesting matchup between a pair of teams coming off big weekday upsets. The Hokies and Hurricanes have both had plenty of time to absorb those victories and re-focus on Saturday's game as both continue to seek to improve their NCAA Tournament seeding. One of the great matchups for NBA scouts will come between Lonnie Walker and Nickeil Alexander-Walker who are both averaging double-digit points this season yet both appear likely to be back at their respective schools next season (NAW more likely than Walker). NAW has shot the ball particularly well from beyond the arc in recent games and appears to be playing with more confidence especially against Duke. Justin Robinson and the Hokies will be ready for this game, but Miami has lots of confidence and has found some good chemistry. Robinson has been a star for the Hokies and it's been almost impossible to slow him down. However, Louisville showed that if you can slow him down even for a half, winning becomes a lot more difficult for the Hokies. The biggest difference is coming from senior Ja'Quan Newton whose senior year regression is starting to get turned around with 2 double-digit scoring performances in his past 3 games. Newton is an x-factor that could give the Hokies some problems in this game. Miami isn't the toughest place to play, but the Hurricanes are never easy to beat on their home floor. In addition to that, the Canes have the extra motivation of Senior Day that will help them, but the Hokies will make this game very competitive and show that they're ready for Brooklyn next week. However, Miami has found their rhythm and will be able to take advantage of second chance opportunities and protect the basketball well enough on their home floor to get the job done.

Pick: Miami 73, Virginia Tech 70

Photo Credit: Harley Taylor

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