Miami at Georgia Tech
Miami (10-7, 1-3) at Georgia Tech (8-11, 1-4), 9:00 PM, ESPNU
Miami dropped a game it could have had at home against N.C. State, but the Hurricanes have a chance to right the ship with three games against struggling teams (at Georgia Tech and Boston College, home against Maryland). Tonight’s game is the type of contest Miami has lost in the last few years – a thoroughly winnable game that it needs to have, but doesn’t win. It’s inexplicable. But it’s classic Miami. They need to avoid that if they want to put themselves in the mix for a postseason berth. Georgia Tech has games at North Carolina and at Florida State coming up, but the remainder of the Yellow Jackets’ home games – including this one – are winnable. Ken Pomeroy projects Georgia Tech to finish 6-10 in conference, but he also projects them to lose three in a row, giving them six straight losses. This is Georgia Tech’s best chance statistically (44%) and in real life to win one of its next three.
Stat to watch: Turnovers. Miami had taken care of the ball very well prior to ACC play, but the Hurricanes have averaged 15 turnovers in four ACC games so far and their 16 against N.C. State really hurt (the Wolfpack turned those into 21 points). And in three ACC losses, Miami’s 15 turnovers have turned into 13.3 points for their opponents. The Hurricanes have to do a better job of hanging onto the ball. It’s no coincidence that their opponents have averaged 10 fast break points in ACC play (taking out Virginia, which had none, it’s 13.3 per game). Georgia Tech has also struggled with turnovers, averaging 20 in league play. Their opponents haven’t had that problem, averaging just 11.4. And opponents have turned Georgia Tech turnovers into 15.0 points per game. Georgia Tech, meanwhile, has turned its opponents’ turnovers into just 8.4 points. The Yellow Jackets struggle so much to score as it is that they can’t continue on this pace of giving up easy baskets off mistakes and failing to force opponents into mistakes.
Most important players: Glen Rice, Jr., Georgia Tech and Kenny Kadji, Miami. When it comes to Rice, it’s not difficult: in two ACC single-digit losses (plus one win), he has averaged 23 points on 59% shooting (53% from three), adding 7.0 free-throw attempts per game and 7.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists and a steal in 32 minutes. Georgia Tech has averaged 72.3 points on 48.1% shooting (53% from three) in those games, winning one and losing closely to Clemson and Duke. In two losses (both by double digits), Rice has averaged 6.5 points on 27.8% shooting (0-of-5 from three), adding 2.0 free-throw attempts, four rebounds, 1.5 assists and a steal in 26.5 minutes. Georgia Tech has averaged 44 points on 31.7% shooting (13% from three) and has lost by 21.5 points on average.
As Miami’s guards have struggled in league play and Reggie Johnson is struggling to get in shape, Kenny Kadji has been carrying the Hurricanes. Like all good players do, he’s upped his game in league play, averaging 16 points on 57% shooting and adding six rebounds and 1.8 blocks in 32 minutes. He has also played well on the road in the ACC, averaging 15 points on 57% shooting at Virginia and North Carolina, two pretty good defenses. Georgia Tech can be a tough defense at times too, but the Yellow Jackets have no one who can guard Kadji, and he needs to exploit that.
Random stat: Georgia Tech is 0-4 at “home” in Philips Arena (their home this year while their new arena, McCamish Pavilion, is being built) and just 4-7 all-time. They are 4-1 at the Arena at Gwinnett Center, their first “home” arena this year. Miami leads the series 7-6 and 6-4 since joining the ACC. Tech is 3-2 against Miami at home since expansion. Miami is 1-5 on the road this year and that one win came at UNC-Charlotte. But Georgia Tech seems to hate winning at home as well, so who knows?
Prediction: Miami 68, Georgia Tech 61
Last week: 7-5
Season: 78-31 (16-12 ACC)