Miami at Boston College
Miami (11-7, 2-3) at Boston College (7-13, 2-4), 1:00 PM, ACC Network/ESPN3
Miami could – and frankly, should – get to 3-3 in the league with a home game against Maryland giving them a real shot at 4-3. That would be huge for them as they will travel to Duke on Super Bowl Sunday, then host Virginia Tech followed by games against Florida State and North Carolina. Not a good stretch for Miami, and it goes 2-2 in that stretch, at least it would stay above .500. But winning games like this one is key. Given how competitively Boston College had been playing, their loss last weekend to Wake Forest was surprising. But their 66-49 loss at Virginia was closer than the final would indicate and the Eagles’ old pluck showed up again. If Miami thinks it can just show up and beat BC on pure talent, they should ask Virginia Tech and Clemson how that worked out for them.
Stat to watch: Points in the paint. Boston College is almost entirely dependent on getting three’s to go down and hoping their opponents take – and miss – three’s as well. The Eagles don’t defend well in the paint but when they do, they have won. Clemson and Virginia Tech combined for 40 points in the paint while in four ACC losses, opponents have AVERAGED 40 points in the paint. Reggie Johnson isn’t much of a threat on the block right now since he’s still out of shape, so if BC can force Miami to take a ton of three’s (and they generally don’t need much coaxing to launch a terrible jumper), they’ll have a chance.
Miami needs to make more of an effort to get the ball into the paint, either to Kenny Kadji or via guard penetration. Too often, the Hurricanes have been willing to settle for long jump shots late in the shot clock. Nearly 33% of their shot attempts in ACC play have been three-pointers, and they’re barely getting to the foul line (13 times a game in league play). Against North Carolina, Miami had 36 points on the paint and made 51% of its two-pointers. The problem was they took 16 three’s (making three) and got to the foul line just ten times. They have shot just 10-of-53 from three in their ACC losses and 18-of-37 in wins. That’s far too much reliance on the three-pointer and they need to take higher-percentage shots, particularly against a BC team that can’t defend them.
Most important players: Shane Larkin, Miami and Dennis Clifford, Boston College. Larkin has really come on in the last two games in particular, averaging 7.5 points, 5.0 assists and just 2.0 turnovers in 26.5 minutes a game. He is shooting much better – 5-of-10 in that span as opposed to 1-of-7 to start out ACC play – but it’s more his energy that’s given the Hurricanes a lift. Larkin is a speed demon and while Durand Scott and Malcolm Grant can use their craftiness to get to the hoop, Larkin can push the ball up the court faster than any Miami player. When he’s doing that and he’s under control, he’s a difference-maker. When he’s out of control, he has games like he did in Chapel Hill where he had five turnovers in in 24 minutes. No one on Boston College can guard his speed if he harnesses it well.
Clifford has struggled against big front lines, and Miami has one of those. But he is really starting to get better every game. And he perseveres through his struggles better – or at least as well – as any player in the ACC during the course of a game. N.C. State’s front line was dominating him on both ends, but he ended the night with 12 points on 5-of-10 shooting, five rebounds and two blocks. Facing Wake Forest’s Ty Walker, he shot just 3-of-9 but had four rebounds and three assists. And against Virginia’s pack-line defense he had eight points on 4-of-8 shooting and two blocks. If Clifford can continue to get comfortable and gain confidence – not to mention get some of the Miami bigs in foul trouble – BC might have a shot.
Random stat: Miami has made a three-pointer in 329 straight games and has made at least one three-pointer in 786 out of the 789 games since the three-point shot was adopted 25 years ago.
Prediction: Miami 72, Boston College 64
Last week: 7-5
Season: 88-31 (24-12 ACC)