Virginia Tech at Miami

Virginia Tech (13-10, 2-6) at Miami (14-7, 5-3), 9:00 PM, ESPN2/ESPN3

Dorian Finney-Smith (right, with the ball) stopped an 0-of-25 shooting slump with a 5-of-8 performance against Clemson last weekend.

Virginia Tech, to its credit, is still playing hard despite some discouraging results in ACC play and they got a nice home win over a game Clemson team on Saturday. Miami, on the other hand, is in the role Virginia Tech used to be in: coming off a big win over a top-10 ACC powerhouse and needing to beat the teams it should to keep its NCAA Tournament hopes alive. And everyone knows Virginia Tech would love to play spoiler in this scenario. This quote from Miami blog Category 6 sums up nicely what this game means to Miami:

When the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” US Olympic Hockey team defeated the Russians they had one game left for the gold. In that game they fell behind early 2-0 to Finland before fiery Coach Herb Brooks fired them up by saying “ if you [mess] up here, it will be with you for the rest of your life.” Well for the sake of Miami Men’s basketball Virginia Tech is Finland. Like the Americans in Lake Placid, Miami will follow-up their biggest win ever with another win. The prize may not be a gold medal, but it will take them one step closer to the NCAA Tournament.

Stat to watch: Three-point attempts. Miami and Virginia Tech are third and fourth, respectively, in three point attempts/field goal attempts in ACC play. This despite Miami shooting just 30.9% from three and Virginia Tech shooting 31.9%. While Virginia Tech has struggled to make its two-point attempts (42.1%), Miami hasn’t (50.2%). Both teams need to be much more patient on offense and judicious in their shot selection. It hasn’t hurt Miami too much in its last few games but it has hurt Virginia Tech. One team should be able to force the other into a lot of bad shots and just pray they don’t go in. Miami’s sometimes do, which only seems to fuel the poor shot selection, but not much of anything has gone right for Virginia Tech lately. Maybe some crazy circus shots going in would help.

Most important players: Dorian Finney-Smith, Virginia Tech and Reggie Johnson, Miami. Finney-Smith started out ACC play pretty well, shooting 4-of-10 in the first two games and averaging 8.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.3 steals in his first three games. But from the Boston College game through the Duke game (six games) he missed every shot he took (0-of-25) and averaged just 3.5 rebounds. He fouled out once and picked up four in two other games. But against Clemson, he broke out and had 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting (he was 4-of-27 before that) and hit 2-of-3 three’s (he was 1-of-10 before that). And he had eight rebounds, his most since collecting eight against Boston College. His 35 minutes were his second-most in ACC play. To see the freshman finally developing confidence is essential for Virginia Tech going forward, and it looks like he’s starting to do just that.

Reggie Johnson had a whale of a game (pun somewhat intended) against Duke last Sunday with 27 points on 11-of-17 shooting to go with 12 rebounds (eight offensive). He had looked tired most of ACC play to date but he appears to have gotten in much better shape. Now, the big guy has had some time to rest and it will be interesting to see whether or not his huge game at Duke was a one-time thing fueled by adrenaline, or whether he’s finally healthy enough to take the next step and dominate a weaker Virginia Tech front line as he should.

Random stat: This has been an odd series: it’s tied at 10-10, but after Virginia Tech won the first meeting in 2001, Miami won six in a row. Miami has won two of the last three, but Virginia Tech won the last meeting in Blacksburg last year.

Prediction: Miami 71, Virginia Tech 68


Last week: 10-2

Season: 101-36 (37-17 ACC)


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