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THE BIG PREVIEW: Virginia vs. Miami

The Hoos played a tough one on the road and now host the Hurricanes before a long layoff. Can Virginia improve to 8-1 in the ACC?

NCAA Basketball: Virginia Tech at Miami-Florida Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Virginia Basketball played a very tough game last time out, needing overtime to beat NC State on the road. Yes, they had a double-digit lead in the second half, and, yes, they struggled with NC State’s pressure defense. But they were also finishing up a tough stretch with four games in 10 days (three on the road). Now, Virginia returns home to face an underwhelming Miami squad before getting a full week off. That rest will be needed, because they return with back-to-back games against Duke (home) and UNC (road) within 48 hours.

The Hurricanes are at 1-7 in the ACC, with their lone win a home game against Wake Forest. Overall, they are 9-11, with their best win coming over 67th ranked Fresno State. They only really have one bad loss, against 127th ranked Penn. Otherwise, they’ve beaten the bad teams on their schedule, and lost to the good ones. They haven’t won a single road game all year.

The ‘Canes lost a lot from last year’s NCAA tournament squad as sophomore Bruce Brown (Pistons) and freshman Lonnie Walker (Spurs) went pro. Deng Gak is out for the season and Dewan Hernandez is suspended indefinitely as part of the Adidas scandal. Hernandez announced via Twitter that he would be leaving school to prepare for the NBA following the NCAA’s ruling.

Jim Larrañaga brought in five top-100 recruits over the past three years. The last of those guys is 5’7 PG Chris Lykes. In Virginia’s win last year in Miami, Lykes had a team leading 19 points (6-for-12 shooting). He was really the only guy who troubled the Hoos in that game. As a freshman, Lykes was fourth on the team in scoring. This year, he’s first. They have five guys averaging double figures, but this isn’t a particularly good offense. Lyles scores because he has to, because there aren’t enough guys who can create a shot.

Up front senior Ebuka Izundu is the only real interior player they have. He’s elite on the boards and is shooting 65%. He can score a bit with his back to the basket (below), but a lot of his points come on offensive rebounds or in transition. He’s just fifth on the team in shot attempts.

The entire rest of the team are perimeter players. Not necessarily shooters, but guys who prefer to play outside. As a team, Miami shoots about 35% from downtown (123rd nationally). But there’s only one guy among the top 500 shooters in the country, junior SG Dejan Vasiljevic. He leads the team in attempts, so at least the right guys are getting shots. He’s got deep range and a very quick release.

That came against a Louisville zone. He won’t get that kind of space against Virginia. Expect Kyle Guy to be up in his grill all night.

Lykes shoots a lot of threes as well, but makes just 32%. That’s because he takes a lot of bad threes. Here’s a couple of examples. The first one is a heck of a shot, but a poor decision. The second is a shot he’s forced to take at the end of the shot clock. In combination, those types of shots are dropping his overall percentage. He’s actually a very good shooter.

He was 3-for-7 from downtown in last year’s game. Jerome will get first crack at him, but this is a job for Kihei Clark. There has been a lot of comment and discussion of late about Clark’s minutes. When he’s not shooting the ball, he’s a liability on offense. Is that worth his defense? In this game, the answer is probably yes. Because nobody else on the roster has any chance of staying with Lykes. Is Clark as quick as Lykes? Maybe not. But he’s close.

The second option on offense is Florida-Gulf Coast transfer (and 2007 Masters Champion) Zach Johnson (OK, not the same guy.) Johnson is a scorer, though not necessarily an efficient one. He’s 37% from downtown for his career (not bad), but has made just 33% this year. He can get to the rim and can draw fouls, but his real strength is playing in transition.

He has quick hands and turns this steal into a one-man fast break very quickly. He’s able to finish with his left hand and draw the foul.

Johnson and Lykes have become running mates this year. Both really excel in transition.

Miami has no depth. That makes it tough to play an up tempo game. Last time out, Virginia saw a team that can run because of the depth they have. NC State had nine players get at least 12 minutes against Virginia. Miami only goes seven deep.

Four guys average over 30 minutes per game. That includes Vasiljevic, who seems to have lost his starting job in ACC play. After starting every game during the out-of-conference slate, he’s started just three of eight ACC games. He did start against the Hokies in Miami’s last game. Starting in his stead has been freshman Anthony Mack. Mack redshirted last year at Wyoming due to a concussion. He was granted a medical waiver and immediate eligibility at Miami.

Mack is a supposed to be a scorer, though he is averaging just three points per game in about 17 minutes. He has yet to break double-digits. He’s shooting under 30% from downtown and barely over 30% from the field. That is not good. He’s not a good defender and doesn’t pass or rebound much. He was recruited by Villanova, Wisconsin, Indiana and many others, so obviously somebody saw something in him that we haven’t seen on the court yet. He’s still young and is coming off a missed year. Maybe he’s just waiting for the light to come on.

The final two guys are senior Anthony Lawrence and sophomore Sam Waardenburg, from New Zealand. Waardenburg is a 6’10 guy who plays mostly on the perimeter. He made 44% from downtown last year, but he’s under 30% this year. His block rate is also way down from last year. He is 5-for-11 in ACC play, so maybe there was an injury or something, keeping him from getting going. He is a guy who can hurt Virginia with his outside shooting from a front court position.

So is Lawrence. Lawrence isn’t really a “big”, but he’s 6’7 and therefore plays up front for this undersized Miami team. Lawrence is 39% for his career from downtown, and sitting at about 36% right now.

Here’s he’s spotting up against Syracuse’s zone. With his height, he can shoot over most defenders. He’s also strong on the glass and an excellent defender. He and DeAndre Hunter will battle all afternoon.

The only chance Miami has is if they shoot lights out and Virginia’s guards continue to struggle from outside. It would help if Lawrence is able to slow down Hunter as well. Virginia has too much talent, too much front court depth, and home court advantage.