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The Big Preview: UVA hits the road at Miami

Wahoos tip off against the 22nd ranked Canes at 8:30.

NCAA Basketball: Miami-Florida at Virginia Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Following their first loss of the season, the Virginia Cavaliers men’s basketball team returns to action with their first ACC road game of the season. The ‘Hoos travel to South Beach for a matchup with the #22 Miami Hurricanes.

The Canes are 11-1, with a loss to Maryland and wins over NC State and Rutgers leading their resume. Rutgers is a solid win, but the Canes were never in the game against Maryland. Miami’s 22nd rank seems unlikely to hold. The Canes rank 48th on KenPom, 62nd on Barttorvik and 44th in ESPN’s BPI. Their last game, against St Francis (KenPom: 341) was tied at halftime (Canes won 91-76).

That 91 is the number to focus on there. Or maybe it’s the 107 they scored against Cornell a couple of weeks ago. The Canes average 79 points per game. Their offense is legit very good. They rank 12th in the nation in offensive efficiency (per KenPom). But, they do without shooting the three. Very rare these days. In the win over St Francis, the Canes shot just 8/26 (31) downtown. They did, however, shoot 13/26 (50%) against Cornell, so they are capable.

As Virginia fans are well aware, the way to beat a Tony Bennett team is to shoot the ball well. Houston wasn’t exactly lights out, but 8/21 (38%) is good enough with that roster and defense. The ‘Hoos rank 228th in the nation in three point defense. The Pack Line is designed to keep the ball out of the inside. That means, often, perimeter shots are available. This is especially true for opposing bigs, because the Virginia bigs want to stay near the paint.

Gardner comes down to help against the rolling big, which leaves his man open on the outside. Houston shot 8/21, but their lead guards were a combined 4/14 (28%).

Miami doesn’t really have bigs who can shoot, but that’s because they don’t really have bigs. Well, they have one big, Arkansas St transfer Norchard Omier. He’s 6’7” 248, and he’s a beast inside. Omier is 18th in the nation in rebounding. Yes, the Canes play fast, 9.9 rebounds per game is impressive. He is particularly tough on the offensive glass, and his offensive rebounding can change the game. He averaged 18 and 12 with 2 blocks last year at Arkansas State. The numbers are all lower this year, but they are still outstanding.

Omier had 17 and 9 against Rutgers. Keeping him off the glass is absolutely critical. This Virginia team is struggling on the offensive glass, continuing a troubling trend for Virginia teams. Tony Bennett’s best teams were often in the top 20 or better in defensive rebounding. The championship team was 50th. Last season was 209th, and this season is 164th, with ACC play barely beginning.

That really is the extent of Miami’s bigs. The nominal “four” is 6’7” Jordan Miller. He can shoot (14/41, 34%), though that isn’t really his strength.

The clip cuts in too late to see, but Miller picks up a loose ball and is off to the races. That’s their game. They want to run. They want to force turnovers and they want to get easy buckets like the one above.

You probably already know who Miami’s best player and leading scorer is. It’s senior Isaiah Wong, third team All-ACC last year and preseason first team All-ACC this year. Wong was also preseason first team last year, and fell to third team by the end of the season. That’s largely because he struggled shooting the ball last year (just 30%). He’s back up to 36%, closer to his career numbers.

That is awfully tough to stop. But, as mentioned, the concern about outside shooting is less about the opposing perimeter players, and more about the bigs. Wong will score his points, but he’s going to have to work for them. Houston’s Marcus Sasser scored 13 points on 14 shots. The three forwards combined for 40 points on 24 shots.

That’s the two bigs working together. Can’t imagine Tony is happy with that defensive possession.

The defensive miscues would be more tolerable if the team was still knocking down shots. Remember when Virginia was shooting lights out earlier this season? Since the first three games of the season, the Wahoos are shooting just 29%.

Ben Vander Plas is at 29% on the season, but just 2/18 (11%) since the first three games. Reece is 45% overall, but 36% since the first three. Franklin is at 42%, but just 35% since the first three. McNeely is 39%, but just 33% since those first three. It’s not just one guy, it’s the whole team. Those first three games included the win over Baylor in which they shot 9/14 (64%) from downtown. That was the first game following the tragedy in Charlottesville, and was clearly an emotional night. The Wahoos have just not been the same team, shooting the basketball, since that game. Whatever the reason, it would be helpful to get back to more of this:

That’s beautiful, and is a big part of why McNeely’s minutes are trending up. The assist on this goes to Beekman, and is a very nice play from him. But he’s clearly just not the same player right now. The assists are still there, mostly. But the scoring isn’t, because he doesn’t have the explosion to finish. Beekman scored 17 in the win over Illinois and 18 against Michigan. He has 13 points in three games since. Reece had 10 days to get his hamstring healthy, and was reportedly at 75-80%. Following this game, Virginia has another week off. Hopefully, by then, he’s back to 100%. Because with 100% Beekman, Virginia is a championship contender. With Reece at 75%, they are not.