7 p.m. Jan 31 – Pittsburgh @ Miami
The Hurricanes close out the first half of conference play the same way they began it, with a matchup against the struggling Pittsburgh Panthers (8-14, 0-9 ACC).
The Canes won the first contest on the road in a 67-53 victory thanks to a balanced scoring effort and solid defense. But Miami has had a difficult time since then, losing four of its past seven.
Pittsburgh, which is arguably the worst major conference team in college basketball, may be the perfect way for UM to regain momentum. The Panthers rank No. 340 nationally in scoring, worse than all but 11 Division I programs.
The most newsworthy story surrounding the team has been when coach Kevin Stallings made comments regarding Louisville’s involvement in an NCAA bribery scandal. To make matters worse, he said this on the Cardinals’ court, while his team was getting blown out by 26 points.
Pitt has some talented players, such as freshman point guard Marcus Carr and freshman wing Shamiel Stevenson, who have played relatively well, but this team is simply devoid of enough talent to do anything more than put a mild scare into bottom-tier ACC teams.
Prediction: Miami 68 – Pitt 48
2 p.m. Feb. 3 – Miami @ Virginia Tech
The Hokies currently sit firmly in the middle of the pack in the ACC, along with the Hurricanes. Their season has been the definition of a roller coaster, dropping their first two conference games before winning the next two, and then repeating the same trend again to arrive at 4-4 in the ACC.
Virginia Tech has a win over No. 10 North Carolina on its resume, so this team is definitely capable of competing with some of the powerhouses in college hoops.
Coach Buzz Williams’ Hokies are fueled by their high-powered, efficient offense, which ranks No. 14 nationally in scoring at 85.1 points per game, No. 18 in three-point percentage at 40.6 percent and a staggering No. 3 in the country in field-goal percentage at 51.8 percent, trailing only No. 6 Michigan State and No. 16 St. Mary’s.
That’s some pretty good company.
Virginia Tech is a very balanced team, as evidenced by five of its players averaging at least 11 points per game. Leading the pack are junior guards Ahmed Hill, who is scoring just under 15 points a night while shooting 47 percent from three-point range, and Justin Robinson, who is averaging 12.5 points per game while dishing out 5.6 assists.
Miami will need to do a good job of defending the three-point line and forcing V-Tech to take tough shots.
Where the Canes can counter is on the other end of the floor, an area where the Hokies are not nearly as strong. Look for Miami forward Dewan Huell to crash the glass and pull down offensive rebounds in a matchup where the Canes will need all the extra opportunities they can get.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 81 – Miami 75
7 p.m. Feb. 7 – Wake Forest @ Miami
Miami matches up with another ACC team near the bottom of the barrel, as Wake Forest leads only Pittsburgh in the conference standings with a 1-8 record.
The Demon Deacons defeated the Canes last year, but they lost John Collins, who dominated in that game, to the NBA.
This year, Miami is far better equipped to handle coach Danny Manning’s young team.
What Wake Forest does have to offer is a big man who can defend the paint in 7-foot-1 junior Doral Moore, and it was clear in the Georgia Tech matchup that an otherwise mediocre team with an elite defensive big man, Ben Lammers in this case, can bother UM.
A way the Canes can counter this is by hitting their outside shots, something they failed to do in the loss to the Yellow Jackets, making just 4 of 19 from distance.
Another method of attack for Miami is in transition.
Junior point guard Bryant Crawford leads the Demon Deacons in scoring and assists, at 15.8 and 4.7 a game, respectively, but also in turnovers at 3.6 per game. Backcourt partner Brandon Childress adds 2.2 turnovers of his own. The Hurricanes, ranking No. 8 in the country in steals, should look to take advantage of Wake Forest’s turnover-prone guards and earn easy scoring chances on the break.
Prediction: Miami 82 – Wake Forest 67