Feb. 25 – Duke vs. Miami
After an up-and-down start to a season with high expectations, the Duke Blue Devils have been on fire. Before a loss to Syracuse on a buzzer-beating three-pointer, Duke had won seven-straight games, including three after ranked teams, to give them a chance to claim the ACC crown after a 3-4 conference start. While guard Grayson Allen receives most of the press attention, it has been Luke Kennard who has been the team’s best player. The sophomore guard is averaging 20 points a game while shooting a blistering 52 percent from the field, 46 percent from three and 85 percent from the free-throw line. Allen is no slouch, scoring just over 15 a night while leading the Blue Devils in assists at four per game. Add in freshman phenom Jayson Tatum and dependable forward Amile Jefferson, and Coach Krzyzewski’s squad has plenty of different ways to beat you. The Hurricanes witnessed this last month in Durham, when six Blue Devils scored seven or more on their way to a comfortable victory. In that matchup, Miami lead by 11 at halftime. UM ended up losing by a dozen, aided by a 20-0 run by Duke in the second period. The key in the rematch will be avoiding turnovers, as the Blue Devils took advantage of 18 Hurricane miscues to feast in transition and get quick, easy buckets in the last matchup. To get a win would be huge for Miami, and at the Watsco Center, anything is possible.
Prediction: Miami 71 – Duke 68
Feb. 27 – Miami @ Virginia Tech
Another game, another rematch. In their first meeting, Miami, led by Davon Reed’s 18 points and six assists, pulled away in the second half en route to a tight six-point win. Although Virginia Tech is clearly the least threatening team left on the slate for UM, everything is relative in the ACC. The Hokies are a very solid team which possess a very good offense that ranks first in the conference (16th in the nation) in adjusted field-goal percentage, which weighs three-pointers as 1.5 times more valuable. After two highly-emotional games against ranked teams, the Hurricanes can’t afford to take their foot off the gas pedal, as the Hokies boast five double-digit scorers who can each be a problem for opposing defenses. Virginia Tech has been great at home, and in a matchup between two fairly even teams, that makes all the difference.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 76 – Miami 72
March 4 – Miami @ Florida State
The Hurricanes will take the trip to Tallahassee in the final regular-season game of the year. The Seminoles are a perfect 17-0 at home, and the crowd will be extra pumped with a rival coming to town. In the last matchup at the Watsco Center, a close game at the halftime break turned into an FSU rout led by Dwayne Bacon and Jonathan Isaac – the top-two scorers on the team. Florida State’s calling card is its length and size, with NBA-caliber athletes throughout the rotation. Bacon is 6-foot-7, Isaac is 6-foot-10 and Michael Ojo is 7-foot-1 with “Shaq-esque” feet. They’re big, they’re physical and they’re really deep, as 10 players average double-digit minutes. This gives the Seminole top-guns ample rest to take over down the stretch. Going into the conference tournament, a strong showing in a tough environment would help Miami, but it’s going to take a Herculean effort from the Canes to win in Donald L. Tucker Civic Center. The Hurricanes are playing well enough that it shouldn’t be a blowout again, but it’s hard to see them winning.
Prediction: Florida State 73 – Miami 64