Miami Hurricanes Basketball: Three Things to Know Before Miami’s Regular Season Finale at Virginia Tech

Feb 17, 2016; Coral Gables, FL, USA; Miami Hurricanes forward Anthony Lawrence Jr. (3) blocked the shot from Virginia Tech Hokies forward Kerry Blackshear Jr. (24) during the first half at BankUnited Center. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 17, 2016; Coral Gables, FL, USA; Miami Hurricanes forward Anthony Lawrence Jr. (3) blocked the shot from Virginia Tech Hokies forward Kerry Blackshear Jr. (24) during the first half at BankUnited Center. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports /

My how a year can change things.

Almost exactly 365 days ago, the Miami Hurricanes sat anxiously on the bubble and traveled to Blacksburg, VA. to take on the Virginia Tech Hokies in a game the Canes couldn’t afford to lose. Fast forward to the 2016 regular season finale and the question isn’t whether Miami will make the tournament, but how high can the Hurricanes go?

Following a wire-to-wire 68-50 victory at Notre Dame, Coach Jim Larranaga’s squad can assure themselves of at least a share of the ACC Regular Season title with a win at Virginia Tech Saturday afternoon. While that accomplishment would be nice, the Canes also factor very heavily in the race for the No. 1 seed and could see themselves move up to the top line at week’s end with a win and some favorable results around them.

Standing in their way from all of that is Virginia Tech. It isn’t a highly anticipated matchup as the last four were for Miami, but it takes on almost exactly the same importance considering what is at stake.

Before the regular season finale, here are the three things you need to know:

Virginia Tech has been the laughingstock of the ACC for quite awhile, but Buzz Williams has certianly changed that perception.

Over the last three years combined, the Virginia Tech Hokies compiled a measly eight ACC victories. This year, they already have nine ACC wins.

In only his second year at the helm in Blacksburg, Coach Buzz Williams has turned the Hokies from the door mat of the ACC into a team that could finish in the top half of the conference. It has been and up-and-down ACC slate for Virginia Tech though as they began conference play winning four of five including a 70-68 home win over No. 4 Virginia. Following that, the Hokies lost seven of eight games in a stretch in which they played four ranked opponents including Miami. Since then, they’ve been perfect.

Buzz Williams’s squad has won four straight games and are coming off a 65-61 victory over a very solid Pittsburgh squad. The Hokies won’t be making the NCAA Tournament barring a miracle run at the ACC Tournament next week, but their improvement is certainly visible.

Much of that improvement has been a product of two transfers that have certainly paid off in Zach LeDay and Seth Allen. Both transferred in after the 2013-14 season with LeDay coming from USF and Allen coming from Maryland and now, the two lead the team in scoring. While LeDay and Allen combine to score 29 points a game, the Hurricanes did a fantastic job on them in the last meeting. The Hurricanes held the duo to 3-of-15 shooting from the field and just 11 points which was a huge factor in Miami’s victory.

The Canes are 4-0 in the last four meetings between the two teams and while Miami is favored going into Saturday afternoon, it’s fairly safe to say this is a different kind of Virginia Tech team.

Miami didn’t have Ja’Quan Newton the first time around vs. Virginia Tech, now they’ll need to overcome his absence once again.

In that win over Virginia Tech we just spoke of only about two weeks ago, sophomore point guard Ja’Quan Newton was held out of the game due to a “medical condition” and his absence was felt on the court.

In the first half of that game, the Hurricanes delivered an unenergetic and inefficient first half performance shooting 30.7% and managing just 21 points. Miami came away with the victory that night after a second half flurry saw them score 44 points, but on the road in a game the Hokies would desperately love to have, the Canes can’t afford a sluggish start again.

Not having Newton hasn’t been an issue in Miami’s last two games as they’ve picked up extremely impressive victories over Louisville and at Notre Dame. While the Hurricans certainly miss his ability to score off the bench, the Miami coaching staff has done a tremendous job piecing together the rotation that absolutely dominated the Fighting Irish on Wednesday night.

In the Notre Dame game, the Canes had fantastic performances from so many players and when this team utilizes balance, they are almost impossible to stop. In all three games Newton has missed (VT, Louisville & Notre Dame), the Canes have had at least three scorers in double-digits and have come away with victories in all three. Of course it’s not like you don’t want Newton in the lineup, but for Miami to respond to adversity with those kinds of performance has certainly been impressive. Now they need to do it one more time without him on Saturday afternoon.

For all that Miami can accomplish with a win, they can’t have a letdown.

The Miami Hurricanes are potentially on the verge of their second ACC Regular Season title in the last four years. They are potentially on the verge of a program’s record for regular season wins and can even manage to stay in the race for the first No. 1 seed in program history. Think about all that the Canes can accomplish with a win Saturday, now they just can’t have a letdown.

For all that Virginia Tech has improved, the Hurricanes should win this regular season finale. It’s no disrespect to the Hokies, but this Miami team is playing its best basketball of the season and looks like a team that is hungry for success in March. In saying all that, everyone knows how hard it is to win on the road in the ACC.

The Canes got rid of most of their road demons with the win in South Bend on Wednesday night, but Coach Larranaga and his staff have to make sure his team isn’t looking ahead to DC and the ACC Tournament coming next week. With the type of leadership this team has and with what we saw against Notre Dame, I doubt this team will, but with so much on the line they need that aggressive mentality from the start.

A year has changed so much for the Miami Hurricanes, but the one thing they won’t want to change from last year is a Canes victory in Blacksburg to wrap up the regular season.