Miami Hurricanes Basketball: Three Things to Know Before Miami’s Quarterfinal Clash with Virginia Tech

Mar 5, 2016; Blacksburg, VA, USA; Virginia Tech Hokies forward Shane Henry (0) defends the shot attempt of Miami Hurricanes guard Sheldon McClellan (10) in the second half at Cassell Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Michael Shroyer-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 5, 2016; Blacksburg, VA, USA; Virginia Tech Hokies forward Shane Henry (0) defends the shot attempt of Miami Hurricanes guard Sheldon McClellan (10) in the second half at Cassell Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Michael Shroyer-USA TODAY Sports /

Three years ago, the Miami Hurricanes and Coach Jim Larranaga traveled up to Washington, D.C. looking to extend their magical run in the Sweet 16 against Buzz Williams and the Marquette Golden Eagles. The nation’s capital was not too kind to the Hurricanes though.

After being stuck in traffic for almost an hour before the game, the Hurricanes seemed stuck on the court as well as Marquette stifled the Reggie Johnson-less Canes and Miami fell 71-61. It was a painful loss that ended the best season in school history and prevented the Hurricanes from making their first trip ever to the Elite Eight.

While Larranaga and his Canes will not be looking to progress deep into the NCAA Tournament tonight at the Verizon Center, they will be looking to advance to the ACC Tournament semifinals, something they have not done since that remarkable run three seasons ago. Standing in their path once again is Buzz Williams, this time at Virginia Tech.

The coach that some refer to as manic or perhaps even crazy has not only brought the Hokies out of the cellar of the ACC, but has made them into a real contender as well. Led by some hot shooting and a zone that made the Canes look clueless, Miami found that out just five days ago when they were walloped 77-62 in Blacksburg, VA.

This current Miami team minus Tonye Jekiri might not even remember that Hurricanes loss to Marquette three seasons ago, but they certainly will remember this past Saturday. No matter the reason, every Cane will have revenge on his mind Thursday night in Washington, D.C.

Before this quarterfinal showdown between the Hurricanes and the Hokies, here are the three things you need to know.

Miami has to find a way to slow down the Virginia Tech guards.

Almost three weeks ago, the Hokies looked lost as they fell 65-49 against Miami at the BankUnited Center. The defeat was their seventh in eight games and it dropped them to a mediocre 13-13 overall record. Since then, they’ve done nothing but win.

Over the course of this six-game winning streak that has Virginia Tech as the hottest team in the ACC, there has been one constant, spectacular guard play. Led by a change in the starting lineup that moved Seth Allen and Devin Wilson to the bench in favor of freshman Justin Robinson and sophomore Jalen Hudson, the Hokies have looked like a completely different team.

Robinson has been the catalyst with his ability to create great shot opportunities that the Hokies just haven’t missed whether it is right at the rim or from way downtown. Miami saw this up close and personal on Saturday when the freshman collected eight assists.

Hudson hasn’t necessarily been as big of a factor scoring the basketball, but his move to the starting five has allowed Maryland transfer Seth Allen to play with much more freedom and tenacity coming off the bench. The 6’1” guard has averaged 15.8 points per game since moving out of the starting lineup and has provided the Hokies rotation with a bit more balance.

With all that being said, Miami has a couple pretty good guards of their own and will be looking forward to the rematch with the Hokies. In Blacksburg, Angel Rodriguez wasn’t heard from much and of course Ja’Quan Newton finished up the last game of his three-game suspension. The combination of those two and Sheldon McClellan have to find a way to slow down these red-hot Virginia Tech guards that have pierced ACC defenses over the last month.

The Miami assistant coaches were in attendance as the Hokies never trailed and beat Florida State 96-85 last night and you would hope they’ve come up with a plan defensively to disrupt the Virginia Tech guards.

It will be a tough matchup for the Hurricanes, especially the way the Hokies are playing right now, but Miami has to think of these guys like a Grayson Allen or a Demetrius Jackson. These Virginia Tech guards aren’t All-ACC players, but Miami absolutely has to treat them like they are in this matchup.

Miami helped ignite this Virginia Tech winning streak all the way back on February 17th when they dominated the Hokies in the second half and to make sure the now end this winning streak, limiting Virginia Tech’s guards is vital.

The three-point battle will be a huge factor in deciding the winner.

This season, Virginia Tech has been pretty average shooting the three ball as they rank 122nd in the nation in three-point shooting percentage at 35.9%. If you’ve watched them recently though, they’ve haven’t just been above average, they’ve looked like the Golden State Warriors.

Following a 9-of-17 (52.1%) three-point display against the Hurricanes, the Hokies were almost as brilliant on Wednesday night at Verizon Center as they shot 8-of-18 (44.4%) from deep in their second round win over Florida State. For both Miami and Virginia Tech, they can win without the three ball, but when either of those teams is nailing them consistently, you are going to have a hard time beating them.

The most dangerous Virginia Tech shooter is Justin Bibbs who has shot 46.8% from three-point range this season which ranks 20th in the country. Besides Bibbs, Zach LeDay, Jalen Hudson and Justin Robinson have all shown they can knock it down from deep consistently, now the Hurricanes have to match that.

Whether it is Angel Rodriguez, Sheldon McClellan, Davon Reed or any of Miami’s bench players, they will likely have to find their range from behind the arc early on. In that loss in Blacksburg, the Canes shot an atrocious 4-of-24 (16.7%) from deep which is not only bad, but it took them out of the game as well.

Three-point shooting is so significant in March because not too many teams seem to shoot it at their usual rate during crunch time. For Miami tonight, they don’t need to hit 20 three-pointers, but they do need to win the battle from behind the arc.

If Virginia Tech starts lighting it up from three again, Miami could have a long plane ride home back to Coral Gables.

Getting Ja’Quan Newton back should help if the Hokies employ a zone once again.

A huge factor in winning both the guard and the three-point battle is the return of Ja’Quan Newton. The sophomore point guard returns to the team after being suspended three games for a “violation of team rules” and will look to be the difference against the Hokies.

One of the biggest reasons Virginia Tech was so successful against Miami was their 2-3 zone that left the Hurricanes looking more like a high school team rather than a team competing for the ACC Regular Season title and a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament. They got very little penetration and often would shoot wild, contested jumpers as the shot clock ticked down. With Newton back, that should change.

What makes the sixth man so good is his ability to drive and either finish in the lane or distribute to an open shooter. While Angel Rodriguez is quick and can get into the paint, his lack of size sometimes prevents him from being effective once he gets there. That size isn’t an issue for the 6’2” Ja’Quan Newton.

Maybe with his return we won’t see Virginia Tech play zone exclusively, but if they do, Miami should feel a lot more confident with him and Angel Rodriguez both on the court at the same time.

Newton didn’t win sixth man of the year and maybe that was because of his three-game suspension, but if he can return to the player he was earlier this season, the Hurricanes return to the nation’s capital against Buzz Williams should go a bit better this time around.