Miami Hurricanes Basketball: Three Things to Know Before Miami and Virginia Square Off in the ACC Tourney Semifinals

Feb 22, 2016; Coral Gables, FL, USA; University of Miami Hurricanes guard Sheldon McClellan (10) shoots over Virginia Cavalier
Feb 22, 2016; Coral Gables, FL, USA; University of Miami Hurricanes guard Sheldon McClellan (10) shoots over Virginia Cavalier /

Survive and advance. At this time of year, it doesn’t matter how pretty a victory is as long you come out ahead.

Tonight at the Verizon Center, the Miami Hurricanes will take on the Virginia Cavaliers in the ACC Tournament semifinals looking to advance to only their second final ever. With both teams playing their second game in as many days, the nightcap of day four in DC could be a grind-it-out affair, especially for the Canes against a rugged Cavaliers squad.

While Miami is coming off a nice 88-82 win over the other team from the Commonwealth of Virginia, Virginia Tech, the Wahoos looked quite impressive themselves with a 72-52 win against Georgia Tech.

Making matters even more difficult for the Hurricanes is the fact that Virginia fans have made the Verizon Center Charlottesville-North with a huge Virginia crowd in attendance. In what will feel like a road game for Miami, the team’s experienced leaders will have to take the reins and guide the Canes through what could be a very rocky road.

With tip-off under 12 hours away, here are the three things you need to know.

We all know Virginia has a solid roster, but if you stop Malcom Brogdon, you can stop the Cavaliers.

There have been two constants for Virginia all season, tough defense and spectacular play from Malcolm Brogdon.

As the Hurricanes have seen in their two games against the Cavaliers and likely saw when scouting their semifinal opponent, Brogdon has been absolutely on fire. In the two games against Miami, the senior guard has averaged 24 points and he put up 26 against the Yellow Jackets last night. While Brogdon is an excellent player that could become a first-round draft pick, Virginia honestly doesn’t possess too many other scoring threats.

The most crucial matchup of the game will be handed to Sheldon McClellan who will now face Brogdon with a healthy ankle in contrast to when the two teams last met in February. That day Brogdon was unstoppable on the curl-and-pop as he knocked down jumper after jumper coming off of screens around the free-throw line.

It is not like Miami and McClellan need to completely shut Brogdon down to have any chance, but besides a few dunks from Anthony Gill, Virginia doesn’t have much to turn to offensively. The 6’5” Cavaliers guard will likely get around his average of 18.7 points a game, but it will be crucial for the Hurricanes to not let him go-off like he has so often this season.

If the Canes can do that, their chances of advancing to Saturday night’s final will skyrocket.

The Hurricanes need to find their range from behind the three-point line against Virginia’s notorious pack line defense.

The second of those two Virginia constants we discussed is their tough defense and man can they lock down opponents. Whether you look at KenPom ratings in which they rank fourth in defensive efficiency or at their points allowed per game of 59.4 which ranks second in the country, this Cavaliers defense is one of, if not the best.

In both games against the Canes, Tony Bennett’s squad has done a fantastic job slowing the pace down to what they prefer, the only difference from the first game to the second game was Miami’s three-point shooting. In that first game in Charlottesville back in January, the Canes shot it at just a 27.3% (6-of-22) clip and finished with their lowest points total of the season, 58. In the second matchup in Coral Gables however, the Hurricanes shot the deep ball at a 52.6% (10-of-19) clip and scored 64 points in a game with just 54 possessions. For those unfamiliar with those types of analytics, that is pretty impressive.

Miami was 8-of-18 (44.4%) from three-point range against the Hokies on Thursday night and they will need a shooting performance like that on Friday night to beat Virginia.

Both teams will be playing two games in almost 24 hours meaning bench play could be crucial.

Besides just the increased pressure and intensity that comes with tournament play, the other major difference is multiple games in a short amount of time. With that being said, depth often becomes a factor.

Last night, the Miami rotation was shortened as Ivan Cruz Uceda didn’t see the floor and only eight Hurricanes got in the game. Of those eight players, six played 26 minutes or more. As we’ve said over and over, this Virginia team is physical and hard to play against, so the Miami coaching staff may have to lean a bit more on their bench tonight.

Ja’Quan Newton’s return to the team was an obvious bonus as the sophomore logged 29 minutes and filled up the stat sheet in an impressive performance off the bench. Amp Lawrence and James Palmer had a few nice moments, but they will need to do more than that as the competition becomes much tougher.

In this tournament setting, the stars might not be able to shine for two or three straight games and each team needs to find an unheralded hero that can just get the job done. With both teams likely tired after hard-fought opening wins at the ACC Tournament, it might not be McClellan or Brogdon that leads their respective team to victory. It could be another starter or a role player, who knows, but in this tournament setting, each and every player has the chance to be the difference.