Basketball Preview: Virginia Tech at Miami

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Virginia Tech will head south to take on a Miami team that is fresh off an upset of Duke.  Tech faces the Hurricanes on the road on Thursday night in a 9pm game on ESPN.  The Hokies will be looking to win their second game in a row.

Miami currently sits at 14-7 overall, with a 5-3 record in ACC play. They won in Cameron Indoor Stadium on Sunday, which bumped them all the way up to 36th in the RPI.  With their strong computer numbers, and their lack of a bad loss on the year, Miami is poised to make a run at an NCAA Tournament at-large spot.

Winners of four games in a row, Miami is one of the hottest teams in the ACC.  They are more talented than their record indicates, but starting center Reggie Johnson missed the first part of the season, playing only in Miami’s last 12 games.  He was a force down low against Duke over the weekend, scoring 27 points.  Miami has been a better team with him on the court.  They also got back athletic wing DeQuan Jones, who was suspended for his role in the Nevin Shapiro scandal, for the last 11 games.

Reggie Johnson is just one of two big post players Tech will face on Thursday night.

Shane Beamer's 2012 Recruits
Joel CalebWRVA
Nigel WilliamsDLVA
Desmond FryeFSVA
Deon ClarkeLBVA
Augie ConteOLVA
Jerome WrightRBVA
Drew HarrisRBPA
Jack WillenbrockOLPA

There aren’t many teams throughout college basketball that can boast a frontcourt as big as Miami’s.  Reggie Johnson is a skilled big man, and if he would drop some more weight he would be even better.  His averages in both points and rebounds don’t clearly illustrate exactly what he’s capable of doing on the court.

Kenny Kadji might be a better player than Johnson.  A transfer from Florida, Kadji has the legit size of an NBA power forward.  He can also play away from the basket, going 17-of-35 (48.6%) from three-point range on the season.  At first glance, it would appear that this could be the perfect game to use Victor Davila and Cadarian Raines at the same time.  However, can either of those players defend an athletic guy like Kadji away from the basket?

Trey McKinney Jones is a newcomer to the ACC after transferring to Miami from Missouri-Kansas City.  He’s a quality defender and rebounder, and a very good athlete.  He adds to what is already a long and athletic Miami lineup.

Durand Scott and Malcolm Grant are the big names from seasons past that you should recognize.  Those two players form one of the most experienced backcourts in the ACC.  Either guy is capable of having a big game on any given night.  Shane Larkin (5-10, 160, Fr.) and Rion Brown (6-6, 194, So.) will also play in the backcourt.  Larkin has done a good job as an undersized freshman, leading the team with 37 steals and averaging seven points per game.  Brown is a guy who can score, particularly from the outside.  He is averaging 40% from three-point range on the season.

DeQuan Jones (6-8, 221, Sr.) is one of the biggest recruits in the history of Miami basketball, though his career has been a disappointment.  He’s an excellent athlete, but never really developed the consistent skills needed to be an every night starter.  However, because of his height, length and athleticism, he is a very versatile defender who could guard up to three different positions.

Miami is a very talented and experienced team, and they’ve gotten a lot better since Reggie Johnson and DeQuan Jones returned to the lineup.  The Canes are also adjusting to the system of a new coach.  Jim Larranaga, who once took George Mason to the Final Four, is now calling the shots in Miami.  Larranaga has a much different presence than former head coach Frank Haith, who is now at Missouri.  It obviously takes time to adjust to a new coach, though the Miami players seem to be hitting their peak right now.

Other game notes:

Miami has great size on the inside, while the Hokies are last in the ACC (in conference games) in rebounding margin.  That’s a mismatch in Miami’s favor.

Virginia Tech is second in the league in turnover margin, while Miami is eighth.  Tech has to force turnovers and get some easy points in transition, because it’s likely the Canes will get some easy second chance points.

Virginia Tech averages just 60.6 points per game in conference play.  Believe it or not, four teams are worse: Georgia Tech, Virginia, Wake Forest and Boston College.

Erick Green averages 16.7 points per game in conference play.  No one else from Virginia Tech cracks the top 25 in ACC play. The Hokies need a second scorer.

Kenny Kadji, Reggie Johnson and Durand Scott are all in the top six in field goal percentage in ACC games.

Tonight’s game will be televised by ESPN2 at 9 PM.

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