The Canes navigated through their non-conference schedule almost completely unscathed (save for an ugly performance against a 11-2 New Mexico State squad). Now the meat of schedule is upon us, with conference play set to begin in the strongest conference in college basketball, the ACC. Miami has their sights set on a conference title and a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, and in order to accomplish that, the Canes have to start putting together strong performances now. Here are the key matchups the Canes have to take advantage of to ensure victory against each of their ACC opponents:
Boston College: 9-3 Non-Conference Record, 1-0 Conference Record
The Eagles are the lone team to take down Duke this season, sitting them currently atop the conference (no one else has played a conference game yet). Boston College is not without its flaws, however, as they currently sit 13th in the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio. The Eagles main ball handler is sophomore Ky Bowman, who is averaging 5.6 assists per game, but is prone to turning the ball over as well. If the Canes backcourt can continue their high level of pressure on the defensive end and force BC to turn the ball over, Miami should come out on top against Boston College.
Clemson: 11-1 Non-Conference Record
Clemson are a young, athletic team that resembles the Canes in many ways. Both teams have similar scoring margins, assist-to-turnover ratios, field goal percentages, and rebounds per game. Where the two teams separate themselves is in rebounding defense, where the Clemson is third in the ACC and Miami ranks 12th. Miami has to sure up things on the glass to make sure junior forward Elijah Thomas (8.3 rebounds per game) doesn't create additional opportunities for the Tigers, who will be looking to shock the conference this season.
Florida State: 11-1 Non-Conference Record
Florida State was expected to have a down year after losing star player Jonathon Isaac to the draft last year, but has started the year off hot, only losing a 1-point game to Oklahoma State. Athleticism has been the calling card of Florida State teams for a while, and this year's team is no different. One area where the Notes excel is protecting the rim, as they rank 3rd in the conference in blocked shots at 6 per game, while the Canes rank ninth at 4.3 per game. Miami will have to hit their shots from the perimeter to neutralize Center duo Christ Koumadje and Ike Obiagu who are averaging 3.7 and 2.8 blocks per game respectively. Luckily for the Canes, Koumadje has been injured since the third game of the season, and there's no timetable for his return.
Virginia: 11-1 Non-Conference Record
Virginia has consistently been one of the top defensive teams in the nation, and they currently lead the ACC in scoring defense, only allowing 52.7 points per game. The Canes are second in the ACC at 57.0 points per game, so this will likely be a low-scoring grind it out affair. What may be crucial statistic in this game is free throw percentage, where Virginia ranks second in the conference (77%) and the Canes rank last (60%). In a game where buckets may be hard to come by, converting free throws could be the difference.
North Carolina: 11-2 Non-Conference Record
The reigning National Champions have played a tough non-conference schedule, taking L's to a strong Michigan State team and big upset to Wofford. The Tar Heels are a top offensive team, ranking third in the ACC in points per game (87.4) as well as a strong rebounding team, ranking second in the ACC with 44.4 per game. Their success in these areas can be attributed to UNC's talented big man Luke Maye, who is leading the team with 18.5 points and 10.5 rebounds per game. The Canes are a middle-of-the-road team in both of those categories, ranking 11th and 8th respectively. Dewan Huell and Ebuka Izundu will have their best games of the season against the Tar Heels to give the Canes a chance at victory.
Louisville: 10-2 Non-Conference Record
Louisville is a program currently dealing with lots of uncertainty as a result of the FBI investigation that has cost the Cardinals both their head coach and their top recruit before the season. The University of Adidas at Louisville shouldn't be counted out, however, as the experienced players on this team are still talented enough to pull out some tough games. Louisville's achilles heel is the rebounding defense, where they are last in the conference, allowing 37.3 rebounds per game. Once again, the Canes big men will have to take advantage on the glass and help out Miami's offense, who has been struggling to hit shots in the half-court this season.
Syracuse: 10-2 Non-Conference Record
The Orangemen are the pioneers of the zone defense, which the Canes have seen a couple times this season, including during their 84-81 win against Middle Tennessee State yesterday. Miami has struggled to start games against the zone, but has always managed to figure it out by the second half. Luckily for the Canes, Syracuse is one of the weaker offensive teams in the conference, ranking 12th in points per game and last in field goal percentage. As long as the Canes have good ball movement from their back court and hit some perimeter shots, they shouldn't have an issue with the Orangemen.
Virginia Tech: 10-2 Non-Conference Record
Typically not a strong basketball school, Virginia Tech has had a renaissance under head coach Buzz Williams. The Hokies are one of the best shooting teams in college basketball this season, ranking second in the conference in points per game (92.6), first in field goal percentage (54%) and first in 3 point percentage (45%). The Canes will have to figure out how to slow down junior guard Ahmed Hill, who leads the Hokies in scoring (16.5 per game), as Miami may struggle to keep up in a shootout.
NC State: 10-3 Non-Conference Record
NC State has done a solid job of replacing the production of star guard Dennis Smith Jr, who left last season for the NBA. The Wolfpack are a solid offensive team, averaging 86 points per game, despite their struggles from behind the arc (33%). The Canes should be able to come out on top in this matchup as long as they take care of the ball, as NC State has had feast-or-famine performances on the defensive end, ranking next-to-last in the conference in field goal percentage allowed (43%) while ranking first in the conference in forced turnovers (220). To protect the ball, the Canes will have to account for sophomore guard Markell Johnson, who leads the ACC in steals at 2.7 per game.
Notre Dame: 10-3 Non-Conference Record
The Fighting Irish have been a solid team in the second half of the season in recent years, and that trend is likely to continue due to how well they take care of the ball. Notre Dame is first in the conference in turnovers with only 9.2 per game. Senior national player of the year candidate Bonzie Colson leads the Irish with 21.3 points per game and 9.8 rebounds per game, so once again the Canes frontcourt will have to play at a high level on both ends of the floor for Miami to come out of South Bend with a W.
Pittsburgh: 8-5 Non-Conference Record
Pittsburgh is in the midst of a down year, ranking in the bottom half of the conference in scoring (14th, 69.9 points per game) and defense (10th, 68.8 points per game). The Panthers do have a strong presence in the middle with senior forward Ryan Luther averaging 12.7 points and 10.1 rebounds per game. Any struggling ACC opponent has trap game potential, so the Canes just need to make sure they don't play down to their competition.
Wake Forest: 7-5 Non-Conference Record
The Demon Deacons have struggled to defend this year, ranking last in the conference in points allowed (72.6 points per game) and 13th in scoring margin. Wake Forest is one of the better 3 point shooting teams in the conference, so the boom or bust potential is still there. The high-powered backcourt of Keyshawn Woods (16 points per game) and Bryant Crawford (15.3 points per game) leads the Demon Deacons, so Bruce Brown Jr, Lonnie Walker IV, and Ja'Quan Newton will have their hands full in this matchup.
Georgia Tech: 5-6 Non-Conference Record
Georgia Tech is currently looking at a place in the basement of the conference, as the Yellow Jackets are the only team in the ACC with a losing non-conference record. GT scores the least amount of points in the conference (66.4), and has the second-worst scoring margin. There isn't much of anything that they do particularly well, and the team has been hurt by suspensions to their top 2 scorers (Josh Okogie and Tadric Jackson). As we said before, Any struggling ACC opponent has trap game potential, so the Canes just need to make sure they don't play down to their competition.
Duke: 12-1 Non-Conference Record, 0-1 Conference Record
The perennial ACC-favorite and national championship pick looks as good as ever this year, led by the likely #1 pick in the NBA Draft, Marvin Bagley Jr. (21.9 ppg, 10.7 jpg, 61% fg pct). The Blue Devils have scorers at every position on the floor, and are one of the top rebounding teams in the country. The Canes will need solid performances from everyone to take down this giant, although Boston College has proved that pulling off an upset is not an insurmountable task. The Blue Devils don't defend particularly well, and are a very young squad, which offers a glimmer of hope to opposing teams.
The Canes will hope to start off their conference schedule with a win against Pittsburgh Saturday, but the season is still very young. It remains to be seen how the Canes finish in the very deep Atlantic Coast Conference.