Miami (18-8, 8-6) and Virginia (18-8, 8-6) will clash at John Paul Jones Arena tonight, in a battle of two teams going in different directions.
The Cavaliers have consistently been ranked amongst the best teams in the country, but now find themselves in the midst of a three-game skid (for the first time in six years).
Virginia Tech stormed back in the second half and beat UVA in double-overtime on Feb. 12, then last week UVA lost at home by 10 to #12 Duke and got embarrassed at #10 North Carolina 65-41.
Like most Tony Bennett coached Virginia teams, this group excels on the defensive end and won’t turn the ball over on offense (2nd in the nation in fewest turnovers).
Virginia is not a team that will beat itself, in their last two losses they combined had just 14 turnovers.
However, they are trending the opposite direction of a Miami team, who after back-to-back wins is now tied with Virginia in conference play.
The Hurricanes were shorthanded in both games last week, missing Ja’Quan Newton to suspension and Ebuka Izundu for almost the whole second half last Wednesday against Georgia Tech.
But they were able to grind out a couple victories at the Watsco Center, in games the ‘Canes needed to win.
Davon Reed cemented another great game performance last Wednesday; however, he struggled more than usual Saturday against Clemson (4/11 for the game) and the rest of the team stepped up.
Kamari Murphy was a man possessed recording 15 points on 7/9 shooting and bringing down 9 rebounds. Izundu came back from a mid-game injury earlier in the week to put in an efficient effort with 12 points on 5/10 from the field, Anthony Lawrence Jr. added 12 points and Bruce Brown rounded out the starters by with 9 points.
Playing Virginia is always a little personal for Coach Jim Larranaga, who was an assistant there from 1979-1986. But he’s just 2-5 against the Cavs since he took the helm at Miami in 2011.
And this will be one of the hardest games for Miami season. The road atmosphere will be as loud as any they’ve faced this year, the opponent is hungry and desperate to get back to their winning ways, and the UVA defense will make it challenging to score in the half-court offense.
Coach L’s remarks leading up to this game make it seem like Miami will lean on their defense. “Part of the key for us is to be able to hold teams under 70 points.”
Expect today’s game to be a grind. It’ll probably look more like an old Big Ten clash than a current ACC one. UVA shot a season-low 27% in their last game and started 0/17 from three.
Miami will need to get out in transition and not allow UVA to set up their stingy defense. But by doing so the ‘Canes need to stay composed and not get too tired, as they will most likely be going just seven players deep again.
I expect this game to be close throughout, but can Miami keep it up for a full 40 minutes for a third game in a row with an undermanned roster?
I don’t think so.
I believe the Cavs pull away late and win this one 63-56.