The Canes currently sit 15-5, 4-4 in ACC play, and severely lack a signature win to date. The month of February will show Miami’s true colors and their fate come Selection Sunday. The once sixth ranked Canes should handle Pittsburgh this week as their last game in January before entering an eight game slate (four nationally televised) in February when all eyes will be on the uber-talented Miami squad to finally reach its potential and cement their March status. Since the Canes’ haven’t swept an ACC week to date, let’s examine the upcoming month week by week.
Week 1: February 3rd: at Virginia Tech
The Hokies, like the Canes, are in the middle of the ACC standings and expect to hear their name called on Selection Sunday. Entering Blacksburg will be a challenge for Miami as Buzz Williams has a veteran squad led by Justin Robinson turning their season around at the right time by beating North Carolina and Notre Dame. Miami will have to lock up as the Hokies feature five players scoring double figures and shoot 40.6% from the arc as a team. The Canes will finish their season hosting Virginia Tech a month after this game. A split in the season series would be a respectable outcome.
If the Canes don’t sweep Pittsburgh and VT, this MUST be the first clean week of ACC play for Jim Larranaga’s group. Plain and simple, Miami cannot afford a loss to either Wake Forest (1-8 in ACC play) or Boston College (3-5 in ACC play). Due to the weak non-conference schedule, Miami cannot lose anymore games to the bottom feeders of the ACC like they did to Georgia Tech earlier in the season. Boston College defeated Duke earlier in the season, but has since returned to recent Boston College form and struggled in the ACC. A loss to either one of these teams will have Miami fans and coaches losing sleep.
ALERTING MIAMI’S OFFENSE!! Whew, the Canes’ struggling offense better find its shooting stroke this week as it will face Virginia’s pack line defense and the famous 2-3 Jim Boeheim zone. Miami prides itself on defense and can ugly a game up, which Canes’ fans have seen over the years, and that can help versus a team like Virginia who loves to do the same thing. But this year’s Virginia (20-1) team is ranked second in the country, coming off a win at Duke, and super efficient on offense shooting 46.5% from the field, 76.8% from the line, and 38.6% from downtown. Miami will have their hands full trying to earn a signature win at home that will start with finding their shooting and then stopping the trio of Kyle Guy, Devon Hall, and Ty Jerome for the Cavaliers.
Miami treats zone defenses like rocket science, as the utter look of befuddlement overtakes the team, resulting in no off-ball movement, and an ill-advised three-point attempt as the shot clock ticks under five. This will definitely have to change as they face Syracuse, who isn’t your grandfather’s Syracuse, but the same 2-3 zone that can cause headaches for any team. ‘Cuse also sits at 4-4 in the ACC right now, with their best win being against VT. Miami will have to solve the zone and slow down Tyus Battle who averages close to 20 points per game.
Week 4: February 19th at Notre Dame, February 24th vs Boston College
Miami will have a quick turnaround facing Syracuse on Saturday, then playing at Notre Dame on Monday, but the Canes need to defeat the Fighting Irish as a resume builder. This isn’t the same team that won the Maui Invitational earlier this season, as they lost preseason All-American forward Bonzie Colson to injury and fellow senior guard Matt Ferrell has missed games as well. This has caused Notre Dame to drop five straight ACC games after starting 3-0, and having wins over LSU and Wichita State in Maui. Miami will be tested in South Bend, but a win should be expected if Mike Brey’s team is still banged up.
Heading back to the Watsco Center that Saturday, Miami will finish their season series with Boston College where the Canes will be expected to handle business, and HOPEFULLY, secure a season sweep against a bottom-half ACC team.
Week 5: February 27th vs North Carolina
Capping off a strenuous month, the Canes will host the defending national champions. This is a MUST WIN in my opinion. North Carolina isn’t as talented as they were last year, as they lost ACC Player of the Year Justin Jackson, Kennedy Meeks, and Tony Bradley. Currently ranked 10th, the Tar Heels (5-4 in the ACC) are led by Joel Berry II and Luke Maye, but are very beatable, especially since they travel to Coral Gables. To this date (1/30), UNC has lost every road ACC game, except against Notre Dame who they beat by one point. This would be the signature win that would cement Miami’s status in the brackets come March, and possibly vault the team into a run come ACC tournament time.
As I look at the month as a whole, I think Miami needs to go at least 5-3 to make the NCAA tournament. That leaves the Canes 9-7 in ACC play with one game against Virginia Tech in March. 10 ACC wins, plus the ACC tournament, should be enough to land a spot in the field of 68. I predict Miami to beat Wake Forest, Syracuse, North Carolina, and sweep Boston College while losing to Virginia Tech, Virginia, and Notre Dame.