After suffering a surprising upset loss at Boston College, Virginia Tech travels all the way down the East Coast to a struggling Miami team that may be without their top 2 scorers for the second-straight game.
This game is a great opportunity for the Hokies to bounce back and build some momentum with a Quadrant 2 road victory before taking on top 10 Florida State this Saturday. A loss at Miami wouldn't go down as a bad loss for Tech, but it would be a missed opportunity and shrink the already thin margin for error in this year's ACC.
Of course, the Hurricanes will be a solid road challenge though they'll be a much tougher challenge if their two leading scorers, Chris Lykes and Kameron McGusty, are able to play. At their best, Miami has proven to be tough with a win at ranked Illinois to back that up.
With that said, here are our three things to watch for Virginia Tech against Miami.
1. Will Miami Have To Their Top Two Scorers?
We've already mentioned it a couple times, but the biggest question surrounding this game is whether Miami will have their top two scorers, Chris Lykes and Kameron McGusty.
Miami's Chris Lykes (groin) and Kameron McGusty (back) will both be game-time decisions for tonight's game against Virginia Tech, per Jim Larranaga.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) January 28, 2020
The Hurricanes had their worst game of their four-game losing streak without Lykes and McGusty last Saturday with a 23-point loss at North Carolina. Even with Lykes and McGusty, the Hurricanes have had their struggles losing 6 of their past 7 games.
However, it's clear that Miami is in much worse shape without those two players as outside of Lykes and McGusty, the Canes have only one player shooting above 33% from three, Dejan Vasiljevic. Vasiljevic is also the only Miami player averaging more than 7 points per game, showing how the Hurricanes lack options outside of their top three scorers.
Without Lykes and McGusty, Miami will have a hard time being able to stay competitive against a Virginia Tech team that is clearly better even when Miami has their two leading scorers.
2. Will Virginia Tech Have a Consistent Three-Point Shooting Game?
Virginia Tech has been Jekyll and Hyde from three-point range at times this season including this past Saturday at Boston College when the Hokies were 6-12 from three in the first half and 1-9 in the second half. For a team that has embraced a live and die by the three mentality, their failure to adapt to dying by the three in the second half proved costly and led to their demise.
Virginia Tech's failure to adapt when the three-point shot isn't falling has put even more pressure on the Hokies needing consistency from three-point range. Outside of Jalen Cone, Tech really hasn't had that recently.
Going forward, Tech will need enough consistency from deep not only from a shot creator like Landers Nolley, but also their catch-and-shoot wings like Nahiem Alleyne and Hunter Cattoor who have had their offensive ups and downs this month.
If Virginia Tech can find their consistency from three for two halves, the Hokies should have no issues taking care of business comfortably at Miami.
3. Can Jalen Cone Continue To Be A Second Star?
Jalen Cone has been one of the biggest breakout players across the ACC during conference play. The freshman guard has been impressive especially over the past 6 games as he has averaged 13.7 points per game while averaging just over 1 turnover per game and shooting at least 50% from three in each game.
Cone has been a dynamite shooter with supreme confidence that few anywhere in the country have from three-point range. That shows in part with how Cone has taken at least 4 three-point shots in each of the past 6 games. Cone's emergence is another reason why Virginia Tech has not faded during ACC play as many believed was likely given the immense youth that Tech has.
Of course, Cone's improvement has drawn more attention to him, but it has also created more space for everyone else including guys like Landers Nolley and Nahiem Alleyne. Alleyne, in particular, has thrived from having less attention on him with four-straight games in double figures.
Jalen Cone has been a major difference maker for Virginia Tech and a big reason why the Hokies are still right there in the hunt to make the NCAA Tournament.
Virginia Tech is definitely the favorite in this game, but Miami should be seen as a dangerous team if they have Lykes and McGusty. If not, the Hurricanes will need to hope that the Hokies have a very off day from three-point range to have any sort of realistic chance of pulling off the upset.
One of the interesting things with this matchup is the fact that if Lykes and McGusty do play, the Hokies shouldn't be vastly undersized in the backcourt when having the trio of Wabissa Bede, Jalen Cone, and Tyrece Radford are on the floor; something that trio has been able to overcome. Additionally, the Hokies have the most talented scorer in Landers Nolley and the deeper team in terms of scoring options.
Virginia Tech is the clearly better team and will get the job done at Miami with the question only being by how much, something that'll be dependent on the health of Lykes and McGusty.