Hokie Hoops Preview: Miami
The Virginia Tech Men's basketball team is back in action Tuesday evening to start conference play after a weeklong break for the holidays.
The Hokies are back in the AP Top 25 poll at #24, having won their last three games, and will look to make it four straight against a Jim Larranaga-lead Miami Hurricanes team.
The Hokies and Hurricanes were once Big East foes during Virginia Tech’s short stint in the conference. The two schools made the jump together, leaving the Big East to join the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2004. The Hokies have faced Miami 41 times since they first joined the Big East, with Miami leading the series 24-17.
Virginia Tech’s latest matchup with Miami was a three-overtime thriller in Cassel and was the Hokie’s highest scoring game of the season. Tyrece Radford dazzled, scoring a career high 26 points to go along with 10 rebounds and 3 steals. He had some huge buckets down the stretch, including this physics-defying shot from behind the basket.
Despite Radford and the Hokies’ best effort, the Hurricanes bested VT 102-95.
The Scouting Report
After a couple of sub .500 seasons, things in Coral Gables, Florida seem to be looking up. The Hurricanes return most of their production from last season with additions of Cincinnati transfer Nysier Brooks and a pair of four-star freshmen.
Do not let Miami’s losses fool you: they were bitten by the injury bug early in the season and dropped a couple games to Pittsburgh and Florida Gulf Coast where the Hurricanes only had 6 healthy scholarship players. This holiday break was beneficial for them as they appear to be healthy heading into Tuesday’s game.
Included in the aforementioned injuries was last season’s leading scorer in senior guard Chris Lykes who is one of the most exciting players in college basketball. Despite being only 5’7” and one of the shortest players in college basketball, he can drop 20 points on any given day. Hokie fans know this to be true as he scored 23 points in their latest matchup. He suffered an injury in their second game of the season and Miami has felt his absence. They struggled to get any sort of rhythm in their two losses, in part because Lykes was not leading the charge. He is the leader on this team and getting him back into the lineup will be crucial for the Hurricanes.
Joining Lykes in the backcourt is sophomore guard Isaiah Wong. The New Jersey native has had 20+ points in each of their last four games, averaging 19.0 on the season. It is no surprise that he is the Must Stop Player for this matchup.
Offensively, the game runs through this touted Miami backcourt. They run a lot of isolation ball and simple pick and roll sets to give their players the freedom to create for themselves. It’s crucial not to let this backcourt get going as it is a scary sight for opposing teams when they do.
With regards to their frontcourt, Virginia Tech will see something that they have not seen yet this season: size.
If it wasn’t for Lykes bringing down the average, Miami would be the tallest team in the nation. Center Nysier Brooks stands at seven feet tall so Keve Aluma and the Hokie frontcourt will have their hands full. Brooks won’t dominate on offense by any means, but he is a putback threat and a solid shotblocker in the defensive end
Must Stop Player
One of the nation’s biggest surprises was the emergence of sophomore guard Isaiah Wong. Hokie fans caught a glimpse of his talent last season as he was incredible in the three-overtime victory leading the Hurricanes with 27 points and the game tying buckets to send the game to both a second and third overtime.
The ACC’s second leading scorer is a gifted offensive player and we will likely see a lot of the offense run through him. He has become the go-to player for the Hurricanes and has earned the trust of legendary head coach Jim Larranaga, who had this to say about Wong following their most recent game against Jacksonville:
"In the last couple of minutes we gave the ball to Isaiah Wong and he delivered in almost every opportunity."
This statement shows the trust Larranaga puts in his sophomore guard to go out and create offense for his team down the stretch. If Isaiah Wong stays at the caliber of play that he has demonstrated so far, this may be his last season playing college basketball.
This will be an interesting test for Mike Young and the Hokies as Miami has never had a healthy lineup to analyze. What we do know is Chris Lykes (assuming he returns from his injury) and Isaiah Wong are scoring machines.
The Virginia Tech backcourt has been excellent on defense so this matchup should be intriguing to watch.
Tuesday, December 29th