In the second game of the opening round of the ACC Tournament, the 19-9 Wake Forest Demon Deacons take on the 18-12 Miami Hurricanes in the #5 vs. #12 matchup. No. 4 seeded Virginia Tech awaits the winner.
Last time out, the Demon Deacons got a much needed and hard-fought home victory over the Clemson Tigers. Al-Farouq Aminu broke out of his two game scoring funk, leading all Wake scorers with 18 points and 12 boards, as Wake defeated Clemson 70-65. Senior guard Ish Smith added 12 points in the victory. The win pushed Wake’s record to 19-9 (9-7 ACC), but more importantly, stopped a four game ACC losing streak. While a win over Clemson went along way to punching Wake’s ticket to the NCAA Tournament, they can ill-afford to bow out of the first round of the ACC Tournament to Miami. With an ever shrinking NCAA Tournament bubble, a loss to Miami would be very costly to Wake’s tournament hopes.
For Miami, a season of much promise has turned into a rather forgettable one. After starting the season 15-1 by snacking on a fairly light non-conference schedule, Miami stumbled to the finish winning only 3 games in their final 14. The ‘Canes were the only team in the ACC to go 0-for-8 on the road, and their only two wins away from the BankUnited Center this season came against 7-24 Pepperdine Waves and the 7-22 Stetson Hatters.
Even though Miami has lost 11 of their final 14, this isn’t to suggest that they haven’t been competitive during the second half of the season. Miami took a very good Florida State team to the limit in the regular season finale, having a chance to win the game in their final possession (61-60). Of the few wins Miami does have in conference, they aren’t to pushover teams either. Miami has defeated Wake, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech, all likely teams that will be Dancing next week. The ‘Canes are 3-4 in games decided by 5 points or less, and lost their last three league games by a total of 13 points.
This year, the Hurricanes and Deacons split this year’s season series. On January 9, Miami’s James Dews sank a shot with 30 seconds left to life the Canes to a 67-66 victory over then 11-3 Wake Forest. The victory pushed the Hurricanes record to 15-1, 1-1 ACC. That home win would serve as the high water mark for U-M hoops this year, as the Canes went on to lose 4 straight ACC games and 11 of their final 14 games. Wake Forest returned the favor on February 2, when freshman C.J. Harris paced the Deacons with 12 points in a 62-53 win over Miami. The Wake Forest defense held Miami to just one point in that game’s final five minutes. Wake Forest holds a 7-3 lead in the all-time series.
They are able to zone the Deacs into submission and get hot from three. The 'Canes have had Wake's number when it comes to zone defense the last couple years and Head Coach Frank Haith is going to need to keep Wake's bigs in check and force the Demon Deacons to shoot over the top. Miami is down Dwayne Collins and desperately needs to hit their shots in bunches to stay in this game. They would also be wise to slow the tempo down and make Wake work in their half court set.
For Wake Forest, it starts with their big men Al-Farouq Aminu and Chas McFarland. A solid game by both of those players will likely be enough to push the Deacons onto the next round and a date with No. 4 Virginia Tech. Another key will be the play of freshmen C.J. Harris and Ari Stewart. As Wake’s freshmen shooters go, so goes Wake. If Harris and Stewart are able to get hot, the Deacs will be able to bust zones and take pressure off of Wake’s big men. If the pair goes cold, you may very well see Miami pull off the upset.
GAME NOTES: Wake Forest is 42-51 all-time in ACC Tournament play, having won 4 Tournament titles (the last in 1996, thank you Tim Duncan). Since joining the conference in 2004, Miami is 3-4 all-time in tournament play.
FACTS & STATS: Site: Greensboro Coliseum (23,500) - Greensboro, North Carolina. Television: Raycom. Home Record: Wake Forest 13-2, Miami Fla. 12-4. Away Record: Wake Forest 5-7, Miami Fla. 2-8. Neutral Record: Wake Forest 1-0, Miami 2-0. Conference Record: Wake Forest 9-7, Miami 4-12. Series Record: Wake Forest leads the all-time series 7-3.
Thursday, March 11th, 2:00 PM ET (Raycom)
Miami has at least been competitive down the stretch, but for a team that went 0-for away from the BankUnited Center in ACC play, I can’t see them stealing this one from Wake.
Prediction: Wake Forest 79, Miami 75
Brian Favat and Jeff Martyn write about the Boston College Eagles at BC Interruption.