The Virginia Tech Hokies face their first true road test of the college basketball season Sunday, when the Hokies play at the Miami Hurricanes (12:30 p.m. ET on ESPNU). The Hokies (6-3) have averaged 79.4 points per game so far, but have rarely left their home court at Cassell Coliseum.
The extent of Virginia Tech’s travels up until now have been a pair of neutral-site games in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. The Hokies lost both of those games. One was a 96-77 loss to the then-No. 1 Michigan State Spartans. The other was a 68-67 defeat by the Seton Hall Pirates.
Virginia Tech will try to carry its home form (6-1 and 81.6 ppg) on the road successfully for the first time against a Miami (5-4) team that has struggled shooting from the field throughout the season (40.6 percent), and as a result, is among the worst teams in the country in scoring at just 63.9 points per game. The Hurricanes have been held to less than 50 points in two of their last three games, despite going 2-1 in that stretch.
One thing that is sure to travel, however, is Virginia Tech’s length. The Hurricanes are relatively small by ACC standards, especially since 7-foot center Tonye Jekiri only plays less than 17 minutes per game. Miami’s top two scorers are guards Rion Brown (13.8 ppg) and Garrius Adams (10.7). Donnavan Kirk, a 6-foot-9 senior forward, only produces 9.2 ppg despite averaging better than 30 minutes per contest.
Virginia Tech, meanwhile, is led by 6-foot-7 senior forward Jarell Eddie, who scored 34 points in Tuesday’s win over the Winthrop Eagles, adding seven rebounds. Eddie (18.8 points, 6.9 rebounds per game) is the feature piece of a strong front line that also includes 6-foot-8 sophomore forward Marshall Wood (5.7, 4.9) and 6-foot-8 junior forward C.J. Barksdale (11.5, 6.7). Virginia Tech even has good size at guard, where Ben Emelogu (6-foot-5) is averaging 14.3 points and 22.3 minutes per game.
To finally find success away from home this season, the Hokies must capitalize on their size advantage against the Hurricanes. Bigger than Miami up and down the roster, Virginia Tech is 22nd in the nation in rebounding (41.7) while Miami is only 186th (35.8).
Such an advantage on the glass should mean extra trips to the free throw line for Virginia Tech, as well, and the stats bare that out. The Hokies on average go 17-for-23 from the line each game, while Miami only manages 13-for-17.
It also doesn’t hurt Virginia Tech that it enters this ACC opener on a three-game winning streak, having beaten the Furman Paladins, Radford Highlanders and Winthrop. On the other hand, Miami is coming off a brutal 60-49 loss at the hands of the Nebraska Cornhuskers — a game in which the Hurricanes scored only 13 points in the first half.
Despite being on the road Sunday, Virginia Tech has the tools to push Miami into a similar kind of deficit. The Hokies far outpace Miami in every meaningful offensive category, are bigger and should get more opportunities from the line.
All of which is a recipe for a Virginia Tech win on Sunday, if the simple fact of being away from home isn’t enough to throw the Hokies off their game. The last time these teams met at Miami, the Hurricanes rolled to a 76-58 win (Feb. 27). But that was a different Hurricanes team, one that was ranked fifth in the country at the time and eventually won the ACC Tournament.
This year’s Miami squad won’t be going 24-6 and 15-3 in the ACC, like last year, and Virginia Tech needs to play to its strengths Sunday to capture its conference opener.