Virginia Tech Hokies and Miami Hurricanes NCAA Tournament Preview

Virginia Tech Hokies and Miami Hurricanes NCAA Tournament Preview

The Virginia Tech Hokies have a chance to get back on track in Blacksburg as they host the Miami Hurricanes on Tuesday night. This is a quadrant one game and will have an impact on both teams’ NCAA Tournament resumes.

The Hurricanes feature two big-time scorers in Isaiah Wong and Nijel Pack. They also have a deep guard group with Jordan Miller, Wooga Poplar and Bensley Joseph.

Isaiah Wong

Wong has been one of Miami’s most consistent players this season, averaging 17.2 points, 4.6 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game. He has been especially effective since the start of December, when he helped lead Miami to a perfect record in the month.

In eight games this season, Wong has scored 20 or more points. He also has a career-high eight double-doubles, including a pair of 30 point performances.

For Wong to become an NBA prospect, he needs to show improved consistency from the three-point line. He has never shot over 40 percent from deep in his career, but he is a strong free throw shooter (78.7 FT%) and can score off the bounce with a bit of creativity.

However, he also has questions on his defense. While he was able to work his way into steals by jumping passing lanes, he does not have the physical presence to guard ball screens in a traditional defensive system.

That said, if Wong is able to develop his offensive skill set, he could be a major contributor to the Hurricanes next season. He has the athleticism, scoring potential and leadership to be a great player for Coach Jim Larranaga.

Nijel Pack

Nijel Pack is an incredible player. He has made a huge impact on the Miami team this season. He has scored in double figures in each of his last five games, and is an excellent shooter from long range. He has been an important part of the Hurricanes’ success this year and will be a key component of their win streak in February.

Nijel Pack was a game-changer on Tuesday night against Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. He had 17 points in the final 7:35 of the game, and his performance turned out to be crucial in helping the Hurricanes to a 92-73 victory.

It was a close game all the way through the second half until Pack started to fire from 3-point range in a big way. He scored six consecutive shots in a span of 5:07, and that put the Canes up 84-76 with 2:28 left to play.

He also had a great game in the paint, as well. He had 16 points and was one of the most efficient players on the floor. He was very consistent from the field as well, making five of his seven 3-point attempts in the game.

Wooga Poplar

Miami’s defense is a big reason for the team’s recent surge in the ACC standings. But that isn’t to say that the Hurricanes haven’t played their fair share of great offense. This has been the case throughout the season, but the recent stretch of wins has been led by a young guard who has become one of the most efficient scorers on the team.

The sophomore has started every game for the Hurricanes this season, and has been a vital part of the team’s success on both ends of the floor. His elevated dunks have been crowd pleasers for years, but this season Poplar has taken on more responsibility for his team’s offense as well.

During their win over Pittsburgh on Saturday, Poplar scored a career-high 18 points on 6-of-8 shooting from 3-point range. He also grabbed eight rebounds, and Miami defeated the Pittsburgh Panthers 78-76.

A year after he averaged 2.3 points and 8.6 minutes per game as a freshman backup, Poplar has taken on more of a leadership role for the Hurricanes this season. His play on the defensive end has been especially key, as he’s commonly been tasked with guarding the opposing team’s leading scorer.

He’s helped lead the way for a Hurricanes team that has been dominant on both ends of the court, and is one of the reasons the program earned a share of the ACC regular-season title. He’s also been a crucial player in the team’s run to the NCAA Tournament, as he’s been consistently making big plays during the last two games.

Bensley Joseph

Miami bounced back from its first ACC loss of the season with a 79-68 win over Virginia Tech Tuesday night. It was a battle from start to finish, but the Hurricanes hung on for their fourth victory in six outings this season.

The Hurricanes got strong contributions from Isaiah Wong, Nijel Pack and Norchad Omier, but the biggest impact came off the bench from sophomore guard Bensley Joseph. He posted 12 points (4-6 FG, 3-4 3Pt, 1-1 FT), two rebounds and two assists over 20 minutes of action to help the Hurricanes improve to 6-6.

Despite averaging just 4.5 points and 3.3 rebounds per game, Joseph is making the most of his limited opportunities. He’s shooting 54.0 percent from the field, 38.1 percent from beyond the arc and 82.9 percent at the free-throw line this year.

In addition, the 6-foot-4 point guard is averaging team highs in assists (3.4) and steals (1.4), also averaging a career-high 35 minutes of play. He has logged a total of nine multi-assist games this season, including three in a row.

With the loss, the Hokies dropped to 17-10 and 9-7 in the ACC. They are now 1-24 all-time in Durham and must now look forward to a tough road trip to Duke, who’s atop the ACC standings, on February 11.

It was an encouraging sign that freshman guard Rodney Rice played 11 minutes off the bench for Tech, a player who was presumed out for the year after suffering a finger injury. He’s a good talent who can make an immediate impact for a program that has a lot of young players in the Class of 2020. He’ll join the likes of Earl Timberlake and Matt Cross, two of the top prospects in the class who will all have an impact on the upcoming season.

Harlond Beverly

Harlond Beverly is a 4-star combo guard who is committed to Miami. He is a product of Montverde Academy, a Florida-based prep powerhouse about four hours north of Coral Gables.

He is a versatile player that can play multiple positions at the college level, which is important to Larranaga’s scheme. Furthermore, he’s also a good shooter, so he can provide Miami with an impact scorer off the bench.

Beverly is averaging 3.8 points and 1.3 assists per game this season. He’s a very consistent performer on the court and is a great pick-and-roll ball handler.

His minute count has increased in each of the last three games, indicating that he’s becoming a key piece to the rotation. He has reached the 15-point mark in two of those games, and his performance against Boston College was a huge turning point.

The Hurricanes are going to need a lot of help from their guards when they face Virginia Tech. In particular, Isaiah Wong, Nijel Pack, and Jordan Miller will all have to step up their production on the ball if they’re going to get back to the NCAA Tournament in 2021-22.

Luckily for Miami, there are several talented young players around them that can fill in the gaps. Freshmen Bensley Joseph and Wooga Poplar have helped alleviate Wong’s ball-handling and play-making issues, and Harlond Beverly is a solid option to provide scoring punch when the team needs it.

Despite Beverly’s missed five consecutive games this season, he remains an impact player, and he should be an important part of the Hurricanes’ rotation in 2022-23. His minutes should increase if he continues to improve as a shot-maker and defender.

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