Virginia Tech broke a nine-game losing streak on Sunday against Florida State and will look to carry that momentum to Coral Gables on Wednesday at No. 5 Miami.
The Hokies (12-15, 3-11 ACC) will face the Hurricanes for the second time this season. Miami won the first matchup 73-64 in Blacksburg, due in large part to an impressive effort from point guard Shane Larkin.
“We’ve got our work cut out for us trying to figure out how we’re going to guard Larkin,” said James Johnson, head coach. “I definitely want to do something better against (him this time), try to see if we can’t contain him a little better off these ball screens.”
Larkin — the son of Hall-of-Fame Cincinnati Reds shortstop Barry Larkin — scored 25 points on 9-of-14 shooting on Jan. 30 in Cassell Coliseum.
Tech point guard Erick Green — who dropped 30 against Miami in the first meeting — is looking forward to playing against his fellow ACC Player of the Year candidate.
“It’d be nice to have a good matchup with Shane Larkin — a good point guard in the ACC,” Green said. “I’m really happy for the kid; he’s had a great year. But honestly, I want to get the win. It’d be a great thing on national TV to upset Miami.”
Although Green’s focus is on winning, his scoring prowess has helped him work his way into the conversation for the conference’s best player. However, he knows playing on a losing team isn’t helping his chances.
"I’ll say what I’ve always said: I’ll let my game do the talking," Green said. "It’d be a great honor (to be ACC Player of the Year). Would I like to be it? Yes.
“Do I think I need to be up there? I think I should be in the conversation, but they go off of winning. I’m just going to let my game do the talking and let them decide from there.”
While Green remains humble, his coaches and teammates are quick to praise him.
“Erick is a great player. He’s one of the best players I’ve ever seen in my life,” said sophomore forward C.J. Barksdale. “For him to be (doing what he’s doing) is a crazy feat.”
The nation’s leading scorer has been the focal point and lone bright spot of Tech’s downtrodden squad all season long.
"I think Erick is the ACC Player of the Year based on how much he means to this team," Johnson said. "It’s unfortunate that the team is not showing in the win column, and I know that usually it’s the best player on the best team.
"But everybody has the game plan. When you talk about playing Virginia Tech, it’s all about, ‘How are we going to stop Erick Green?’ And he’s still leading the nation in scoring. He’s still shooting 45 percent from the floor. He’s still shooting 43 percent from three. He’s still getting four or five assists, four or five rebounds (per game).”
Complementing Green in recent weeks has been the surprising play of Barksdale, who scored a career-high 17 points against Florida State.
“(Barksdale’s) game has stepped up since Marshall Wood has been back,” Johnson said. “And part of that is due to the fact that he’s been able to get blows during the game, and I’m able to bring in Marshall, who does have some fresh legs, being out six weeks, and it’s allowing C.J. to play harder and with more effort for longer periods of time on the floor.”
Barksdale, who averaged 15.5 points and 8.5 rebounds last week, knows he’s helping the team and hopes to continue doing so.
“I notice it — I watch film,” he said. “I feel like this is the way I should’ve been playing all season. I just need to keep being active and working hard.”
Unfortunately for the Hokies, they’ll play a hungry Miami team coming off its first conference loss of the season, 80-65 Saturday against Wake Forest. This comes a week after facing a top-10 Duke team coming off a rare loss to Maryland.
"That’s the ACC. It’s going to be a grind, anyway," Johnson said. "Especially this time of year, everybody’s jockeying for some type of position, whether you’re trying to have a winning season, to have a winning season in the league, to position yourselves to be ACC champions, or to position yourselves as one of the top four teams in the league."
“Everybody’s playing for something at this point. And I think that’s why I’m pleased with this team. I'm not pleased with the win-loss total, but I’m pleased with this team that at this time of year, we’re still getting better.”
Tipoff for tonight’s game is set for 7 p.m.