5 key takeaways as Miami heads back to Sweet 16
Another Miami Hurricanes win …
And another Miami Hurricanes injury.
The Hurricanes (27-7) have done a lot winning this season. They were the regular-season ACC co-champions. And now they are the league’s only team still standing in the NCAA Tournament, reaching the Sweet 16 for the second straight season – a first in program history.
But just as Miami started the NCAA Tournament worrying about Norchad Omier’s sprained ankle, now the injured Cane is starting wing Wooga Poplar, who fell on his back late in Sunday’s dominant 85-69 win over Indiana. He likely has a bruised tailbone.
After he took the fall, Poplar returned to the game, but he exited almost immediately in obvious pain.
The good news is that Miami is off until Friday, and that could be enough time for Poplar to get right for the Canes’ matchup against top-seeded Houston. That game, which will be played in Kansas City, will feature an intriguing coaching matchup between Miami’s Jim Larranaga and Houston’s Kelvin Sampson.
Here are five takeaways for Canes basketball:
1. Bounce-back Canes
Isaiah Wong scored just 5 points on 1-for-10 shooting in Miami’s 63-56 win over Drake in the round of 64 on Friday.
But on Sunday, Wong – the ACC Player of the Year – made amends with a game-high 27 points and eight rebounds. He made 9-of-17 from the floor, including 4-of-6 on 3-pointers. He also made 5-of-5 from the foul line. Four of his rebounds were on the offensive glass, and he limited his turnovers to just 2.
Jordan Miller also had a bounce-back game. On Friday, Drake’s tough man-to-man defense held him to 7 points on 2-for-7 shooting.
On Sunday, he had 19 points, 5 rebounds and 2 blocks. He shot 9-for-16 from the foul line.
“Crafty” is the best word to describe Wong and Miller. Wong is able to contort his body to make numerous tough shots in the lane. He is similar to the Miami Heat’s Jimmy Butler in his ability to draw fouls. As for Miller, his footwork is exquisite, and he habitually scores with a variety of moves, fakes and bank shots.
2. Hometown hero
Canes guard Nijel Pack, who grew up in Indianapolis, thoroughly enjoyed eliminating the Indiana Hoosiers on Sunday, scoring 12 points.
In 2 NCAA Tournament games, Pack is averaging 16.5 points, shooting 5-for-15 from deep.
Pack’s ability to shoot from way beyond the 3-point line opens his drive game and sets up the Canes for success.
The feeling is that he is due for an even bigger game.
3. Board work
The biggest break Miami got all season came when Omier was able to return in time for the NCAA Tournament.
After putting up to 10 hours per day rehabbing his ankle injury, Omier has looked brand new, averaging 9.5 points and 15.5 rebounds in the 2 Tournament games.
Although Omier is known for his rebounding, his board work in the NCAA Tournament has been on another level. That’s especially true since he faced Drake’s 6-10, 275-pound Darnell Brodie and Indiana’s 6-9, 245-pound All-American Trayce Jackson-Davis in the past 2 games.
Omier, listed at just 6-7, is giving away plenty of height. But the 245-pounder is plenty strong, and he has a relentless spirit in his constant quest for rebounds.
His 17 rebounds against Indiana set a Hurricanes record for the most in an NCAA Tournament game.
Omier is a big reason Miami got 20 offensive boards against the Hoosiers, outscoring them 29-11 in 2nd-chance points. He also helped Miami dominate in paint points, 46-28.
4. Poplar needed
Poplar was huge in helping Miami rally to beat Drake, which led by 8 points with 5:40 left in the game. Miami finished the game on a 16-1 run.
Poplar scored 15 points in that contest, making 5-of-10 shots, including 3-of-6 on 3-pointers.
The Canes are surely hoping he is able to return on Friday. If not, Bensley Joseph is the likely replacement.
Joseph is Miami’s best perimeter defender, and he made 2-of-4 on 3-pointers against Indiana, scoring 7 points off the bench. His calling card is the way he hounds offensive players, making every dribble a hardship.
If Joseph is forced to start, look for Harlond Beverly to get more minutes as Miami’s new 6th man. Beverly is certainly capable, and he has had some big games this year.
In fact, Beverly, Joseph and Anthony Walker helped Miami outscored the Hoosiers 14-0 in bench points on Sunday.
5. Next up: Houston
The Cougars (33-3) are 1 of only 2 No. 1 seeds still standing, joining Alabama.
This is not an easy draw for Miami, but the Cougars do have 2 injury concerns of their own as American Athletic Conference Player of the Year Marcus Sasser (groin) and Jamal Shead (knee) have been hobbled at times during the NCAA Tournament.
For the season, Sasser leads Houston with 16.9 points per game, and Shead ranks 3rd at 10.4.
But even with those key players diminished, Miami is not being given much chance to upset Houston. In fact, the Cougars have opened as an 8-point favorite.
In addition, ESPN has Miami ranked 13th out of the 16 teams still alive – just ahead of 2 Cinderella teams in No. 15 Princeton and No. 16 Florida Atlantic.
Houston, ranked 2nd behind Alabama, advanced in the Tournament by rallying from a 10-point halftime deficit to defeat Auburn, 81-64, on Saturday.
The Cougars are now 17-1 in road/neutral-court games this season. Miami is 11-6 away from home.
Houston’s 3 losses came against top-ranked Alabama by 6 points, Temple by 1 and Memphis by 10 in the American Athletic Conference championship game earlier this month.
Both teams played Virginia this season. Host Miami beat Virginia by 2 points. Houston went on the road band beat Virginia by 8.