Miami brings balance, unselfishness into NCAA Tournament
CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) — The voters deciding the Atlantic Coast Conference’s player of the year say Isaiah Wong is Miami’s best player.
He might be. Then again, so might Jordan Miller. Or Norchad Omier. Or Nijel Pack. It almost varies by game.
Such is the strength of Miami heading into the NCAA Tournament.
The ACC’s regular-season co-champions are one of only two teams that made the field of 68 to have four players averaging at least 13 points per game (Xavier is the other). It’s the sort of production keeps defenses guessing and a good argument for suggesting the Hurricanes have a shot at making another deep tournament run.
“One of the best teams in the country,” Wake Forest coach Steve Forbes said. “They’re elite on offense. I don’t think they get enough credit by the way they defend. Their guards are really fast. They can really move their feet. They’re physical. They’re handsy. ... They have an outstanding team.”
Not only are they deep and balanced — Wong, Miller, Omier and Pack all average between 13 and 16 points per game — now, evidently, they’re annoyed.
Based on preseason prognostications, not much was expected from Miami this season even after coming off a run to the Elite Eight a year ago.
On Wednesday, the team, in conjunction with The Players’ Tribune, released a video that playfully recommends those filling out their brackets not pick Miami.
“You didn’t pick us before, so why start now?” Miller asks in the video.
Fair question, though it’s also fair to think that Miami earned plenty of respect between the preseason and the postseason.
The Hurricanes, seeded fifth in the Midwest Region, open Friday against 12th-seeded Drake in Albany, New York.
“We know we have a big challenge in front of us,” Drake coach Darian DeVries said.
The Hurricanes were in the last 14 editions of the AP Top 25 this season, something only 12 other schools can say. They were the No. 1 seed in the ACC Tournament and lost to eventual champion Duke, falling in a semifinal game where Omier — the team’s best inside player — badly rolled an ankle 66 seconds after tip-off.
Wong and Miller started last season when Miami won 26 games and wound up losing to eventual national champion Kansas in a regional final. Pack and Omier transferred in and Wooga Poplar was promoted to the starting lineup.
They didn’t miss a beat.
“Somebody asked me, ‘When did I think we could be really good?’” Miami coach Jim Larrañaga said. “I said, it amazed me, the chemistry and the bond these guys had from Day 1 during the summer when our four freshmen came in, when our two transfers were in and our returning players were there. Watching them in workouts, they got along so well with each other and played really good basketball.”
Miami thinks its unselfishness sets it apart.
Case in point: During the regular-season finale against Pitt where Miami won to claim the No. 1 seed in the ACC Tournament and secured a share of the conference title, Omier had a relatively easy layup opportunity inside. He missed, got his own rebound, scored and got fouled.
Miller stood near the 3-point line watching the play. He doubled over at the waist, clapping his hands so hard in celebration that the smack could be heard from the stands inside a sold-out, raucous arena.
The Hurricanes were like that all season. As long as Miami scores, nobody cares who gets the actual bucket.
“It’s a good feeling just knowing that everybody can go for 20 (minutes), go for 30 if they want to,” Wong said. “We just play as a team and I feel like we show that on the court. We just play and play freely. We play together. We all like each other, we have chemistry and it’s showing.”
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