The Miami Hurricanes 2022-2023 basketball team has taken the franchise to new heights and sent its fans on a dream ride that seemed beyond our wildest dreams two years ago.
The Canes weren’t supposed to beat Indiana. Won going away. They were supposed to wilt against Houston’s supposedly-superior defense. Another double-digit win. The red-hot Big 12 champion Longhorns were surely on such a roll as to take down Miami. Nope.
Miami has taken on all comers and won impressively. Enter UConn, Miami’s opponent today in the second national semifinal in Houston. We’ve talked about a hot team in Texas, but perhaps no team is as en fuego right now as the Connecticut Huskies. The Huskies have won 13 of their last 15 games, with a three-point loss on February 11 at Creighton (a darned good team) and a 2-point loss to Marquette in the Big East conference tournament. In the NCAA Tournament, they’ve been a machine, winning every game by 15+ points.
They’re led by 6’5” guard Jordan Hawkins, who has averaged over 17 ppg in this tournament. However, It’s UConn’s length and size that pose the biggest concern for the Canes tonight. Starting forwards Alex Karaban and Adama Sanogo go 6’8” and 6’9” respectively. Freshman center Donovan Clingan is 7’2” and put up a 12 point, 9 rebound stat line in just 13 minutes vs. Iona in the first round.
In other words, UConn has a clear and decisive size advantage. They won the rebounding edge by 16, 9, 12, and 8 against Iona, St. Mary’s, Arkansas, and Gonzaga, respectively. That’s...impressive and pretty daunting.
As such, one man is going to have to make a big impact on limiting UConn’s second-chance opportunities while generating additional scoring chances for Miami: Norchad Omier.
I know. I know. It’s gonna take an alpha offensive performance from either Nijel Pack, Isaiah Wong, or Jordan Miller like each game thus far after the Drake game. Wooga Poplar’s going to need to hit some key midrange shots and be that glue guy that he’s been.
But controlling possessions and scoring chances is what will determine whether Miami wins or loses a close game.
Omier is shorter than both of UConn’s forwards, but he’s arguably bigger than Sanogo (although Sanogo is a pretty big guy himself) and is a bruising player on the glass. Omier has used that physicality and aggressive mindset to pull down 53 rebounds in this tournament, or just over 13 a game. That’s far and away the most of anyone between the two teams. He’s also shot 50% or better from the field since the Drake game and averaged 10.5 ppg in the tournament. Thus, he’s probably Miami’s most important and indispensable player tonight.
To be clear, I think Miami can come up short on the rebounding ledger and still win the game, but if they trail by something like 45-30, it’s really tough to see a path for Miami to win this game.
As such, Omier will have to play controlled, smart basketball while being aggressive for rebounds and 50/50 balls. If he can, then Miami can continue this magical roll they’ve been on and reach the national championship game.