UH basketball: Previewing Sweet 16 matchup vs. Miami
KANSAS CITY, MO. — Find a way.
That has been Houston’s mantra all season.
It will continue to be the message when the Cougars, making their fourth straight Sweet 16 appearance, take the court at T-Mobile Center on Friday night.
“‘Find a way’ is exactly what it means, exactly what it sounds like,” said UH point guard Jamal Shead. “Find a way to win whether it’s scrapping and fighting to get a loose ball, rebound, anything, it’s just whatever it takes to win.”
Miami (27-7) is the next obstacle on UH’s road to NRG Stadium.
About Miami (FL)
The Hurricanes are back in the Sweet 16 for the second straight season after defeating Drake in their NCAA Tournament opener and Indiana in the round of 32.
Miami, the regular season co-champions of the ACC with Virginia, has one of the most potent offense’s in college basketball, averaging 79.1 points per game.
Miami head coach Jim Larrañaga plays a small lineup, starting four guards, which allows the Hurricanes to spread the floor.
“(Larrañaga) puts his best players in position to be successful and he lets them play,” said UH head coach Kelvin Sampson. “You can tell they have great freedom.”
Isaiah Wong, the AAC’s Player of the Year, leads Miami in scoring with 16.1 points per game. Against Indiana in the round of 32, Wong scored 27 points and grabbed eight rebounds.
Jordan Miller and Kansas State transfer Nijel Pack both average double figures scoring and shoot better than 35 percent from 3.
Wooga Poplar, a 6-foot-5-inch guard, is questionable for Friday’s game after suffering a back injury in Miami’s win over Indiana.
Larrañaga said Poplar practiced on Thursday and looked good.
“I’ll talk to my trainer, and he’ll give me an indication of whether Wooga’s ready to go,” Larrañaga said. “If he’s ready to go, he’ll be in the starting lineup as always.”
Poplar, who averages 8.4 points, is lethal from 3, hitting 40.2 percent of his shots beyond the arc this season.
Rounding out the Hurricanes’ starting five is Norchad Omier, a 6-foot-7-inch forward who averages a double-double scoring 13.4 points and pulling down 10.1 rebounds per game.
Omier has 31 rebounds in Miami’s first two NCAA Tournament game.
“Their most valuable player is probably Omier,” Sampson said. “He’s probably the best rebounder that we’ve played against.”
UH forward J’Wan Roberts, who leads the Cougars in rebounding, echoed his head coach on what he’s seen from Omier on film.
“He’s a relentless rebounder,” Roberts said. “Somehow the ball always finds him.”
As a team, the Hurricanes are top-40 in the country in 2-point field goal percentage (54.1 percent), 3-point field goal percentage (36.8 percent) and free throw percentage (77.4 percent).
“They’re probably the best offensive team that we’ve played this year at all five positions,” Sampson said.
UH injury updates
Marcus Sasser, who has been dealing with a groin injury he suffered on March 11, said he felt about 80 to 85 percent prior to UH’s practice on Thursday afternoon.
With the way his recovery has been progressing, UH’s All-American guard said he expects to be at 90 percent for Friday’s game against Miami.
“In practice, I can move a little bit more without it hurting. I can do a lot more things that I couldn’t do last week,” Sasser said. “The progression is there for sure. It’s getting better day by day”
Shead, who has been dealing with patellar tendonitis in his right knee, said he feels fully healthy after having nearly a week to recover since UH beat Auburn to advance to the Sweet 16.
“I’m back to 100 percent,” Shead said.
Strength on strength
Miami can light up the scoreboard, averaging 74 points per game in the NCAA Tournament.
“Every one on (Miami) can score the ball in a variety of ways,” Shead said when asked about the challenges the Hurricanes present. “They can really shoot the ball.”
UH almost always holds its opponent under its scoring average, ranking second in the country in scoring defense.
In the second half of its win over Auburn in the round of 32, UH held Auburn to just 16.7 from the field.
“We’re 33-3 not because we’re an offensive juggernaut. We’re 33-3 because we can defend and rebound,” Sampson said.
One of those things will have to give on Friday night.
A high-scoring, shoot-out favors the Hurricane. A grind-it-out, physical battle gives the advantage to the Cougars.
“They’re a great offensive team, we’re a great defensive team,” Sasser said. “I just feel like whoever plays to their strengths the best is probably going to win.”
How to watch
Tipoff is scheduled for 6:15 p.m. on Friday. The game will air on CBS with Jim Nantz, Bill Raftery, Grant Hill and Tracy Wolfson on the call.
The game can also be heard via radio on KPRC 950 AM.