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CORAL GABLES — The Hurricanes have a simple message for people filling out their NCAA Tournament brackets at home: “Don’t pick us.”
Miami was not expected to accomplish much entering last season but made a run to the program’s first Elite Eight before falling to eventual national champion Kansas. Despite that success, the Hurricanes were picked to finish fourth in the ACC this season.
Instead, Miami tied for the conference championship and enters the NCAA Tournament as the Midwest Region’s fifth seed. But the Hurricanes themselves want the doubters to keep the same energy they had before, releasing a video in conjunction with The Players’ Tribune encouraging those who did not believe in UM to keep it that way.
With traditional basketball powerhouses like Duke, North Carolina and Syracuse in the same conference, Miami can be easy to overlook. But the Hurricanes embrace the underdog role, and it has served them well as they prepare for their first-round matchup against No. 12 seed Drake (27-7) at 7:25 p.m. on Friday in Albany, New York.
“I think we’re coming in with the same mentality as last year,” guard Bensley Joseph said. “Even though we got a higher seed, I feel like we’ve got to play like we’re the underdog and we have something to keep proving. Now it’s on the biggest stage of them all, the dance, so we’ve just got to go out and do what we do best.”
Miami’s road to the NCAA Tournament has had some bumps. The Hurricanes (25-7) started the year 13-1, rolling through non-conference play and their first batch of ACC games. They beat then-No. 6 Virginia at the Watsco Center on Dec. 20. But things got rockier when the calendar flipped to 2023, and the Hurricanes dropped four road games in January.
Miami righted the ship, reeling off a seven-game winning streak and clinching a share of the ACC regular-season title at home against Pittsburgh on March 4, but the Hurricanes fell to Duke in the ACC Tournament semifinals.
“We feel like we had something to prove all year. We still have something to prove,” forward Anthony Walker said. “So we’re just going to come out with that chip on our shoulder and play as hard as we possibly can.”
As much as the conference-tournament loss stung, a bigger problem may be what the defeat cost Miami. Starting forward Norchad Omier, the Hurricanes’ premier big man, suffered an ankle injury that could keep him out of UM’s tournament opener on Friday.
“He wants to play, and he’s been in the training room diligently for the last five days — and I don’t mean for an hour,” Miami coach Jim Larrañaga said. “He’s been there like 10 hours a day. So he’s bound and determined to get as well as he can in a very short period of time, considering the injury he sustained against Duke Friday night.”
Now the Hurricanes turn their full attention to Drake. The Bulldogs won the Missouri Valley Conference championship, and Larrañaga thinks highly of Darian DeVries’ program, which has made the NCAA Tournament twice in the last three years.
“They have a consistent winning culture,” Larrañaga said.
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Sophomore guard Tucker DeVries, the head coach’s son, leads Drake with 19 points per game. The 6-foot-7 DeVries is also averaging 5.6 rebounds per game.
“Tucker DeVries is as good a player as there is in the country, skillfully,” Larrañaga said. “He can shoot it, he handles, he can post you up, defends, rebounds.”
Sixth-year point guard Roman Penn is second on the team with 12 points per game, and he has notched 5.4 assists per game this season.
“Their quarterback, their leader, their catalyst, Roman Penn, is like 25 years old and he’s been through the wars,” Larrañaga said. “He knows exactly what it takes to win, so I think this is a heckuva matchup for us.”
Although the Hurricanes are the higher seed, they have been a popular upset choice since the bracket was announced Sunday. College basketball analyst Seth Davis picked the Bulldogs to upset Miami during Sunday’s selection show, spurring groans from UM’s watch party. Miami is listed as a two-point favorite for Friday’s game — the shortest odds of any No. 5 seed, according to the Action Network.
But the Hurricanes have no problem with being underrated. They are used to it by now.
“I think playing the underdog role is fine by me,” Larrañaga said. “But the bottom line is it doesn’t matter who you play or where you play. What does matter is how you play. You’ve got to execute your game plan better than the opponent executes its game plan. If you do that, you’re in good shape.”