PREVIEW: Houston Cougars basketball battles against Miami Hurricanes in Sweet 16

Mar 18, 2023; Birmingham, AL, USA; Houston Cougars guard Marcus Sasser (0) celebrates with teammates after a play during the second half against the Auburn Tigers at Legacy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

PREVIEW: Houston Cougars basketball battles against Miami Hurricanes in Sweet 16

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — On Friday, the Houston Cougars basketball team will face off against the Miami Hurricanes in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.

One-seed Houston is seeking to advance to its third straight Elite Eight appearance in the NCAA Tournament. Five-seed Miami is looking for back-to-back Elite Eight appearances.

When it comes to the Hurricanes, they are a deep and talented roster headlined by Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the year Isaiah Wong.

“They’re really good at what they do,” junior guard Jamal Shead said. “They’re a really good offensive team. Everybody on their team can score the ball in a variety of ways. They can really shoot the ball.”

Wong leads the team with 16.1 points per game, 4.4 rebounds, 3.3 assists, also a team-high, and 1.4 steals, another team-high.

“He is gifted. I mean he is really gifted,” Houston head coach Kelvin Sampson said. “Wong, he is a load.”

Miami sophomore guard Nijel Pack is also talented and a good shooter, Shead said. Pack is averaging 13.4 points and shoots 39% on 3-pointers.

Sophomore guard Wooga Poplar is an explosive player, Shead added. He averages 40.2% this season on 3-pointers.

Senior guard Jordan Miller is right behind Wong in scoring. He averages 15.1 points per game. He also tracks down 6.2 rebounds an outing.

Sampson was really high on Miami sophomore forward Norchad Omier leading up to the matchup.

Omier is entering Friday’s game against Houston averaging 13.4 points and 10.1 rebounds per contest.

“Their most valuable player is probably ​​Omier,” Sampson said. “ I think [Miami had a] 48-31 rebounding margin advantage the other night, and he had 17 rebounds. So you’re plus-17 on the boards and this kid had 17 of them. He is probably the best rebounder we’ve played against.”

Houston Cougars junior forward J’Wan Roberts said Omier is a relentless rebounder. He added that the Cougars would have to do a good job boxing him out to win the rebounding battle.

Friday’s game will be a clash of styles—Houston’s defense-first mentality against Miami’s hot offensive firepower.

“I think that just makes it 10 times better of a matchup,” Shead said. “We’re supposed to be one of the best defensive teams in the nation, and they are one of the best offensive teams in the nation. It’s trying to tell us to step up to the challenge a little bit.”

As it relates to the Cougars, senior guard Marcus Sasser and Shead have been able to enjoy a few extra days of rest following last Saturday’s win.

Sasser told reporters on Thursday he is about 90% healthy heading into the game. He has been dealing with a groin injury since the American Athletic Conference Tournament semifinals.

Shead has been dealing with tendinitis, the team’s associate athletics director for sports medicine, John Houston said earlier in the week. He will be ready to go against Miami.

Houston and Miami will tip off at 6:15 p.m. and air on CBS. Jim Nantz, Bill Raftery, and Grant Hill will be on the call. Tracy Wolfson will be the sideline reporter.

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