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Sports >  NCAA basketball

Forward Norchad Omier is the ‘heart and soul’ of Miami’s Final Four team

March 29, 2023 Updated Wed., March 29, 2023 at 8:13 p.m.

Miami's Norchad Omier, surrounded by a sea of Hurricanes fans as he prepares to travel to the Final Four, has become the "heart and soul" of Miami's team this season, head coach Jim Larranaga said. Omier and the Hurricanes will play UConn in the Final Four in Houston on Saturday.  (Tribune News Service)
Miami's Norchad Omier, surrounded by a sea of Hurricanes fans as he prepares to travel to the Final Four, has become the "heart and soul" of Miami's team this season, head coach Jim Larranaga said. Omier and the Hurricanes will play UConn in the Final Four in Houston on Saturday. (Tribune News Service)
By Adam Lichtenstein South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Miami Hurricanes forward Norchad Omier suffered a sprained ankle in the opening minutes of UM’s ACC tournament semifinal loss to Duke, throwing his status for the NCAA Tournament into doubt.

The standout forward, who transferred to Miami from Arkansas State before the season, was a game-time decision, leading the fifth-seeded Hurricanes to become a trendy upset selection among college basketball pundits.

But Omier spent the week between the ACC Tournament and Miami’s first-round NCAA Tournament game against Drake in the training room, working on making sure his ankle was strong enough to get him on the court.

Omier played, the Hurricanes beat Drake and the standout big man helped Miami reach the program’s first Final Four.

“Norchad’s the heart and soul of our team,” Miami coach Jim Larrañaga said. “He’s got unbelievable spirit, and he is such a good personality. The guys on the team love him. He’s a tremendous teammate and he’s a tremendous player to coach because he works so hard in everything.”

If Omier’s ankle limited him, it did not show on the court. Against Drake, he had 12 points and 14 rebounds in 36 minutes.

“It means a lot,” Miami guard Bensley Joseph said. “He grinded his way back. We’re very fortunate to have him back, come back this early. He’s just helped us in a big way. He’s our anchor down low.”

Two days later, Omier had seven points and 17 rebounds against Indiana. He added 12 points with 13 boards in a Sweet 16 upset against Houston, then fell just short of a third tournament double-double with 11 points and nine rebounds against Texas.

“He’s a great piece for us,” Miami guard Isaiah Wong said. “He’s a monster on the boards and he just plays with aggression. I feel like he stepped up coming into the tournament, and he’s just buying (into) the team. He’s just playing together and he’s getting rebounds and passing it.”

Hurricanes recount tight 2021 matchup with FAU

In late 2021, the Hurricanes traveled to Boca Raton to face Dusty May and FAU in an early-season, intrastate battle. Miami escaped with a two-point victory.

Sixteen months later, those same teams could – shockingly – meet again in the national title game, as the Owls also punched their ticket to the program’s first Final Four. Florida Atlantic will play San Diego State at 6:09 p.m. on Saturday in Houston, looking to reach the championship game for the first time.

“That was a fun atmosphere, playing over there,” Joseph said. “Sellout crowd. I know there’s going to be lots of FAU fans in Houston, so I’m excited.”

Larrañaga said UM gained a lot of respect for their northern neighbors after that game last season, even if no one predicted the two teams reaching the national semifinal.

“I think this is a very unconventional, nontraditional Final Four with San Diego State, FAU and Miami. I don’t think anybody’s bracket has the three of us. Maybe they had UConn,” Larrañaga said. “But the fact of the matter is FAU is a tremendous basketball team and program. We played them last year at FAU. Our Elite Eight team was able to win by two points at their place, so we have the utmost respect for their coaching staff and program.”

The state’s traditionally stronger basketball programs, Florida and Florida State, missed the tournament this year. Joseph said it was up to FAU and Miami to represent South Florida in the postseason.

“Credit to FAU. They’ve had a long season of them playing really well, and they deserve to get to this Final Four,” Joseph said. “Just putting on for the state of Florida and South Florida, just putting a name out there for ourselves.”

Miami has ‘amazing chance to win,’ Coach K says

Larrañaga and legendary Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski squared off 13 times after Larrañaga took over as Miami’s coach in 2011 (with the Hurricanes going 7-8 in that tenure). The two became well-acquainted over that 11-season stretch before Krzyzewski retired last year.

Krzyzewski now hosts a radio show on SiriusXM, and he said during his show that he thinks the Hurricanes have a shot to reach the program’s first title game.

“[The Hurricanes] have an amazing chance to win,” Krzyzewski said. “Connecticut has rolled over everybody. They’re not going to roll over Miami. And I’m not saying Connecticut can’t beat them. I’m saying Connecticut has not been in a 40-minute game in the tournament.”

Krzyzewski had kind words for Omier, saying he would have liked him on any of his Duke teams. Krzyzewski won five national championships with the Blue Devils.

“I’d like Omier on every team that I would have,” Krzyzewski said. “He’s the strongest guy on the court. But all five of their guys, including him, are great with the ball. They have five guys out there who handle the ball well. And he’s 250 pounds, so he can defend anybody.”

Krzyzewski also had praise for FAU and its Final Four opponent, San Diego State.

“Florida Atlantic or San Diego State could’ve won our league, I will tell you that,” Krzyzewski said. “They’re that good. They could have won in the ACC. And someone who says, ‘If they played against [power conference] teams over and over it wouldn’t happen.’ For those two teams, yes it would. They would be right there. So even though they’re not in a Power 5, they could have competed and won. So these two teams are not flukes. They’re really that good.”

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