Drake, Miami looking for strong games from top players in NCAA showdown

Miami University coach Jim Larrañaga is no stranger to NCAA Tournament success.

In his 12th season in charge of the Hurricanes, Larrañaga has his team in the NCAA Tournament for the sixth time and is a year away from taking the Canes, then the No. 10 seed, to the Elite Eight before retiring from the 2022 tournament for eventual national champion Kansas.

Larrañaga, who guided upstart George Mason to the Final Four in 2006, is not taking any trip to the tournament for granted and his team is certainly looking no further than the Drake Bulldogs, as the teams meet at 7:25 p.m. on Friday. in the first round of the Midwest Region at MVP Arena.

“What I have shared with the players is that if there are 68 teams in the tournament, each one of them has earned their spot by winning their conference tournament and is either on a winning streak or has been invited as an at-large team. , and only 36 schools can do that,” said Larrañaga. “So everyone in the tournament has a very good team.”

When: 7:25 p.m. Friday

Where: MVP Arena, Albany


Fifth seed Miami (25-7) won the ACC regular-season title before losing in the conference semifinals to Duke last weekend, while No. 12 seed Drake enters as the ACC regular-season champion. Missouri Valley Conference Tournament and sports a 27-7 mark.

“We don’t care where we are planted. We don’t care where our opponent is seeded,” Larrañaga said. “What matters to us is not who we play or where we play, but how we play. We need to play very well. We need to execute our game plan better than our opponent executes their game plan because everyone you face is very, very capable of beating you, and we’re very confident that no matter who we’re up against, we feel very, very good about of our possibilities as well”.

Miami’s chances of winning will be greatly increased if their defense is able to contain MVC Player of the Year Tucker DeVries, a 6-7 guard/forward who is averaging 19 points per game this season.

“The thing about DeVries is that he can do everything. He can shoot from three, put the ball down and drive it,” Larrañaga said. “He can post you. He is an outstanding passer. He can use ball blocks, but he can also be the ball blocker. So, we don’t find many guys like that in college basketball. The guy is an NBA talent, and we know he’s going to be a cover for us.”

Along with his son Tucker, Drake’s coach Darian DeVries is counting on his best players, including former Siena guard Roman Penn, to lead the surprise bid, though he’s confident other role players can step up. .

“When your best players can play well in these games, really in any game, that’s a good thing, but it’s not up to them either,” Darian DeVries said. “It can be anyone. That’s why you have a team. That’s why you are what you are. I felt like throughout the year we’ve had games where one or both of them have had tough nights, but we’ve had a lot of other guys on our roster that can fill the void.”

One question mark surrounding Miami is the health of 6-7 forward Norchad Omier, who injured an ankle in the loss to Duke and did not return to the game.

Omier joined his teammates for light training on Thursday afternoon and is likely to play, unless he swells overnight, according to Larranga. That was reported by CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein.

“If he is good, we are good,” Larranga said. “If he’s not, we’ll know and we’ll make adjustments.”

Sean Martin, a local freelance writer, is a frequent contributor to the Times Union.