April 1, 2023. NRG Stadium. Houston, Texas.
The Miami Hurricanes men’s basketball team – a program once dropped for 11 years – played in the Final Four of the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history.
Just over 1,200 miles away from the action, students, alums, and fans alike gathered at the Watsco Center to watch the Canes take on the Connecticut Huskies, with a chance to move on and play for a national championship.
But after getting blown out by the eventual national champions in UConn, the ‘Canes returned home understandably subdued but also with a renewed sense of optimism like never before.
Fast-forward 219 days later – November 6, 2023 – the season opener. Expectations are high. The Hurricane faithful are more invested than ever. And with the moves they have made, Miami is hungrier than ever to claim a spot in college basketball glory.
After the departures of program stars Isaiah Wong and Jordan Miller to the NBA – two key faces that were nothing short of instrumental in Miami’s run to Houston – head coach Jim Larrañaga and co. have done plenty of work to reload and prepare for their most anticipated season yet.
Miami’s most significant addition this summer was the arrival of FSU transfer Matthew Cleveland. He gained notoriety in Coral Gables after shocking the then-No. 13 Hurricanes with a game-winning buzzer-beater in February.
Now finding himself on the other side of the rivalry, the junior guard is poised to be a significant force in this new-look squad. During his two years as a Seminole, Cleveland averaged 12.7 points per game on 44.8% shooting, including a 3-pointer percentage that improved from 17.6% as a freshman to 35.0 as a sophomore.
Headlining Miami’s returning players include Wooga Poplar, Nijel Pack, and Norchad Omier – the latter two of whom transferred to Miami in 2022 from Kansas State and Arkansas State, respectively.
Poplar made some of the most significant improvements of any of Miami’s players with an expanded role in his sophomore season. He improved his shooting from 41.2% from the field to 47% and a monumental jump from 21.4% to 37.5% from downtown— he’s a prolific finisher in the paint and now one of Miami’s many shooting threats. Larrañaga has had no shortage of praise for Poplar, raving about the junior season he’s primed to have and even tabbing him as a future NBA first-round pick.
Moreover, the return of Pack and Omier is undoubtedly the biggest reinforcement that Miami will have going into a new season. After earning First Team All-Big 12 conference honors, Pack’s arrival was one of the main pieces for the team’s magical tournament run. Pack has shot an outstanding 41.6% from downtown in college, giving the Hurricanes one of the nation’s premier shooting threats that was key to their run to Houston.
And with Norchad Omier – a graduate of nearby Miami Prep School – returning to Coral Gables for his fourth year, he is undoubtedly the player who is most primed to have the season of his life. A constant force in the paint, Omier has made a name for himself as a premier center in the Atlantic Coast Conference and yet has much more room to improve.
With a dominant 58.7% of his career field goals made and an average of over 11 rebounds, it’s no secret why the Bluefields, Nicaragua native, and the first to represent his country in Division 1 basketball, was named to the All-Conference team in all of his three years, including honors as the Sun Belt Player of the Year.
Rounding out Miami’s new-look team going into the season are a handful of standout freshmen who look to take significant roles in Larrañaga’s news system. Michael Nwoko, Kyshawn George, and Paul Djobet are the foremost names in Miami’s incoming freshman class.
Nwoko, the No. 16-ranked center of the 2023 class per 247 Sports, looks to start out backing up Omier for his first year. Nwoko showed massive potential in Miami’s preseason exhibition vs. TCNJ, posting 16 points and seven rebounds. George, a 6-foot-8 guard from Switzerland, will look to have a leading sixth-man role as one of the ACC’s top freshmen. In Miami’s exhibition, George logged 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting, three rebounds, and four assists, positioning him with plenty of potential in his freshman season.
In the history of Miami basketball, there has never been more anticipation, more excitement, and more buzz than there has been after the Hurricanes got their first taste of glory in the college basketball world.
And there is no doubt that this program, a far cry from its humble origins, has worked hard to build on everything it could accomplish to reach the ultimate goal. And one can bet that they will use such an opportunity effectively.
A new season is coming. The Hurricanes are coming. And this time around, the ‘Canes are coming for it all.