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‘Whoever Comes Out on Top is the Team That Plays the Hardest’: Miami Ready for Battle Against Drake

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Photo Credit: Miami Athletics

After finishing first in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) regular-season standings and advancing to the semifinals of the conference tournament, the Miami Hurricanes are primed to make a run in the NCAA Tournament, starting with their first-round matchup against the Drake Bulldogs.

Drake enters this contest having won the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) conference tournament. The Bulldogs won each game by an average of 17 points, including a 26-point win over Bradley in the championship.

Tucker DeVries, son of head coach Darian DeVries, pilots Drake’s offense, averaging 19 points per game this season. UM head coach Jim Larrañaga praised the sophomore guard at Thursday’s pregame press conference.

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

DeVries, despite being Drake’s leading scorer, is the youngest player in the Bulldogs’ starting lineup. The average age of their starting lineup is 23.18, older than that of the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder, which is only 22. 

Sixth-year senior and starting point guard Roman Penn embodies this level of experience. Penn, who was recognized on the 2022-23 All-MVC First Team, is second on the team in scoring and leads the MVC with 5.3 assists per game.

He is the orchestrator of a Drake offense that ranks in the upper third nationally in points per game and 30th in assist-to-turnover ratio.

Penn’s collegiate career started at Siena College, which is located less than five miles from the destination of Friday’s matchup between Drake and Miami in Albany, N.Y.

“It’s great to be in Albany. My team is tired of hearing me talk about it the last couple days,” Penn said. “I’m excited to be back.”

Like Drake, UM is spearheaded by its guard play, with ACC Player of the Year Isaiah Wong highlighting the group.

This is Wong’s second NCAA Tournament appearance after averaging 16.3 points and 4.3 rebounds over Miami’s four-game Elite Eight run last season.

Wong thinks that this prior experience is valuable ahead of this year’s tournament.

“Just with last year’s experience, we had a lot of players, a lot of great players, and I feel like coming in with me and [fifth-year senior Jordan Miller], with the experience we have, we just feel more comfortable in this situation and we feel like we know what’s going to happen,” Wong said. “We know it’s going to be a tough game, and the things we’ve been through is just going to bring us to tomorrow and the whole tournament.”

Miller is another key player for the Hurricanes. Given his 6-foot-7 size and ability to play multiple positions, he will likely be matched up against DeVries.

“[Drake’s] a good team. I feel like whoever comes out on top is the team that plays the hardest, that wants it more,” Miller said. “March is just about can you hit shots and can you get stops? They call it March Madness for a reason. We just mainly want to leave it all on the court.”

Friday’s game between Miami and Drake will tip off at 7:20 p.m. and will air on TBS. The winner will play in the Round of 32 on Sunday against the winner of Indiana and Kent State.

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