The college basketball season is only in its second week, but this much is already certain: Wooga Poplar is living up to his preseason hype.
University of Miami coach Jim Larranaga and Poplar’s teammates alerted anyone who asked during the summer and early fall that Poplar, the 6-5 junior from Philadelphia, was poised to have a breakout season.
“He will leave people’s mouths open,” forward Norchad Omier said. “I think he will be the breakout player of the ACC.”
“He’s phenomenal, definitely an NBA prospect,” said Larranaga. “His pull-up jump shot is as good as any NBA player.”
Through three games, Poplar is leaving people’s mouths open with 20.7 points per game, 57.1 percent shooting, 70 percent shooting from three-point range (57.1 percent overall), and 14 three-pointers made, which is tied for second in the nation.
He is a big reason the 12-ranked Hurricanes are 3-0 heading into this weekend’s Baha Mar Hoops Championships in the Bahamas, where they will play Georgia on Friday at 3:30 p.m. and either Kansas State or Providence Sunday at noon/2:30 p.m.
Poplar made all five of his three-point attempts and was 6 for 10 overall against UCF last week. On Monday against FIU, he went 4 for 6 from the perimeter and 6-of-11 overall for 18 points. He scored career highs in his first two games.
Last season he averaged 8.4 points and his freshman year 2.3 points.
“Wooga’s sensational,” Larranaga said after the FIU game. “He’s a tremendous scorer, tremendous three-point shooter, tremendous free-throw shooter. He can rebound. His defense has steadily improved from his freshman year. He was the leading scorer in the first game, leading scorer in the second game. He’s just that good.”
Poplar shrugs off the praise, smiles and continues to credit his teammates for finding him and having faith in him. He also continues to be one of the team’s hardest-working players, working on his shot in the early mornings and late nights. He often returns to the court after games to take extra shots.
Three areas the Hurricanes need to improve on are rebounding, turnovers and Omier fouls. Despite the three victories, Miami committed 18 turnovers against UCF and 14 against FIU. The Hurricanes were outrebounded 38 to 34 against UCF and 34 to 32 against FIU.
Meanwhile, Omier, a first-team All-ACC preseason forward returning from the Final Four team, has been prone to foul trouble. He played just 24 minutes against FIU and finished with four fouls. He also had four fouls against UCF and picked up two quick ones in the first few minutes of the season opener against NJIT.
“A.J. Casey and Michael Nwoko came in and played quality minutes for us when Norchad was out, but do I like him sitting on the bench next to me for half the game? No. He’s got to be more self-disciplined,” Larranaga said.
The Hurricanes have a pair of big tests this weekend in the Bahamas tournament against power five competition.
“We tried to schedule teams from major conferences because it bothers me that the ACC does not earn the respect that it’s had for 71 years,” Larranaga said. “We play Central Florida from the Big 12, we’re going to play Georgia from the SEC and either Providence or Kansas State, which is Big East and Big 12, and then we go to Kentucky that’s SEC. So, we’re challenging ourselves in the non-conference and we hope we do well because that’s become a major part of the (NCAA Tournament Selection) committee’s decision for at-large bids.”