Oh, what a difference a year makes.
The Miami Hurricanes last year wrapped up their season with a win against Virginia Tech. This year they’ll also do the same wrapping up their ACC regular season going against the Hokies. However, the biggest difference between last year and this year’s game is that Miami last season was the hunter. The Hurricanes didn’t know if their NCAA Tournament resume was good enough to get invited to the big dance.
This season they are on the VIP guest list for the NCAA Tournament because this season they are the hunted.
If you ask anyone from Miami or the South Florida area they’ll be the first people to tell you that the University of Miami is an academic institution that is known around the city as a football school. In South Florida football is king and Miami’s football program is the living proof of it. For as much as the prestige of the school was created from football, there’s another sport that the University of Miami should also start being synonymous with and that’s basketball.
The University of Miami basketball program which is spearheaded by head coach Jim Larranaga is ranked as the No. 7 team in college basketball. With the 73-65 home win over No. 11 Louisville this season, it also marked Miami having an undefeated home record in the regular season.
What made the win that much more impressive was the coaching behind the players. Miami was out without one of their best players, the sophomore sixth man point guard Ja’Quan Newton. Additionally, Miami has been playing without Newton for the last three games and they’ve still been making mince meat of their opponents.
What’s even sweeter about this season is that Miami will finish second in the ACC, just missing out on their ACC regular season championship title. Instead, the North Carolina Tar Heels, one of the most prestigious basketball schools in the country to the glory. The fact that it’s Miami in the discussion as the second best team in the conference and not Duke speaks volumes about the job that coach Larranaga has done this season after joining the program four years ago.
Additionally, it is only a matter of time before the selection committee deems Miami worthy of one of the No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament. People might have been falling asleep on this team the entire season but now that it’s March, it’s time for everyone to start waking up.
Miami already is going into the ACC tournament as the No. 2 seed in the conference and being in their position is a feeling they should start to get used to. Barring an epic collapse in the upcoming NCAA Tournament later in March, you should expect to see how good this team truly is.
“They know where we are in the standings and they know how close we are to finishing the regular season on a very high note.”
– Miami Hurricanes head coach Jim Larranaga
You can praise the players all you want but what truly makes this sweeter than the last time Larranaga won the ACC is the level of talent that Larranaga is winning with. This year Larranaga has done his best coaching job of his career and his peers are paying notice as well.
“They may win the national championship. They’re really good. They’re really old. Their men were playing against our boys most of the night. Every time we showed a little bit of oomph, the men said: ‘Uh-uh, not today.’ ”
– Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey
Those same men that Brey was mentioning might be the reason why Larranaga makes his second final four appearance as a head coach.
D’Joumbarey A. Moreau covers sports in Miami-Dade & Broward County. You can follow him on Twitter @DJoumbarey