Final Four! Miami Hurricanes once canceled basketball. Now they’re 2 wins from national title | Opinion
The Miami Hurricanes toughed their way into the NCAA men’s Final Four on Sunday night in the biggest victory in the history of basketball at the university.
Coach Jim Larranaga had said before the Elite Eight game against favored Texas that he envisioned hearing “One Shining Moment,” the song that has played at the end of every NCAA Tournament since 1987, and celebrating with his players on the court as the season ended.
He still has that chance.
The confetti is waiting on the Canes.
Miami -- the “football school” that once canceled basketball for 15 years because the sport didn’t matter on campus -- is now two wins from a first national championship on the hardwood.
The 88-81 triumph over No. 2 Texas did that. By a UM team seeded No. 5. A team that was a 10-point underdog. A team hat trailed by 13 points in the second half.
Heart. Miami’s was beating hard and fast. Beating anything in its path.
“I love these guys,” said Larranaga. “The last 10 minutes, our defense, rebounding and scoring was at a very high level.”
It was 17 years ago to the day on Sunday when Larranaga accomplished what nearly eluded him this time: the Final Four.
In 2006 his George Mason University team made it that far as a Cinderella in sneakers way back then.
In 2023 his Hurricanes rallied heroically enough in the regional in Kansas City to catapult to the Final Four in Houston.
“It’s the same exhilaration,” said Larranaga. “Jubilation.”
UM won March Madness tests over No. 12 Drake, No. 4 Indiana, a stunner over No. 1 Houston and now a second-seed.
It was the second straight Elite Eight appearance for Larranaga’s Canes, and they got it right this time.
Miami’s No. 9-seed women’s team did not fare as well later Sunday, losing 54-42 to No. 3 LSU in the Elite Eight in Greenville, S.C., trying but failing to do what the men’s Canes had just done.
The UM women got it close with a late 8-0 run but ultimately were doomed from long range, going 0-for-15 on three-point shots -- still an historic season with the program’s first run to Sweet 16 in 31 years and first time ever to the Elite Eight. A poignant moment at the end when coach Katie Meier had a long embrace with departing fifth-year senior Destiny Harden.
“If you like 3-point shooting, not a very exciting game,” as Meier put it. “The little round thing didn’t go into the big round thing for Miami, and that’s a frustrating thing to happen.”
Of Harden, Meier said, “You have changed this program, and we’re never looking back.”
There is otherwise major celebrating going across South Florida basketball, and not just in Coral Gables and where UM fans are found for the men’s Canes.
▪ The No. 9 Florida Atlantic University Owls from Boca Raton and Conference USA had earlier reached the Final Four and will face No. 5 San Diego State in one Final Four semifinal this coming Saturday. Despite a 30-3 regular season record the Owls fit the Cinderella role, getting this far in their first NCAA Tournament in 21 years. FAU had never won a national tournament game until this month.
Miami and No. 4 UConn will meet in the less-unexpected other Final Four semi.
The possibility of a Miami vs. FAU all-South Florida championship game matchup looms a possibility still.
▪ And the Nova Southeastern University Sharks from Davie crowned a perfect 36-0 season with the school’s first Division II national championship. This was no FAU-like surprise, though. Coach Jim Crutchfield’s Sharks have been 69-1 over the past two seasons.
Miami with its watershed program moment earns the top of the marquee, though.
So does star of the night Jordan Miller, who scored 27 points for the Canes and put up a perfect game if there can be such a thing: 7-for-7 in field goals and 13-for-13 on free throws. Miami was 24 for 25 from the free throw line in the second half. Miller’s was only the second perfect shooting game in the past 60 NCAA tourneys; the other was by Christian Laettner.
“The game Jordan Miller had is ridiculous,” said Larranaga. “He’s the most underrated player in the country. Twenty-seven points on seven shots!?”
“It’s not over,” said Miller.
Miller, Isaiah Wong and Nigel Pack all made the all-tournament team for Miami; Pack was named most outstanding player.
This was the team from the school that once discontinued basketball altogether.
The team from the “football school.”
Today only four men’s teams in America are left to play for college hoop’s biggest prize.
For the first time ever, the Miami Hurricanes are one.
“Everybody’s been overlooking Miami basketball for a long while,” said Miller.
Not now. No more.