UM basketball programs remain underappreciated, despite historic NCAA tournament runs | Opinion


Thanksgiving is the perfect time to take a pause and give thanks for all the things we take for granted. If you’re the typical Miami sports fan, you should put the Hurricanes basketball program on your list.

Despite the men’s team making its first Final Four in school history last spring, and the women’s team reaching its first Elite Eight, it still feels like both programs are underappreciated in a South Florida market that has been football-obsessed for half a century.

If the UM football team were ranked No. 10 in the nation right now, as the men’s basketball team is, surely there would be more of a local buzz.

Yes, basketball season tickets have gone up from last season, 60 percent for the men’s team and 32 percent for the women; but still, the Hurricanes are not getting enough attention around town. Part of that may be a lack of marketing on the university’s part.

With both teams coming off historic seasons, it would have been the perfect opportunity to raise the banners together and tip off the 2023-24 season with a double-header fan fest or a Midnight Madness celebration. Instead, the men opened with little fanfare against New Jersey Institute of Technology and the women opened at 11 a.m. on a Thursday against Jacksonville.

The Hurricanes men’s team has gone on to win its first five games and is a blast to watch, averaging 89 points. The Canes have beaten UCF, FIU, Georgia and Kansas State, all teams from major conferences. The biggest test is coming up next Tuesday, a nationally televised game on the road against No. 16 Kentucky at Rupp Arena.

These Hurricanes have not missed a beat since losing Isaiah Wong and Jordan Miller to the NBA.

They have balanced scoring with four players already recording at least one 20-point game. The latest was Nijel Pack, who scored 28 and made seven three pointers against Kansas State, his former team, in the final of the Baha Mar Bahamas tournament on Sunday.

Norchad Omier has two 20-point games so far, as does Wooga Poplar. FSU transfer Matt Cleveland has one.

The pollsters certainly have noticed after years of ignoring and underestimating the Hurricanes. Miami was ranked No. 13 in the AP preseason poll, the first time in six years that UM was ranked in the preseason.

Two years ago, the Hurricanes reached the Elite Eight despite never being ranked all season.

Last season, they reached the Final Four after being unranked until mid-December.

The national pundits have taken note.

National analyst Jeff Goodman wrote: “The job Jim Larranaga has done the last few years is ridiculous. Starting group can match up with just about anyone.”

Fox broadcaster John Fanta said: “Miami is a top 10 team in college basketball in my book…Jim Larranaga’s last three seasons have been like a night out in South Beach. Never-ending fun!”

Opposing coaches continue to gush.

“I played against Final Four teams in my career as an assistant, and this is definitely a team that’s capable of playing in the final weekend again.” – Grant Billmeier, coach NJIT after 101-60 loss to the Hurricanes.

“UM has championship mettle, a lot of guys who were key players in last year’s Final Four run and they’re poised to have another Final Four run this year. They are special, make you pay for every mistake, so skilled at every position.” – FIU coach Jeremy Ballard after 86-80 loss to the Hurricanes

The Hurricanes made history last spring as UM became the first school to have its men’s and women’s teams reach the Elite Eight in the same year, with neither team a top-four seed. Read that again, carefully. Both teams made the Elite Eight and neither was a top-four seed.

That is truly remarkable when you consider there are more than 350 Division I basketball programs in the nation. Their tournament success reaped rewards on the recruiting trail.

Larranaga just inked the nation’s sixth-ranked 2024 recruiting class, including the highest-rated recruit in school history -- five-star shooting guard Jalil Bethea, rated the No. 7 overall prospect in the class per 247Sports. The Philadelphia native chose UM over University of Kanas and Villanova, among others.

The Canes also continue to attract high-level transfers. Charlie Moore and Kam McGusty had success, which helped lure transfers Miller, Omier and Pack, who had success, which helped lure Cleveland.

All of them said they chose UM largely because of Larranaga’s reputation as a basketball and life professor who prepares players for the NBA.

“One of the main things when I entered the transfer portal was to find a place that could help my efficiency from the field and free throw line, and the conversations I’ve had with him, watching film, and just understanding how to slow my mind down a little bit to see the floor better and see the open look has made a difference,” Cleveland said.

Larrañaga, the winningest men’s coach in UM history, is in his 13th year at the school. He has led Miami to all five of its 25-win years, four of its five Sweet 16s, both of its Elite Eight trips, its first Final Four, both of its ACC regular season titles and its first ACC Tournament title. His program has also posted a perfect NCAA Graduation Success Rate (GSR) each of the past five years.

UM signed him to a contract extension after the Final Four that will take him through the 2026-27 season.

Miami women’s coach Katie Meier, in her 19th year at UM, is also known for her teaching skills. She recently landed the nation’s ninth-ranked class per ESPNW with guards Ahnay Adams, Leah Harmon and Simone Pelish. Adams, a native of New Bedford, Mass., is the No. 10 point guard in the class of 2024.

Meier also signed a well-deserved contract extension last spring.

The season is young. We won’t know for sure how good these UM teams are until the ACC season heats up in January. But why wait until then to jump on the bandwagon? The women’s team is hosting its Thanksgiving tournament this weekend. The men’s team returns home Dec. 2 vs. Notre Dame. Go see what you’ve been missing.