There’s a nugget on Miami coach Jim Larranaga’s coaching resume that reaffirms his worth in very specific terms as the Hurricanes prepare for Villanova in the Sweet 16.
The last of Larranaga’s school-record 271 victories at George Mason just happened to be an NCAA tournament win over Villanova.
It was one of those classic 8-9 showdowns in 2011’s opening round, won 61-57 with a three-pointer in the closing seconds as the clincher. There were no more magic memories from that particular George Mason run. Ohio State, a No. 1 seed, crushed the Patriots 98-66 in the second round and one month later Larranaga was introduced at Miami.
At least we’re clear, however, that Larranaga knows how to beat Villanova in a massive March Madness elimination game. He’s done it before and maybe he can do it again Thursday night.
Otherwise, even if you knew nothing about this year’s teams, there are plenty of warnings about Villanova’s tournament toughness that must be heeded.
Start with the dream season of 1984-85, when Villanova came in as a No. 8 seed and rolled to a national championship behind coach Rollie Massimino, now the boss at Keiser University in West Palm Beach.
The Wildcats beat a couple of No. 1 seeds (Georgetown and Michigan) and a couple of No. 2’s (Memphis State and North Carolina) on the road to the title. Two games, including the title shot against Georgetown, were won by a single bucket. Overall, Villanova’s average winning margin was four points.
In the 2005 and 2006 NCAA tournaments, Villanova split games with Florida, a team stocked with future NBA first-rounders. In 1971 the Wildcats reached the national title game against UCLA and in 2009 they knocked off UCLA and Duke back-to-back on the way to the Final Four.
Villanova, in other words, is the kind of program that would surprise people only if it didn’t make an impressive run in March. The Wildcats have been in the NCAA field 36 times, going 53-35 overall.
Miami, 8-7 in eight NCAA tournament appearances, can’t come close to that history. The Hurricanes have never advanced beyond the Sweet 16.
Worth nothing, though, that the Hurricanes dropped the sport altogether between 1971 and 1984 so there’s bound to be some catching up to do. Win on Thursday and none of this historical comparison will matter, at least until an even bigger NCAA tournament monster shows up in the next round. Someone like, say, Kansas.