NCAA berths weren’t always so automatic for Miami, even in Rick Barry’s golden age

 

If you’re a Miami basketball fan and disappointed to see the 20-9 Hurricanes rating only about a No. 7 or 8 seed in most of the Bracketology projections out there, just settle down and let it all play out.

There’s a game at Florida State on Saturday night and then the ACC tournament to reset the picture. Remember that Syracuse made it all the way to the Final Four last year as one of the last of eight ACC teams to get into the NCAA field, and the Orange started out with a No. 10 seed.

Jim Larranaga has built quite a reputation on a couple of Sweet 16 appearances at Miami and a shocking Final Four run with George Mason. He’ll get the benefit of every doubt from the bracket-builders based on that history, and on wins over Duke, Virginia and North Carolina this year.

Long-time Miami followers will remember when it was lot tougher than this to get a little national boost.

Rick Barry. File photo: Feb. 1964. RB
Rick Barry, February, 1964. Miami News photo.

The Hurricanes went 23-5 in the 1962-63 season and didn’t even make the NCAA tournament. There were only 25 teams in the field back then and Miami, an independent, didn’t rate one of those spots. Never mind that the Hurricanes upset Duke 71-69 at the Miami Beach Convention Center in December. It just wasn’t happening.

What Miami got instead was an invitation to the NIT, and that’s where the program got its first-ever postseason victory. Miami beat St. Francis 71-70 at Madison Square Garden in New York but lost the next night to Providence, the eventual tournament champion.

It was even tougher to take what happened in 1965. Rick Barry led the nation in scoring with an average of 37.4 points per game and the Hurricanes went 22-4 but they weren’t eligible for the NCAA tournament because of NCAA recruiting violations.

Barry scored 50 or more points six times in that senior season and also averaged 18.3 rebounds per game. That put him at the top of a sensational consensus All-America lineup that also included bill Bradley, Gail Goodrich, Cazzie Russell and a high-scoring big man from Davidson named Fred Hetzel. Barry, Bradley and Goodrich went on to be inducted in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, and Hetzel was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1965 draft by the San Francisco Warriors.

As a strong competitor in the ACC, Miami won’t get overlooked like that again.

Overall, it was a long road to achieving the level of recognition that our top state schools have now in basketball, and the Hurricanes got there first.

Miami’s initial appearance in the NCAA tournament was in 1960, followed by FSU in 1968, Jacksonville in 1970, Florida in 1987, South Florida in 1990, Florida Gulf Coast in 2013 and North Florida in 2015.

 

 

FSU leads the nation in comprehensive competitiveness

Congratulations to Florida State for nearing a tipping point of achievement that rarely gets noted around here.

The Seminoles are ranked nearly as high in basketball (No. 10 in the latest AP poll) as the FSU football team was in 2016’s final poll (No. 8).

This is fairly amazing stuff, and there’s an opportunity for Leonard Hamilton’s hoops team to climb even higher with No. 15 Notre Dame and No. 12 Louisville coming to Tallahassee this week.

Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton reacts during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against North Carolina in Chapel Hill, N.C., Saturday, Jan. 14, 2017. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton reacts during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against North Carolina in Chapel Hill, N.C., Saturday, Jan. 14, 2017. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

For two-sport domination, no other school comes close at the moment. FSU is the only program with top-10 teams in football and basketball according to the most current polls.

The other contenders are well back.

Louisville is No. 12 in basketball and finished No. 21 in football.

Wisconsin pairs a No. 17 basketball ranking with a No. 9 football finish.

Florida is up to No. 19 in hoops. A little bit more and they’ll catch the Gator football team at No. 14. This has happened before, of course, with back-to-back national titles in basketball during Billy Donovan’s great years, but in a football-crazy state like this one, Mike White deserves more headlines for even coming close.

Miami has the most climbing to do. Unranked in basketball, the Hurricanes finished No. 20 in Mark Richt’s first season as football coach. Jim Larranaga just picked up his 600th career victory, however, and he’s gotten the Hurricanes to the Sweet 16 a couple of times so it’s obvious the school is in good shape across the board.

Here’s another burst of fireworks for FSU. The Seminoles also are No. 7 in the AP poll for women’s basketball. Miami’s women also rank highly at No. 14.

We’ll check back as the hoops season goes on, unless all you want to talk about by then is college football recruiting, which would mean that everything is back to normal no matter what three pretty competitive basketball programs have to say about it.

 

[Steve Shepherd, Dave Lewter enter Florida Boxing Hall of Fame]

[Bob D’Angio was king of close calls during great run at Forest Hill]

[Lane Kiffin revival tent comes to Florida Atlantic]

 

If Oklahoma and North Carolina can be formidable in both major sports, why can’t Miami?

The Oklahoma Sooners are having themselves a year. Final four in college football’s January playoffs. Final Four in college basketball right now, and a chance still to cut down the nets in Houston.

Double-duty athletic programs like this are so rare that they deserve special recognition. I see two more at the moment, using my arbitrary measurement of Sweet 16 in the NCAA hoops tournament and a corresponding finish of top 16 or better in the final Associated Press rankings from earlier this year.

PHILADELPHIA, PA - MARCH 27:  Head coach Roy Williams of the North Carolina Tar Heels celebrate with his team after defeating the Notre Dame Fighting Irish with a score of 74 to 88 in the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament East Regional Final at Wells Fargo Center on March 27, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA – Head coach Roy Williams of the North Carolina Tar Heels celebrates with his team after defeating the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament East Regional Final on March 27, 2016. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

North Carolina is in the Final Four this weekend and the Tar Heels football team finished at No. 15 with a perfect conference record to win the ACC Coastal Division. Also, Notre Dame pairs an Elite Eight basketball team with a No. 11 football team from last season.

The combinations change from season to season, of course. Oklahoma basketball was going through a rough patch until Lon Kruger showed up five years ago. Michigan State, a No. 2 seed, got upset in the opening round of the NCAA tournament or the Spartans would retain their customary spot on the short list of two-sport giants, too.

My feeling is that Miami should aim at this double bullseye of overall excellence, and with a realistic chance at hitting it at some point.

The Hurricanes’ basketball team has progressed to the point with coach Jim Larranaga that going no farther than the Sweet 16 seems a disappointment. That’s how elite programs view March Madness, and Miami is as close to that status as it has ever been.

The football side is a tougher reach, but new coach Mark Richt is capable of getting the Hurricanes back in the rankings over the next few years and eventually back in the top 10. He wouldn’t have come to Miami if he didn’t think it possible.

Start the process by reeling in North Carolina within the ACC. The Tar Heels beat Miami 59-21 last November in football. Not even close. In basketball North Carolina beat the Hurricanes 96-71 in February. Same thing.

The gap shouldn’t be that wide, and does not need to stay that way. Miami is supposed to be a football school, for one thing. And North Carolina, a good bet to win its sixth basketball national championship, finished just one game ahead of Miami in the ACC regular-season standings this year.

[Believe it or not, dunks were once outlawed in March Madness]

[Bullish on Warriors finishing the job and topping 72-10 record]

[Adam Gase showing signs of openness that Joe Philbin never did]

It’s a fantasy to think that anyone will ever build the multiple monstrosity of national championship teams in both sports at the same time, like Florida did in 2006.

Miami can make itself matter in all kinds of new ways, however, with Larranaga and Richt on the job.

It doesn’t have to be about living in the past with memories of Miami’s football dynasty. Look to a double-fisted future instead, one that shines up the brand throughout the entire calendar year.

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s proof that Jim Larranaga knows how to beat Villanova

 

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.

Miami head coach Jim Larranaga gestures during the first half of a second-round game against Wichita State in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament in Providence, R.I., Saturday, March 19, 2016. Miami won 65-57. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Miami head coach Jim Larranaga gestures during a second-round game against Wichita State in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament last Saturday. Miami won 65-57. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

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.

[Computer gave UM 1 percent chance of winning NCAA hoops]

[Simplest early measure to tell if Dolphins hired right coach]

[Dolphins never really took the wrapper off Lamar Miller]

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.

 

 

Here’s a spooky parallel between UM’s NCAA tournament hopes and the Gators’ first title team

 

No. 3 seeds like Miami aren’t supposed to win the NCAA basketball tournament, right? Well, here’s a little inspiration for Hurricanes fans heading into Saturday’s second round, and it comes from the unlikeliest of sources.

Miami head coach Jim Larranaga, left, talks with guard Angel Rodriguez (13) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Louisville, Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016, in Coral Gables, Fla. Miami defeated Louisville 73-65. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Miami head coach Jim Larranaga and guard Angel Rodriguez. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

The Florida Gators.

Florida won the first of its back-to-back national titles in 2006, rolling through the brackets as a No. 3 seed. The basic parallel is there, but it gets bolder and even a little bit spookier when you look at the first two opponents.

The Gators beat a No. 14 seed (South Alabama) and a No. 11 seed (Wisconsin-Milwaukee) on the opening weekend in 2006.

Miami’s first two opponents? A No. 14 seed (Hurricanes beat Buffalo 79-72 Thursday night) and a No. 11 seed (Wichita State) on Saturday.

Now we’re not going to get too far ahead of ourselves here, but it generally takes some help to get a little momentum going in the tournament. The Gators got it that year when UW-Milwaukee knocked off No. 6 seed Oklahoma in the opening round. Miami got it Thursday night when Wichita State, a play-in team, upset No. 6 Arizona.

[Simplest measure to tell if Dolphins hired the right coach]

[Dolphins never really took the wrapper off Lamar Miller]

[Larranaga won’t make mistake FSU’s Kennedy did in leaving ACC]

It’s a long, long, long way to go between here and the Final Four. It figures teams seeded higher than Miami will be the ones that get there.

One more confidence booster, though, as another round of crazy, scary, spectacular games begins.

Connecticut also won an NCAA title as a No. 3 seed in 2011 and again just two years ago as a No. 7.

Jim Larranaga may not use all of this in his motivational speeches but he’s always got a personal message in his back pocket. That 2006 Florida championship team had to fight its way past a real upstart in the national semifinals – Larranaga’s 11th-seeded George Mason Patriots.

 

Jim Larranaga won’t make the mistake that FSU’s Pat Kennedy did in leaving ACC

Don’t know if the Miami basketball team will win the ACC tournament next week but it has happened before, which still blows my mind just a little bit.

The only thing wilder when it comes to famous football schools collecting basketball trophies instead is Florida winning back-to-back national hoop titles in 2006-07.

Miami head coach Jim Larranaga, left, talks with guard Angel Rodriguez (13) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Louisville, Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016, in Coral Gables, Fla. Miami defeated Louisville 73-65. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Miami head coach Jim Larranaga, left, talks with guard Angel Rodriguez during the first half against Louisville, Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016, in Coral Gables, Fla. Miami defeated Louisville 73-65. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

The Hurricanes haven’t gotten there yet. Matter of fact, you have to go back to Duke in 1991-92 to find anyone other than UCLA stringing together national titles in the last 50 years.

Miami isn’t shying away from any goal, however, and as a potential No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament, there is no reason that the Hurricanes should.

That is the Jim Larranaga effect. He was the national coach of the year in 2013, his second season at Miami. That’s when the Hurricanes won both the ACC regular-season and tournament championships, and that’s when everything turned upside-down in the relationship between the school and the regal basketball conference it joined in 2004.

Miami football was supposed to compete for the ACC title every year, but it hasn’t even once.

Miami basketball was supposed to set up shop at the bottom of the ACC standings and stay there, but that hasn’t come true either.

At the moment the Hurricanes are No. 7 in the AP basketball poll. You’d have to go back to the middle of the 2013 season to find a Miami football team ranked that high, and it didn’t last long then.

Has anything this amazing ever happened to a relatively new ACC school hustling to gain a foothold in America’s most storied basketball conference? The answer is yes, and we’re talking about another supposed football school, Florida State.

[Dee Gordon brings most momentum to Marlins camp]

[Zo’s story taught Pat Riley all he needs to know about Chris Bosh situation]

[If Shaq gets his Heat jersey retired, why not Rice and Seikaly?]

FSU joined ACC basketball play in the 1991-92 season. The Seminoles hadn’t made it out of the first weekend of the NCAA tournament in 20 years at that point. It was a football-first move that brought FSU into the ACC, just as it later was with Miami.

Still, FSU surprised everybody by finishing second in the ACC regular-season standings right away, and again the following year. Even more eye-opening, the Seminoles advanced to the NCAA’s Sweet 16 and Elite Eight rounds, respectively, in 1992 and 1993.

The coach at the time was Pat Kennedy, and he made the mistake, after going 202-131 in 11 total seasons at FSU, that he could be better appreciated and more comfortably situated somewhere else. What helped convince him of that was having to claw his way to an 82-78 record in ACC play during six years in that league, and the somewhere else wound up being DePaul.

Kennedy, 64, is no longer a head coach, having failed to get anything going at DePaul and in later years at Montana, Towson and Division II Pace University.

Larranaga, 66, is just hitting his stride at Miami and shouldn’t be looking to get out. Playing and winning in the ACC seems to him the perfect springboard to natural NCAA tournament prestige, not to mention the best way to maintain a stream of top recruits for years to come.

This Miami basketball thing doesn’t have to be a fad. If the Hurricanes make it to the Elite Eight this month, as ACC tournament champions or not, it doesn’t have to be anything but a great program in a great league, and the most fascinating story on campus.

Sure, that blows my mind a little bit, too, but Miami fans surely are getting used to it. Whether or not the Hurricanes football players find that to be upside-down or just right has ceased to matter.