The wildest man in March Madness may be Eric Musselman, who once coached a CBA team in West Palm Beach

There are too many crazy stories in the NCAA tournament to track right now but here’s one with a strong tie to West Palm Beach and a bit of a loose cannon at the center of it.

Nevada’s coach, the one who has the Wolf Pack in Atlanta for a Thursday night Sweet 16 matchup with Loyola-Chicago, is Eric Musselman. He’s 5-feet-7 and celebrates big wins like his team’s upsets of Texas and Cincinnati by screaming and shouting and jumping around like a grade-schooler on a trampoline,

NASHVILLE, TN – MARCH 18: Head coach Eric Musselman of the Nevada Wolf Pack directs his team against the Cincinnati Bearcats during the second half in the second round of the 2018 Men’s NCAA Basketball Tournament at Bridgestone Arena on March 18, 2018 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

which makes for great television. Oh, and he frequently rips his shirt off, too, during locker room celebrations, which is a little more dangerous for television because that’s when the coach has been known to launch into wild-eyed speeches that are best bleeped out altogether.

If any of this rings a bell, perhaps you were here 20 years ago when Musselman coached the Florida Beachdogs of the old Continental Basketball Association.

The CBA was around for more than 60 years and served as a feeder system for the NBA until the big league came up with development teams of its own in 2002. Phil Jackson once coached in the CBA, and so did George Karl and Flip Saunders and Bill Musselman, Eric’s dad.

Bill Musselman coached everywhere, the NBA, the ABA, the NCAA, and for a time was filled in as head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers in the early 1980’s when Chuck Daly got fired there.

At the age of 5 Eric famously brought the house down with a pregame display of dribbling and ballhandling at the University of Minnesota, where his dad was the head coach. By 24, Eric was the general manager of the Rapid City Thrillers of the CBA, and he made half a dozen trades on his first day of work.

In 1996 the Thrillers moved from South Dakota to West Palm Beach, where Boca Raton businessman Rick Rochon set about spending millions of dollars trying to make the franchise a success. His coach was Eric Musselman, then in his early 30’s, and he prepared his Beachdogs for games against the Yakima Sun Kings and the Fort Wayne Fury and the Grand Rapids Hoops with the kind of intensity that other men bring to the NBA Finals.

It was never going to work here. South Florida has always been too much of a major-league market to go for minor-league sports other than baseball, which doesn’t draw well but has the industry’s full backing.

Besides, the West Palm Beach Auditorium, where the Beachdogs played their home games, was being prepared to be sold by the city. There were no plans to build a replacement, and in the years since the old auditorium on Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard has been spruced up and put to use as a Jehovah’s Witnesses assembly center.

All the same, Musselman put together an ever-changing roster of players from the various pro leagues around the world and got the Beachdogs to the best-of-seven CBA championship series in 1997. Home attendance averaged 2,898 that season, or at least that’s the number the team announced, and there were fewer than that on hand when the Oklahoma City Cavalry won the title in Game 6 by a score of 92-82.

There were no more Beachdogs games after that. Musselman was preparing to leave for Uruguay and an assistant coaching gig with one of USA Basketball’s youth teams when he got the news that Rochon was pulling the plug after reportedly losing $4 million as the team’s owner.

It seems, however, that Daly, the Hall of Fame coach, had caught a few Beachdogs games as an offseason Palm Beach County resident and he struck up a relationship with Musselman. He asked Eric to come along as a scout with the Orlando Magic, the team that Daly was coaching at the time, and from there other opportunities came.

In 2002, Musselman became the NBA’s youngest head coach at the time, taking over the Golden State Warriors at the age of 37. A few years later, after that fizzled, he was hired to coach the Sacramento Kings. Since 2015 he has been at Nevada, rebuilding a program for NCAA tournament readiness, but those days in the CBA, where he earned an overall record of 270-122, are not forgotten.

“It turned out West Palm Beach was the perfect place for me at that time,” Musselman said in a 2002 Palm Beach Post story that marked his first NBA head coaching job. “Without going to West Palm Beach, I don’t think I’d ever have met Chuck Daly, who had a house in Jupiter. If I hadn’t met him, I wouldn’t have ended up in Orlando, and I probably would still be coaching in the minor leagues.”

Several career rebuilds later, he is trying to get Nevada into the Elite Eight for the first time. Musselman still has the passion, just like his late father.

It was Bill Musselman who famously said “Defeat is worse than death. You have to live with defeat.”

[Amendola joins long list of Texas Tech tough guys to join Dolphins]

[Players’ Tribune, a Derek Jeter project, gives athletes freedom to open up]

[Marlins’ inaugural spring training 25 years ago was a Space Coast blast]

 

 

Not feeling very confident about Florida’s 3 teams in NCAA tournament

So who goes the farthest in the NCAA tournament among our state’s three entrants?

Not sure it’s going to matter since I don’t expect the Hurricanes, Gators or Seminoles to make it out of the first weekend. Each has flaws, though Miami does a better job of masking them. Each is prone to lay a major egg every now and again.

Miami head coach Jim Larranaga reacts during a game against North Carolina in Chapel Hill, N.C., Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

If we’re assigning personality traits, FSU is tough, Florida is soft and Miami is smart. Any of them could surprise, like the Gators did last year in advancing all the way to the Elite Eight, but you could say that about most tournament teams from major conferences.

So we’ll go by who got the best draw. That’s always a good place to start.

The Gators get the break of knowing their first opponent, a No. 11 seed, won’t be coming in fresh. St. Bonaventure and UCLA are in a play-in game Tuesday night, and the winner will have to travel to Dallas and turn everything around pretty quick. That’s a potential plus for Florida, or at least it’s as much of a break as any No. 6 could ask to have.

If Florida advances, it probably will be Texas Tech waiting in the next round. The game would be in Texas, which makes that neutral court a little nastier, plus the Red Raiders won at Kansas in January. They’re well able to establish dominance in any setting.

Put it all together and I’ll give the Gators a 40 percent chance of advancing to the Sweet 16 round, and that’s only because Florida has mixed in some big wins here and there, including two over Kentucky, one over Cincinnati, a No. 2 seed, and one over Gonzaga, last year’s national finalist.

Miami’s first opponent is Loyola of Chicago, the Cinderella pick of all the national blabbers. The Ramblers are a legitimate threat, with a 10-game winning streak right now and a road upset of Florida in December, back when the Gators were feeling their oats at No. 5 in the AP poll.

The Hurricanes certainly can handle Loyola, a No. 11 seed, on a good night. Just a few weeks ago Miami beat North Carolina, a No. 2, on the road. Even if this potential trapdoor is avoided, however, it’s likely that Tennessee comes next, and in my opinion any team at the top of the SEC is a potential powerhouse.

Nobody but the Tournament Selection Committee seems to remember that the SEC had three teams in the Elite Eight last year, or that South Carolina, a No. 7 seed, reached the Final Four. As it is, a record eight SEC teams are in the 2018 NCAA tournament. Only the regal ACC has more.

So I’ll give Miami a 33 percent chance to making the Sweet 16, because there are not one but two difficult wins between here and there.

As for FSU, there are two things to know and they’re drawn from the same game, a 59-55 loss to Virginia in February.

First, the Seminoles led what might be the best team in the nation 32-22 at halftime and hung tough to the end, outrebounding the Cavaliers and playing great defense. Second, Virginia won by showing the kind of versatility you expect of a No. 1 seed and locking down to stifle FSU in the closing minutes.

That tells me FSU is dangerous enough to watch closely and good enough to beat Missouri in an opening 8-9 game, but then comes No. 1 seed Xavier, and nobody needs to be bumping heads with them so early in the brackets.

Make it a 25 percent chance, then, on advancing to the Sweet 16, and recognize that if the Seminoles beat those arbitrary odds, it will be from the bonus any ACC team gets playing against consistently rugged competition inside the league.

Overall, Florida has two national titles, back to back in 2006 and 2007, and five trips to the Final Four. FSU’s only Final Four appearance was in 1972 and Miami has never been.

You’ve got to be in it to win it, right? Having three state schools in the tournament field is a mad dash no matter how it turns out. Would love to think it will last beyond this weekend for fans of the Hurricanes, Gators and Seminoles, but then you’ve already read my predictions about that and you’re already mad so I’ll just shut up now and watch like everybody else.

[Justin Thomas’ climb to No. 2 in world boosts Honda Classic again]

[Players Tribune, a Derek Jeter project, gives Kevin Love an important platform]

[Marlins’ inaugural spring training 25 years ago was a Space Coast blast]

 

Only three Gator teams ever made it to the Sweet 16 more easily than this one

 

No telling what will happen to the Florida Gators vs. Wisconsin on Friday night, but it’s been a shockingly easy ride so far.

With a total victory margin of 41 points in wins over East Tennessee State and Virginia, the Gators rank fourth in program history in terms of domination on the way to the Sweet 16 round.

ORLANDO, FL – Devin Robinson #1 and Justin Leon of the Florida Gators react in the first half against the Virginia Cavaliers during the second round of the 2017 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at the Amway Center on March 18, 2017 in Orlando. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

The 2012 Gators won their first two games in the NCAA tournament by a total of 60 points (plus-26 over Virginia and plus-34 over Norfolk State). That group, featuring Bradley Beal, Kenny Boynton and Patric Young, lost to Louisville in the Elite Eight.

Florida’s 2007 national championship team reached the Sweet 16 round with a total victory margin of 50 points (43 over Jackson State and seven over Purdue).

The Gators’ first national champions in 2006 had a 48-point edge over two opening opponents (26 over South Alabama and 22 over Wisconsin-Milwaukee).

Of course, it helps to have low-seeded teams as opponents in the opening rounds, but any NCAA tournament game is a potential face-plant. Mike White’s 2017 Gators don’t have a fistful of NBA players, like the championship teams of Billy Donovan. Also, this group had to beat a No. 5 seed on the way to the Sweet 16 round, which is more than was asked of those monster Gator teams listed above.

To this point, White’s only disappointment has been getting so little scoring from KeVaughn Allen, an All-SEC first-teamer, and Canyon Barry. They averaged 26 points per game as a pair during the regular season. In the NCAA tournament they are scoring less than half of that (5.5 points per game for Allen and 7.0 for Barry).

Get those two guys going against Wisconsin, plus the same overall defensive effort that has been a hallmark for the Gators this season, and there may still be another gear for Florida to hit.

The Badgers are tournament-tough, of course, and represent a major problem. Twice in the last three years Wisconsin reached the Final Four, including an appearance in the national title game against Duke in 2015. Florida has no experience to rival that, from the head coach on down.

[Most got in free for inaugural NCAA basketball championship in 1939]

[From the franchise’s darkest history comes inspiration for today’s Heat]

[Reliving Wilt’s 100-point game with two Palm Beach County eyewitnesses]

Every year is different, however, and every matchup. Try this mindless trivia on for size.

Wisconsin won the 1941 NCAA tournament with a 39-34 victory over Washington State in the championship game. Virginia scored 39 points in the second round of the 2017 tournament and lost by 26 points to the Gators.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Most got in free for college hoops’ inaugural title game, which was played in a stuffy, old campus gym

 

The NCAA men’s basketball tournament is kind of a big deal.

This year’s Final Four, for instance, will be played in the same Arizona stadium where Super Bowls and national college football titles games have been played, and no tickets will be left over.

The thing wasn’t always so enormous, however, or so special.

In 1939, the first year of the NCAA tourney, eight teams were in the field and the championship game was played in what seems like a closet by today’s standards.

Northwestern University’s original Patten Gymnasium, since demolished and replaced, was the site of Oregon’s 46-33 win over Ohio State that inaugural year. According to an old Chicago Tribune article, a crowd of 5,500 attended the game, with many of them getting in free.

James Naismith, basketball’s inventor, attended the game that night in Evanston, Ill. Everything else about the affair was extremely low key, with Northwestern’s athletic director even advertising the need for four extra-long beds to accommodate the taller players on the visiting Oregon team.

TV coverage? Not a chance, not even locally.

The other teams in the tournament field that year were Texas, Oklahoma, Villanova, Utah State, Wake Forest and Brown. Pretty cool to think that Villanova was in the first NCAA tournament and enters the 2017 version, 78 years later, as the defending champion.

For some time the National Invitation Tournament at Madison Square Garden was better known than the NCAA, and usually had better teams. There even were cases where teams played in both events.

As a result, the following oddities jump out from NCAA tournament history.

San Francisco has won more NCAA championships (two) than Ohio State or Michigan or UNLV or Syracuse (one each).

Loyola-Chicago and CCNY and La Salle and Holy Cross have as many (one each) as Georgetown and Marquette and Arkansas (one each).

Oklahoma A&M has as many (two) as Florida and Michigan State and North Carolina State.

[Expecting it to be the Zagnuttiest NCAA tournament of them all]

[Let Lane Kiffin be your guide to a healthier, happier life]

[NCAA berths weren’t automatic for UM in Rick Barry’s golden era]

And Oregon? They took that first NCAA title and haven’t scored one since. They’re a No. 3 seed in the Midwest Region this week, however, with Iona and Creighton between the Ducks and the Sweet 16.

Anything can happen. Looking at the history of this quirky tournament, from its days on the back pages of the newpaper to billion-dollar TV contracts of today, just about everything already has.

Expecting it to be the Zagnuttiest NCAA tournament of them all

I like Gonzaga, Villanova, Louisville and Kentucky in the Final Four. Why?

Because I like the idea of the Zagnuts finally breaking through after making serious noise in the NCAA tournament for close to 20 years but never getting past the Elite Eight.

Because I also like Villanova having a shot at back-to-back national titles. Nobody has done that since Florida in 2006-07 and having the Wildcats in the Final Four would have all the analysts referencing the Gators, at least briefly, as an elite basketball program again. It’s about the only thing that could.

LAS VEGAS, NV – Przemek Karnowski of the Gonzaga Bulldogs carries the trophy off the court following the team’s 74-56 victory over the Saint Mary’s Gaels to win the championship game of the West Coast Conference Basketball Tournament on March 7. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Also because I like the idea of Louisville (potential Midwest champion) against Kentucky (potential South champion) in the national semifinals at Glendale, Ariz. The Wildcats have won their recent NCAA tournament matchups, including a national semifinal in 2012, but the Cardinals already have a 73-70 win over Kentucky this season.

But enough about me.

[Check out Matt Porter’s ‘go with my gut’ Final Four picks

Looking at this thing logically, which is what all the real experts try to do, North Carolina should make the Final Four. Duke and West Virginia are strong choices to fight their way in, too, and Kansas didn’t get a No. 1 seed for nothing.

There are long-time trends in this tournament to pile on top of that.

John Calipari, for instance, starts each season whining about the inexperience of his four or five new freshman All-Americas and by March has them on a run, like the 11-game win streak Kentucky is on right now. Included in that are a couple of get-it-right games, beating Florida and Tennessee easily after losing to both teams earlier.

[Let Lane Kiffin be your guide to healthier, happier living]

[No reason the Heat should be doing what they’re doing]

[UM didn’t get NCAA berths during Rick Barry’s golden era]

As for Villanova, the Wildcats and other Big East teams rarely are featured on the ESPN networks, which is where most of us watch college basketball. Consequently, Jay Wright’s teams tend to fly under the radar just a bit, which is amazing for so consistently strong a program. Villanova’s only lost three games this season and two of those were to Butler, a No. 4 seed in this tournament.

Hey, you can drive yourself crazy with all of this stuff but in the end it comes down to an educated guess and mine is Gonzaga over Kentucky for the national title, if only because nobody else has a 7-foot-1, 300-pound athlete named Przemek Karnowski, which in English translates to Get Out of the Way.

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.

 

 

A funny Ronald Reagan tidbit from my upcoming story on Pembrook Burrows III

Just finished writing a long feature on West Palm Beach’s Pembrook Burrows III, who way back in 1970 played with Hall of Famer Artis Gilmore on the unlikeliest Final Four team you could ever hope to see.

The story, which is peppered with great photos, can be found at mypalmbeachpost.com beginning Thursday. It’s full of fun nuggets about the heyday of Roosevelt High School basketball and the overnight emergence of tiny Jacksonville University as a national power. Here’s one funny scene, however, that got left on the cutting-room floor.

ronnie raygunWhen Jacksonville advanced to the NCAA championship game to play mighty UCLA, Florida Gov. Claude Kirk, a real colorful guy, sent a telegram to his counterpart in California, Ronald Reagan.

Kirk had a lot of fun with it and made sure the contents of the telegram was released to the media. He referred to the Bruins as “the champagne team from Smoggy Hollow,” and announced “I am supremely comfortable in the knowledge that Jacksonville will ‘win one for the Gov’ while UCLA is ‘losing one for the old Gipper.’ “

Best of all, Kirk promised “If I lose, I will watch 50 reruns of ‘Death Valley Days.’ If I win, all I want is your public acknowledgement of this additional area of Florida’s superiority. I will await your wire of acceptance and your subsequent telephone call of congratulations.”

Reagan, the former actor and future U.S. president, served in 1964 and 1965 as narrator on television’s “Death Valley Days” anthology of western stories from the pioneer days. Some of those shows must have been a little dry based on Kirk’s wager.

[Why shouldn’t Hurricanes be formidable in both major sports?]

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

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

There is no record of what happened when UCLA beat Jacksonville 80-69 but it figures that Reagan was gracious, not wishing to speak ill of a fellow Republican. Besides, the Bruins were beating everybody back then.

In 1972, after Kirk had left office, UCLA scored another victory over a Florida team in the NCAA championship game, beating FSU 81-76.

 

 

 

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.