Hurricane’s First Final Four!

This is for Rick Barry, the hometown hero and honorable veteran Tim James, and Darius Rice. This is for Johnny Hemsley, John Salmons, James Jones, Vernon Jennings, Mario Bland, and Elton Tyler who got us to our first Sweet 16 in Y2K. This is for Guillermo Diaz, Malcolm Grant, Jack McClinton, Angel Rodriguez, Reggie Johnson, Shane Larkin, Kenny Kadji, Durand Scott, Julian Gamble, Tonye Jakiri, Sheldon McClellan, Ja’Quan Newton, Chris Lykes, Lonnie Walker IV, Bruce Brown, and Dewan Huell Hernandez. This is for the FBI who erroneously attached our name to a bribery investigation but never cleared our name when it was clear that we were innocent and had nothing to do with the scandal. This is for Dejan Vasiljevic, Sam Waardenburg, Kameron McGusty, Charlie Moore, and all of the other players that wore that famous “U” on the front of their jerseys over the past 30 years. The blood. The sweat. The tears of pain and the tears of joy. This is for James Joseph Larrañaga who began with the end in mind and envisioned taking the Miami Hurricanes to heights it had never seen or dreamed of on the hardwood courts when everyone else thought he was coming down here to cash checks and play golf.

This is for the students and alumni fanbase like myself, who braved the old white walls and halls of Hecht, Stanford, and Eaton residential college while consuming those meal plans in the Mahoney-Pearson dining hall in between cram sessions in the stacks of the Otto G. Richter library while desperately trying to keep the college pounds off at the Wellness Center. This is for the OG’s who got to see the school go from playing games at the Miami Beach Convention Center, to no basketball program at all, to restarting the program with games at the James L. Knight Center auditorium, to playing at the Miami Arena in Overtown, to seeing the Convocation Center constructed on campus and watching it go from an empty house better known for hosting presidential election debates to a ruckus home court advantage full of basketball crazy fans. This is for the city of Miami who embraced this team like its own 2nd professional basketball team whether they attended the University in Coral Gables or not. This is for all of the Miami Hurricanes fans across the nation and across the world who have stuck through the strife and struggles. We got some Canes over here and this is definitely for all of us!

These are the thoughts that flooded into my mind as I emotionally watched Norchad Omier, Jordan Miller, Nijel Pack, Isaiah Wong, Wooga Poplar, Bensley Joseph, Harlond Beverly, Anthony Walker, and AJ Casey celebrating with Coach L, Coach Courtney, and Coach Irving in the middle of that oversized “March Madness” logo in Kansas City. For the first time in the long history of the Miami Hurricanes basketball program, WE ARE HEADED TO THE FINAL FOUR!!! I pinched myself to make sure that I was not dreaming, and my skin responded with dozens of goosebumps. This was the real deal. We actually pulled it off and it feels good! It’s so surreal.

Miami guard Isaiah Wong brings the ball down court against Texas in the first half of an Elite 8 college basketball game in the Midwest Regional of the NCAA Tournament Sunday, March 26, 2023, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

The common refrain by the team was the theme of the Player Tribune produced video entitled “Don’t Pick Us.” The public either took that video quite literally or the players had prescient powers of prophecy to know that the experts and prognosticators were not going to be picking us, so we might as well lean in and embrace the underdog role. They did not pick us and that was just fine with us. We are used to it. The Miami Hurricanes by far had the hardest path to the Final Four. We had the toughest 5 vs 12 matchup that historically produces lots of upsets in the tournament. Betters and ESPN alike had Drake as the most popular pick for an upset special in the opening round in Albany. We could hear the experts patting themselves on the back as Drake had a late 8-point lead and Wong was having a rough day at the office, but the Canes have been the best team in the country when it comes to spurt-ability and 10-0 runs. Coach L switched to a full court press and the Canes came out with the comfortable victory in the end.

They didn’t pick us against Indiana either. The Hurricanes got out to a big lead in that one and Indiana made a run into the 2nd half to take back the lead. You could hear the experts perk up in their seats, getting ready to write their Indiana comeback pieces only for the duo of Pack and Wong to shut the door on Trace Jackson-Davis and Spero Dedes’ analyst partner who seemed to be in love with TJD. They certainly didn’t pick us against the #1 seeded Houston Cougars who had a date with destiny to play in their home based Final Four. None of the experts gave us a chance. The Cougars had everything the Canes had but better. They were the number one rated Ken Pomery stat team during the regular season. Sasser and Walker are future NBA 1st round picks. The Canes absolutely dominated that matchup from the outset with a sniper show from the Midwest Regional’s Most Outstanding Player Nijel Pack and Houston was never really in it.

Miami forward Norchad Omier celebrates after their win against Texas in an Elite 8 college basketball game in the Midwest Regional of the NCAA Tournament Sunday, March 26, 2023, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

According to ESPN the University of Texas Austin had the highest odds of winning the national championship going into the Elite 8 at 31% and the next highest odds was UCONN at 22%. One couldn’t help but notice that was because both teams were on Miami’s side of the bracket. Seems like they were not picking us again. The Texas Longhorns had the best team left in the field. They had everything that Miami and Houston had, but better. They had the best defense in the tournament, better than Houston’s amazing defense. Texas was going to impose their will, slow down the tempo, and Miami had no chance. Actually, the Hurricanes had less than no chance. So the boys from Miami decided to wear all black.

Miami guard Jordan Miller celebrates after scoring against Texas in the second half of an Elite 8 college basketball game in the Midwest Regional of the NCAA Tournament Sunday, March 26, 2023, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

You could hear the experts begin to shuffle their chairs and some even began writing their Texas vs UCONN pieces early. Who could blame them? Texas was up 13 and Miami’s most important player was in foul trouble. But the ironic thing was, even though Texas was up big, they were playing Miami’s preferred style of game. They had gotten themselves locked into a back-and-forth track meet with one of the best offenses in the country and while we were busy getting buckets from inside the arc, Texas had fallen in love with the 3 ball. Jordan Miller had himself a perfect 20/20 game, Poplar had 16 points on 85% shooting including a pass to himself off the opponent’s backside, and Omier had a lion sized double double.  Zay got busy in the paint in the 2nd half relentlessly pinning his defender on his backside while destroying Texas’ vaunted defense with pick and roll after pick and roll. One thing for sure is these Canes are fighters and we certainly fought back and took back the lead when it seemed like the game was all but over. Once the pressure was on, our guards were walking buckets in the paint and at the free throw line. In the words of Jon Rothstein, Texas found out that night that Miami has “more guards than Shawshank.”

Jordan Miller and Isaiah Wong were sent as agents of revenge for Kam McGusty, Sam Waardenburg, and Charlie Moore. Jordan Miller is on a mission to avenge that Elite 8 loss to Kansas. That 2022 version of the Canes was good enough to win it all last season. I went back and rewatched those games from that historic and surprising Elite 8 run, and those guys were so so good. They forced turnovers, they got out in transition, they shot the 3 well, they attacked the rim with decisive aggression, and McGusty and Wong were absolute midrange menaces. They made so many tough shots over good defense it absolutely deflated the opposition. I sincerely believe if Norchad Omier was on the team last year we could have won it all.

Miami guard Wooga Poplar dunks against Texas in the second half of an Elite 8 college basketball game in the Midwest Regional of the NCAA Tournament Sunday, March 26, 2023, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

The Coral Gables Canes made the mistake of not recruiting Norchad even though he wanted to be a Cane and was right in our backyard at Miami Prep Academy because in our evaluation of him we deemed him to be too small height wise for his position. Coach L quickly corrected that mistake and made him a priority recruit once Omier entered his name in the transfer portal and now the 6’7” built like a tight end Nicaraguense is dominating the backboards for his adopted hometown Hurricanes. Omier is our most important player because he ends our defensive possessions with his elite rebounding, he gives us extra possessions with his omnipresent offensive rebounding, and his physical screen setting unlocks our guards. Not to mention he is a great finisher around the rim, a decent ball handler capable of breaking the press, a great outlet passer that starts our fast breaks, and is one of the best defenders on the team. His personality is magnetic, he plays with a smile, and he does the dirty work that we need to keep the scoreboard clean. Omier’s presence on this team has enabled this team to have legitimate national championship aspirations and I thank God that he heals like Wolverine as well because that ankle injury in the ACC tournament semifinal gave us all a big scare.

Miami forward Norchad Omier shoots past Texas forward Christian Bishop in the first half of an Elite 8 college basketball game in the Midwest Regional of the NCAA Tournament Sunday, March 26, 2023, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

So now here we are, heading to Houston as Final Four underdogs on the poetic 17-year anniversary of when Coach L took George Mason to the Final Four. UCONN has won their tournament games by a range of 15 to 32 points. They have four national championships under their belt already and they came from a scary Big East conference that the Canes used to play in when Tim James and Darius Rice were on the roster. The experts are not picking us in this matchup either. They are not looking at the fact that the Canes have had the hardest path and are battle tested. When you’re the 5 seed and you play the 4 seed and second-best team from the Big 10, the 2 seed and Big 12 champs, the 1 seed that is a mid-major that was ranked #1 in the country for 7 weeks during the regular season, that may be the hardest path to the Final Four of all time. Now we get the #1 KenPom rated Huskies from Connecticut. From what I have been told the Huskies should already be getting fitted for their ring sizes and the Canes will be lucky if this is not a 20-point blowout by halftime. UCONN is too big and too deep. It’s true that they are very good, there is no doubt about that. However, so are these connected Canes. So, continue to not pick us. We like it that way and Jordan Miller is on a mission for his Miami brothers: past, present, and future.

Miami celebrates after their win against Texas in an Elite 8 college basketball game in the Midwest Regional of the NCAA Tournament Sunday, March 26, 2023, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

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