Miami Hurricanes Are Elite

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“And then there were eight.” It sounds so surreal, but our beloved Miami Hurricanes are in the “Elite Eight,” for the first time in the history of the school. To say that I am proud of these boys is a major understatement. This is the kind of March Madness run that I always dreamed of for my alma mater, but if I am being honest, I never thought that I would actually live to see it. The University of Miami was a football school when I attended it. Even though the football program has fallen on hard times recently, it still is a football school through and through. The 5 national championships that we have won and 2 that were stolen from us made sure that football was engrained into our school’s DNA. You feel the weight of that football tradition the moment you step onto that campus in Coral Gables.

However, the hiring of James Joseph Larrañaga in 2011 elevated the basketball program in our collective consciousness. Slowly but surely Larrañaga made fans of us all with his tough scrappy tournament teams and the fact that he won the ACC in basketball before our football program did. Shane Larkin, Kenny Kadji, Durand Scott, Reggie Johnson, Davon Reed, Sheldon McClellan, Angel Rodriguez, Tonye Jekiri, Ja’Quan Newton, Devan Vasiljevic, Chris Lykes, Lonnie Walker, Bruce Brown, and Dewan Huell are just a few of the pioneering names that helped to advance this team from being an afterthought to where it is today.

This team has experienced the good, the bad and the ugly, from the epic step back three that Shane Larkin hit over Illinois to advance to the Sweet 16, to the heartbreaking buzzer beater loss of maybe our best tournament team roster ever against Loyola Chicago, to a bogus FBI investigation that Miami was internally cleared of but never publicly cleared (because for some reason the FBI has a policy of not publicly commenting on investigations that you’re cleared of even after they publicly drag your name through the mud in public court filings). The investigation subsequently hurt our program’s recruiting and set us back years. We have been through all the hills, valleys, and emotional rollercoasters with the University of Miami Men’s basketball program. With only 6 healthy players on scholarship, the Canes were only 10-17 last season in a pandemic year. Many were calling for Larrañaga to be fired or retire before this season began. He was too old, washed up, the game had passed him by, and the recruiting charisma required to chase down the talent to rebuild this program was a young man’s prerogative. Which is why the victory over Iowa State on Friday night felt so satisfying and rewarding.

When you’re picked to finish 12th out of 15 teams in the ACC, the only direction you can go is up on your way to proving the skeptics wrong. In the case of the Miami Hurricanes, they proved them Wong, as in Isaiah Wong- with his electric ball handling and slashing ability. Kam McGusty has blown through this season with hurricane force winds and could be playing himself into a being an NBA draft pick. Sam Waardenburg has been like old faithful with his great defense and timely three-point buckets sprouting up like clockwork. Charlie Moore continues to rack up more and more steals and assists. He is the floor general that tilts the floor in our favor. Jordan Miller has done nothing but improve in game after game. Despite his diminutive size, he has now become a legitimate paint scoring threat every time he touches the ball down low. These are the names of the guys who are making a legendary tournament run and bringing even more fans into the fold to cheer on this special basketball team.

Many people were bragging about Iowa State’s defensive efficiency and how Miami had yet to see a defense like the Cyclones play. However, Iowa State was clearly not ready to combat the frantic scramble defense that the Canes employed, and it gave Iowa State fits all night. Miami has the 2nd best field goal percentage defense of the 8 teams remaining in the field and are forcing turnovers at a tremendous rate. This has precipitated in double digit wins against skilled competition in the last two rounds, including an 18-point win over #2 seed Auburn and a 14-point win over Iowa State.

Miami plays a controlled chaotic brand of stifling defense and they thrive in it. They navigate that scramble defense as if they were born in it and molded by it. Happy feet and active hands are their mantra. Deflections and disruptive pressure are their great equalizers. What the Hurricanes lack in size and rebounding prowess, they make up with speed and reducing the opponent’s number of shot attempts by forcing turnovers and blocking shots. They trap and rotate with a tremendous work rate even with their starters playing major minutes because they don’t have depth on their bench. The Canes slide their feet well and cut off driving lanes to force deep inefficient shots.

I know a lot of the experts are still counting Miami out and going chalk with their Kansas predictions despite what their eyes are telling them about this Miami team. I for one will not be making that mistake. Miami can win. Miami is good enough to make it to the final four. They have yet to have a good three-point shooting game, which has been part of their identity all season. Miami plays loose, with no pressure, and are out there having fun. The Miami shooters are overdue for a good game. If the Canes keep playing defense like they have been and Isaiah Wong and Kam McGusty can manage to have good shooting games simultaneously, Kansas could be on upset alert on Sunday afternoon. I sincerely believe that Miami is good enough to win it all. But one game at a time. For now, we’re on to Kansas in the Midwest Regional Final. Let’s Go Canes!!!

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