With its Round of 32 win over Indiana, Miami entered an elite class of college basketball.
The victory marked the Hurricanes’ fourth Sweet 16 appearance over the last 10 years, a feat that only 15 other programs have been able to reach.
This recent success for UM basketball is new for the program. Before this decade-long stretch, Miami advanced to the third round of the NCAA Tournament only two other times.
Often overshadowed by the historic successes of its football and baseball programs, head coach Jim Larrañaga is pleased with the leaps that Hurricanes basketball has made to establish itself as a noteworthy basketball program as well.
“Everybody has looked at the University of Miami as a football program, as a football school, and there’s a good reason for that. Our football program has won five National Championships. And even those who follow baseball know we’ve won four National Championships in baseball,” Larrañaga said. “But our basketball program has really been elevated over the last 12 years. My staff has done a fantastic job of recruiting quality young men who play quality basketball, and they’re all graduating. So we’re very, very pleased with the company we’re keeping.”
Starting guard Jordan Miller understands the notion of Miami being a “football school,” and he thinks that continuing to win important games will further the growing recognition of UM basketball.
“We hear that a lot,” Miller said when asked about how often UM’s basketball players hear that Miami is a football school. “I mean, the best way to deal with it is to just come out, win basketball games. I say this all the time. The best way to get recognition is to win something, whether that’s games, championships, conference championships, you name it.
Added Miler, “The best thing we can do to get recognition, instead of asking for it, is to do something about it.”
The Hurricanes have an opportunity to gain more national recognition on Friday at 7:15 p.m. when they face off against Houston. The Cougars, a No. 1 seed in the tournament, have won 33 games this season, which ties Florida Atlantic for the most wins this season in Division I basketball.
Houston plays a physical brand of basketball and features one of the nation’s top defenses.
Led by AAC Defensive Player of the Year Jamal Shead, the Cougars lead the country in field-goal percentage defense (36.1), are ranked second in scoring defense (56.6) and 3-point field-goal percentage defense (27.4) and 16th in blocked shots per game (4.9).
“At the defensive end of the floor, they’re as physical as any team that I’ve seen all year long. They put so much pressure on you at every position,” Larrañaga said. “Some teams are good putting pressure on the guards, but these guys put pressure at every position.”
Ranking seventh nationally in rebounding margin (+7.4), 15th in offensive rebounding (12.7) and 16th in total rebounds per game (39.1), Houston is also a tenacious team on the boards.
“Then they rebound the ball tremendously well at both ends, especially at the offensive end, where they’re able to, if they miss a shot, just offensive rebound and score either at the rim or kick it out for a three,” Larrañaga said.
Offensively, the Cougars are paced by AAC Player of the Year and Associated Press All-America First Team guard Marcus Sasser. The senior guard leads Houston in points per game (16.9) and is second in 3-point field goal percentage (38.8).
With a win, Sasser and the Cougars would advance to their third consecutive Elite Eight, while Miami would play in its second NCAA quarterfinals. The Hurricanes made the Elite Eight last season for the first time in program history.
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