Miami’s basketball programs have earned spotlight despite not being a traditional powerhouse
Providing stability and identity
Jim Larranaga and Katie Meier have each been at Miami for over a decade, the clear, recognizable faces of programs that always find a way to delight and surprise, and yes, establish the Hurricanes as a basketball school. They have provided not only stability but also a clear identity for their respective teams born out of the same mindset and mentality: toughness, grit and relentless determination, no matter the odds.
Unexpected runs to the Elite Eight
While their teams’ runs to the Elite Eight might feel improbable considering where they were seeded headed into the tournament (the men at No. 5, the women at No. 9), Larranaga and Meier have worked hard to earn this moment at a school that does not get nearly the same attention as others within the ACC. Larranaga has been here before, of course, taking the men to the Elite Eight a season ago — a first in program history. Now this year, Meier has led the women to their first Elite Eight in program history. That they are here together is worth celebrating and embracing, despite being some 900 miles apart at their respective tournament sites in Greenville, South Carolina, and Kansas City, Missouri.
A shared competitive spirit
“I think it’s a really, really big deal,” Meier said Saturday. “The two programs have a lot in common. We’re very competitive, like a big brother/little sister or big sister/little brother, depending on who won that week. We get that way with each other, and I love it. Any opportunity you have to have somebody push you, whether you’re on the training table next to somebody, one player next to the other player saying, ‘Why did you miss that shot?’ They’re right there competing with each other in a very loving way. I think it’s elevated both of our programs.”
ACC’s variety of programs
ACC commissioner Jim Phillips noted the way Miami has represented itself despite perhaps not having the tradition of some of the blue-blood brands like Duke and North Carolina that define the way ACC basketball is viewed. Miami has been in the ACC only since 2004, but it has done more than hold its own in waving the conference flag. “The commitment the university has made to athletics has shown itself in a lot of ways,” Phillips told ESPN. “What has been tremendous for the conference is it’s a statement that we have a variety of programs that maybe have had a long history in college basketball and maybe some that haven’t had as much as others, but at any moment those programs can rise to the top and stay there.”
Postseason success for both programs
Indeed, both teams have become NCAA tournament mainstays. In her 18 years at Miami, Meier has made the NCAA tournament 10 times. In his 12 seasons, Larranaga has led Miami to the tournament six times — including those two Elite Eights and two other Sweet 16 runs. This year, not only did they both make it to the Elite Eight but they both beat a No. 1 seed.
Miami’s basketball success
But the truth is, the Hurricanes basketball programs have had more postseason success in recent years than football — the most identifiable sports program from a national perspective. Miami has won five national championships in football, the most recent in 2001, but has never won an ACC championship. The men and women have each won ACC regular-season basketball titles — including the men as co-champs this season.
Hard-fought wins of Miami basketball
This run by Miami has been unexpected and, quite honestly, improbable. The Hurricanes were on the bubble headed into Selection Sunday after going 19-12 in the regular season, including a disappointing 68-42 loss to Virginia Tech in the ACC tournament. After getting a No. 9 seed, they were sent on the road to Bloomington, Indiana, to face Oklahoma State in the first round. At halftime of that very first game, Miami trailed 37-20. It might have felt bleak to those watching at home, but the Hurricanes went into halftime determined not to let their season end.
A fearless mentality
“They humbled us really quickly, and we thank them for that,” guard Destiny Harden said. “If we didn’t have a hard game like that from beginning, then we probably wouldn’t be as far as we are now.” Miami rallied to win 62-61, matching the fifth-largest comeback in tournament history. If that game proved to be wild, what awaited next against No. 1 seed Indiana proved even wilder.
Toughness and tenacity of Miami
“We’ve done it all, been down, been up, been tied,” guard Ja’Leah Williams said. “It’s been ups and downs, but we always bring it through no matter what, as long as we’re together and have each other’s backs.”
Matchup challenges for opponents
Since Jan. 28, the ACC co-champs have amassed a 12-2 record and connected on 40% of their 3-point attempts. Those shots have been the catalysts for another run to the Elite Eight, where Miami has silenced any doubters about its ability to win a national title.
Miami basketball is just getting started
“But both of them will tell you the job is not yet finished,” said Miami athletic director Dan Radakovich.