Canes Hoops Diehards Reveling in this Final Four Birth

Mar 29, 2023 - 1:00 PM
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I have been a loyal viewer of Miami Hurricanes basketball since they joined the ACC in 2004. I was much more excited about the conference move for the Canes on the hard court as opposed to the gridiron. The ACC is home to college basketball powerhouses Duke and UNC. Wake Forest, NC State and Georgia Tech have rich histories. Virginia was solid, then became a top-flight program once Tony Bennett showed up. Plus, Miami’s main rival, FSU, is there. I was looking forward to the change in competition from the old Big East. That said, East Coast rivals Syracuse, Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh, and Boston College would all eventually join the Canes in the ACC as well.

I remember watching games on Sunshine Network in the early to mid 2000s. This was long before the ACC Network. Obviously, Miami wasn’t on ESPN with any regularity until the 2010s. I went to a nearby Ale House when I wasn’t able to find the game at home. People would look at me funny, wondering why this guy at the bar is getting so into a Miami Hurricanes regular season basketball game. I didn’t care. I loved rooting for the Canes on the court.

I remember getting frustrated with former head coach Frank Haith, who somehow led the Canes for SEVEN seasons. Seven seasons. I don’t remember his Miami stint being that long. I do remember asking myself many questions during his tenure, such as: Why is he substituting so early? Why is he not making the right in-game adjustments? Why am I investing this amount of time into a team with a coach I dislike so much? The last question is always easy to answer: you love and root for the players.

I remember watching Guermillo Diaz and Robert Hite keep the Canes in games with their ridiculous athleticism and shot making. Guermillo was my guy. He was a matchup nightmare for any and all opponents. Check out a cool story about him from my article last March.

I remember falling in basketball love with Jack McClinton. He was appointment viewing for me. I convinced my FSU-graduate roommate to watch Canes basketball games during those years solely because of Jack. And he led Miami to the NCAA Tournament in 2008. The Canes were a #7 seed and beat #10 seed St. Mary’s in the first round. Wow. McClinton scored his career-high 38 points in the victory. The Canes made it through the ACC with a .500 record and won an NCAA Tournament game. For this fan base, that was an awesome season and something to build on.

I remember being bummed out but not surprised that Miami stumbled the next three seasons under Coach Haith. Not one NCAA Tournament appearance and under .500 every year in ACC play. Then, a small miracle happened. On April 4th, 2011, Frank Haith accepted the position of head coach for the University of Missouri basketball team. It felt like a dream. I had two immediate thoughts: Why the hell would Mizzou hire Frank Haith? And, can Miami really be this lucky? It was a great day for me and many other frustrated Canes hoops fans and a real turning point for the program.

Orange Bowl Basketball Classic Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images
My favorite player and least favorite coach at Miami.

I remember thinking: Who will Miami hire next? To be honest, I cannot recall who the rumored names were at the time. I was so thrilled to have Coach Haith gone, I was going to be excited for whoever the new coach was. He HAD to be better than Haith. On April 22nd, UM hired former George Mason coach Jim Larrañaga. We Canes hoops fans didn’t know it at the time, but our lives were about to be changed forever.

I remember saying to myself, “The guy who led George Mason to the Final Four in ‘06? Okay. He can definitely coach. He’s 61? That seems old.” I wasn’t upset or even bothered by the hire by any means, but I wasn’t thrilled either. How is this guy going to do in the ACC? In Miami, no less. Recruiting and coaching in the ACC is a big step up from the Atlantic 10 and George Mason University in Fairfax, VA.

I remember being encouraged during Coach L’s first season. Miami finished 9-7 in the ACC. A winning record in an elite conference?! That’s something Haith couldn’t do once in his seven seasons. They had real dudes on the roster: Durand Scott, Kenny Kadji, Reggie Johnson, and Shane Larkin.

UNC Greensboro v Miami Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images
There was a huge jump from Coach Haith to Coach Larrañaga.

I remember watching the 2012-13 team top Michigan State in South Florida for the ACC/BIG TEN Challenge, dominate Duke at home, and handle UNC in the 2013 ACC Tournament finals. I watched that game at a St. Patrick’s Day party with a bunch of buddies. The beer tasted extra good that day. The smile on my face was huge. Miami had made it to the top. They won the ACC regular season and tournament! They dominated one of the best conferences in the country, finishing 15-3 while beating both Duke and UNC. The Canes were destined for a #1 seed in the 2013 NCAA Tournament with a real chance to win it all.

I remember being more than peeved when I saw the Canes were going to be the highest #2 seed. How were they not a #1 seed? I can confidently say, without being a homer, that Duke or UNC get that #1 seed with the same schedule and results. No matter, I was confident Miami could get to their first Final Four. There wasn’t an all-time great team in 2013. Winning the National Championship in basketball that season was a real possibility for the University of Miami. After victories against Pacific and Illinois, that confidence remained.

I remember watching the Sweet Sixteen game vs Marquette at home. Many beers were consumed. Many curse words were yelled. The Canes could not buy a bucket. They shot 22-63 from the field, 34.9%, and 8-26 from three-point range, 30.8%. I was devastated. This was Miami’s best basketball team ever. As great of a season as it was, it ended too early.

I remember the day after the game. I was thinking more about the season and Miami basketball as a whole. In a way, it was good that I was devastated after the Marquette game. It showed how far the program had come in just two years under Coach L. There would be a price to pay however, as the 2012-13 squad was extremely senior-laden.

I remember watching Rion Brown and Co. put up valiant effort after valiant effort in a rebuilding 2013-14 season. Miami lost a lot that year, but they played hard. Also, Brown was fun to watch and put up sneaky good numbers: 15.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per game.

I remember being excited for the arrival of transfer guards Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan for the 2014-15 season. Angel’s performance against the Gators on the road in November was awesome! The season had too many peaks and valleys though; some bad losses cost them an NCAA Tournament bid. Did I watch all five of Miami’s NIT games? Of course I did! I was legitimately bummed out when they lost to Stanford in overtime, despite having a depleted roster for the game.

I remember watching the 2015-16 squad win by double-digits against Mississippi State, Utah, and Butler in consecutive games to win the Puerto Rico Tip-Off early that season. They topped #3 Virginia and #11 Louisville in back-to-back home games in late February. They were a dangerous team going into the 2016 NCAA Tournament.

I remember the half-court alley-oop from Rodriguez to McClellan against Wichita State in the second round. The blowout loss in the Sweet Sixteen to Villanova was tough, but not as tough as the Marquette loss in 2013. Villanova was a machine that season and went on to win the National Championship. Coach L had two Sweet Sixteen appearances and was showing his talent as a coach and recruiter.

I remember being excited for Lonnie Walker IV to team up with do-it-all sophomore Bruce Brown in 2017. That November road win at Minnesota was a clinic. And I can still see myself running around silently pumping my fists in a hotel room on a work trip after Ja’Quan Newton’s buzzer-beating half-court shot at UNC. Sadly, Miami’s season would end on a buzzer-beater in the first round of the 2018 NCAA Tournament to Loyola Chicago, kickstarting their run to the Final Four.

I remember being utterly perplexed by Coach L and Miami basketball as a whole being implicated in the Adidas FBI probe, or whatever it was called. Due to the possibility of sanctions, the Canes signed zero recruits in 2018. Zero. Missing one year of recruiting might not seem like much, but it’s a killer. It’s especially a killer considering who Coach L and crew were signing the two years before: 5-stars Bruce Brown and Dewan Hernandez in 2016, 5-star Lonnie Walker IV and 4-star Chris Lykes in 2017. Miami’s recruiting momentum was stopped dead in its tracks.

I remember watching the Canes struggle with both talent and health in the subsequent three seasons. I’ve been reading lately that during these tough times, Coach L never wavered. That’s one of the reasons Canes fans love him. He knew he and his staff were innocent and stayed with his plan for his program. His patience was rewarded. Coach L and Miami were eventually exonerated of any wrongdoing. They then went into the transfer portal and built a top-flight roster that could compete in the ACC and the NCAA Tournament, just like they did with Shane Larkin and Kenny Kadji a decade prior.

I remember being pumped to be able to write about Miami Hurricanes basketball after joining State of the U last February. My favorite game of the season was the win at #2 ranked Duke. Charlie Moore introduced himself to the rest of the country that night. The Canes were playing their best ball of the season heading into the 2022 NCAA Tournament.

I remember being quietly confident before Miami’s second round matchup against #2 seed Auburn. I had the privilege of writing a running diary of the game where my team whooped a high seed with a top NBA Draft pick to get to another Sweet Sixteen. The game against Iowa State was a good matchup for Miami; they took care of business. I expected them to win that game. The Canes getting over the hump to the Elite Eight was cool. The whooping Kansas gave Miami was not cool. Still, the stage was set for another successful season with the number of players returning.

I remember loving how Coach L replaced his outgoing point guard Moore and big man Sam Waardenburg with Nijel Pack and Norchad Omier, respectively. The Canes made it back to the top of the conference mountain again, winning this year’s ACC Regular Season Championship (technically a split championship with Virginia, but Miami won the lone matchup). Check out some of the season highlights below.

I remember seeing Miami’s draw in the NCAA Tournament and thinking that they had a great chance. Indiana scared me. How silly. Wong and Miller were too much for the Hoosiers. Similar to the Auburn game last year, I was quietly confident for the Sweet Sixteen matchup with Houston. They hadn’t seen an offense like Miami’s or a shooter like Pack this season. The rest was history.

I remember being nervous but not despondent when the Canes were down 13 points with thirteen minutes left in the game against Texas on Sunday night. I could see the determination. These guys were not going to go down like they did last year. Texas couldn’t keep making every shot, right? Turned out that was true. Couple that with Miami making almost everything themselves in the last ten minutes, both from the field and the free-throw line, and we had a recipe for a comeback.

Miami v Texas Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Your 2023 NCAA Tournament Midwest Regional Champion Miami Hurricanes.

I remember being surprised that my eyes watered. I didn’t cry, but was emotional as I watched the last few seconds tick off the clock. For someone who never got super emotional watching or playing sports, I might as well have been weeping.

I remember thinking to myself, “Holy s**t. The Miami Hurricanes are going to play in a Final Four. They have a REAL chance at winning this year’s National Championship.”

I remember thinking that all the years of watching Canes hoops struggle, struggle some more, rise to the top, dip back down, fight through adversity, slog through mediocrity, then slowly rise to new heights was more than worth it. Coach L was and is the perfect man to lead this program.

I remember a lot about Miami Hurricanes basketball. One thing I’ll never forget is their first trip to the Final Four in the spring of 2023.


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