The University of Miami didn’t quite go from college basketball afterthought to anointed No. 1 NCAA Tournament seed on Selection Sunday, but the competition is just beginning. The road to the No. 1 ranking that really counts is wide open for the Hurricanes.
The seeding game is all about numbers-crunching and paper-pushing in a hotel conference room. March Madness is all about winning on the court.
Miami has proved it can beat anyone, anywhere.
So when UM was slotted as No. 2 in the East Region three hours after beating North Carolina 87-77 for the ACC tournament title, coach Jim Larranaga wasn’t whining. Nor was Shane Larkin. They were ecstatic. In their second seasons at UM, the Hurricanes are not only back in the Big Dance for the first time in five years but are among the favorites to win a national title.
Their card is punched with a Friday date in Austin against No. 15 seed Pacific. Victory would mean a Sunday game against either No. 7 seed Illinois or No. 10 seed Colorado.
Potential Sweet Sixteen opponents in Washington are Marquette and Butler. Advancement to the Final Four in Atlanta might be contingent on beating No. 1 seed Indiana and Victor Oladipo.
When Larranaga went to the Final Four in 2006 with George Mason, he did it by upsetting Connecticut — inside D.C.’s Verizon Center. George Mason was a No. 11 seed. Miami, which ascended as high as No. 2 in the nation and won both the ACC regular-season and tournament titles, is no Cinderella.
The tournament selection committee showed skepticism for a weak ACC and infatuation with mid-major Gonzaga in shunting UM to No. 2 and bestowing the 31-2 Zags with the top slot. No team that had won both the ACC season and tourney titles had ever been denied a No. 1 seed before, and Gonzaga’s RPI was lower than UM’s.
But UM lost three of five down the stretch, including a home loss to Georgia Tech, and its ACC tournament title was probably discounted because it wasn’t against Duke.
The committee chose not to honor UM’s historic season of firsts with a No. 1 but gave UM a nod with a very negotiable path to the Final Four.
Still, it stung a bit that Duke — 1-1 against UM this season, second in the ACC and eliminated early in the ACC tourney — was also a No. 2, albeit below UM and stuck in the tough Midwest Region with Louisville, the hottest team in the country. Kansas, which has defeated more top-50 teams than anybody, deserved its No. 1.
Florida, seeded third, plays in a South Region stocked with Georgetown, Michigan and No. 1 seed Kansas.
Billy Donovan’s Gators, who also begin their journey Friday in Austin (against Northwestern State) usually peak this time of year. They just need some offense to go with their defense, as was evident in the SEC tournament final loss to Mississippi on Sunday.
No evil plot
That minority of UM fans who are delusional about a supposed evil NCAA conspiracy against Miami will cry foul and use the seeding as another example of a vendetta, even though the selection committee has nothing to do with enforcement staff. And even though basketball commentators — including ACC partisans Dick Vitale, Jay Bilas and Jay Williams — said repeatedly on the air Sunday that they had no objections to the seeding decisions.
“Miami beat more people, they won more quality games,” Bilas said on ESPN’s Bracketology show. “But I’m not saying the seeds are wrong. It’s that the theme of this is, ‘Who did you lose to?’ ’’
Said Vitale: “I have no problem with the one and two seeds, but if you match up Miami or Duke’s résumé against Gonzaga — I saw Gonzaga get beat at Butler and against Illinois. Miami is a very dangerous basketball team. They have a little chip on their shoulder because for years they were equated with pigskin. Now it’s time for hoops, baby! South Beach — you better share it, LeBron and D-Wade. You better share it with Larranaga and Larkin!”
UM deserved a No. 1 seed because its strength of schedule superseded that of Gonzaga’s West Coast Conference slate. UM’s ACC title trumped Indiana’s fadeout in the Big Ten tournament.
And Shane Larkin should have been named ACC Player of the Year. And if Larranaga doesn’t win national Coach of the Year, he’s being robbed.
But UM’s senior-laden squad isn’t going to waste time splitting hairs or quibbling over ballots. Larkin and Durand Scott, accompanied by Julian Gamble and Kenny Kadji and their teammates, can take UM all the way. In a season lacking a dominant powerhouse, UM can seize opportunity. Seedings are merely a springboard to the ultimate destination.