To see more of Miami’s trip to March Madness, go to “Corey’s Stories: Dispatches from the NCAA tournament” at blogs.themiamihurricane.com.
After six consecutive years of being on the outside looking in, the Hurricanes have finally gained a berth to the Big Dance.
For the first time since 2002, Miami has been invited to compete in the NCAA tournament, which comprises the top 65 teams in the country. The Hurricanes were elated after seeing their name appear on the screen during Selection Sunday, especially considering that none of the current players have ever had a chance to compete at this level before.
“I was shocked,” guard Lance Hurdle said. “I was like a kid in a candy store. It’s a blessing.”
“We’re very excited about this,” guard Jack McClinton said. “We just look to Coach [Frank] Haith to lead us because he’s done it before. We’re looking to him to lead us like he has all year.”
Being invited to the NCAA tournament is particularly sweet for the Hurricanes, who won their first 12 games to start the season. However, they ran into trouble against teams within their conference, and began their ACC schedule with a 2-6 record. But Haith never lost faith in his team.
“I never wavered on what I believed this team was capable of doing and what we were capable of accomplishing,” Haith said.
Following the Florida State loss, Miami began playing inspired basketball, winning six of their final eight games, including a one-point upset win over No. 5 Duke. The Canes finished the regular season with a record of 21-9 (8-8 ACC), and won their first game in the ACC tournament to help solidify a spot for themselves in the NCAA tournament.
“When so many people said we couldn’t do it, it’s gratifying,” Haith said. “We’ve done it without a lot of fanfare. We’ve done it with hard work and determination and by not worrying what people say about us.”
Miami will go into the tournament as a No. 7 seed in the south region, and will face No. 10 St. Mary’s Friday at 12:30 p.m. St. Mary’s, a small Catholic school located in California, earned only their fifth NCAA tournament bid in school history. Their bid was due in large part to their ability to remain nationally ranked for a majority of the season.
“They play very intelligent basketball,” Haith said. “They’re very similar to Duke in that they rely on driving the ball, drawing you in, throwing it back out and shooting threes.”
Should the Hurricanes beat the St. Mary’s Gaels on Friday, their next opponent would likely be Texas, who is expected to win their first round matchup against Austin Peay. Were this to occur, it would pit Haith against Texas coach Rick Barnes, whom he worked with as an assistant coach before coming to Miami.
“He called me the night of [Selection Sunday],” Haith said. “All the conversation was very complimentary of our team and what we’ve accomplished here.”
After experiencing inconsistencies throughout the years, Miami now looks use their NCAA tournament berth to maintain a winning atmosphere for its basketball program.
“I think we can have a special program here,” Haith said. “I do think we have things in place.”
Joel Brown may be reached at email@example.com.
Be sure to catch this Friday’s opening round game against St. Mary’s (Ca.) at 12:30 p.m. on CBS (Channel 4 in Miami). The Rat will be hosting the official watch party, sponsored by Category 5.