The dance floor of college basketball is open, and the Miami Hurricanes will be dancing once again.
Players, coaches and fans alike erupted in joy in the bowels of the Watsco Center as the wait came to an end.
The NCAA Tournament brackets were announced Sunday evening, with Miami men’s basketball receiving the No. 10 seed in the Midwest region and the honor of facing No. 7 Southern California in Greenville, South Carolina at 3:10 p.m. on Friday. UM women’s basketball will be traveling to Columbia, South Carolina, hardly 90 minutes of distance, for an 11:30 a.m. tip-off Friday.
The men’s team, which recently lost in the semifinals of the ACC Tournament against Duke, will be participating in the tournament for the first time since 2018. A buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Loyola Chicago in the first round sent then-sixth-seeded Miami home.
“The U is back … back in the big dance,” men’s basketball coach Jim Larrañaga said after the team’s viewing of the NCAA’s Selection Sunday show.
The Hurricanes (23-10) return only three players (Sam Waardenburg, Deng Gak and Rodney Miller Jr.) from their previous tournament team, with Waardenburg being the only key contributor.
“We have veteran guys, and we’re going to be well prepared for it,” Waardenburg said.
UM’s season did not get off to a promising start, with the Canes starting off their non-conference slate 4-3, headlined by a 96-64 blowout loss to Alabama in the ESPN Events Invitational tournament.
After its loss to the Crimson Tide, Miami rattled off a nine-game winning streak and finished the season with an ACC record of 14-6, good for fourth in the conference.
“We’ve grown so much … that tournament in Orlando really changed us. We got our butts kicked a little bit,” veteran guard Kameron McGusty said. “From that point on, we started to put the puzzle pieces together and figure out our identity, the things we need to do to win and the things that everybody has to do individually to help the team win as a group.”
Nicknamed the “Cardiac Canes” by fans on social media, Miami enters the tournament after 15 of its 33 games have been decided by five or fewer points.
“We’re ecstatic about how our team has played throughout this season. There’s been so many exciting games,” Larrañaga said. “We’re just going to keep playing like we’ve been playing.”
Meanwhile, as Miami’s other resilient team shared bursts of smiles, cheers and hugs with her student-athletes, women’s basketball coach Katie Meier was just thrilled to sit inside the Watsco Center.
Alongside her coaching staff, Meier raced back to Coral Gables from Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers via car service. Her returning flight from a recruiting trip in the northeast got rescheduled, but she made it for her team’s latest moment of excitement this season: the announcement of its return to the NCAA Tournament.
It was a close call.
“I just wanted to be here with this team because they’ve given us so much joy this year. I wanted to share this with them,” Meier said. “I ran into practice and tried to get their attention, which I didn’t even have my own attention and then the [Selection Sunday] show.”
A remarkable ACC Tournament run for Miami, the lowest-seeded team in conference history to advance to the tournament’s championship game, ended against the No. 3-ranked NC State Wolfpack the prior week. Then, after a week of recovery and regrouping from playing four games in four days, the Hurricanes (20-12) witnessed its collective drive and resilience pay off Sunday.
UM’s 10th 20-win season under Meier’s leadership turned into a No. 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament, with a matchup against South Florida.
“We usually scrimmage them,” Meier said of South Florida. “Last year, we didn’t because of COVID. This year, we just didn’t because they didn’t do informal scrimmages again. But we’re pretty familiar with them, and they were in the Bahamas when we were in there as well. I love their program, love their coach, love their staff. They do a great job. They’re tough as nails. I think both teams will be like, ‘Okay, we know this opponent.’”
Taking teams like Louisville and NC State — each slotted as No. 1 seeds in their respective tournament regions — down to final possessions of each previous contest, if anything, provided the best preparation Miami could carry. Meier emphasized the similarities between the Hurricanes’ set of teams faced in Greensboro, North Carolina, last week and those, including No. 1-ranked South Carolina, which lie ahead.
“South Florida’s played No. 1 seeds this year, we’ve played No. 1 seeds this year, so it’s a tough bracket. It’s the ‘toughness’ bracket. There’s a lot of grit in this bracket,” Meier said. “I said it’s going to feel just like the ACC Tournament final because in order to get to the Final Four in women’s basketball, unless you’re a host [team], you’re playing on someone’s home court. And you’re playing a really, really great team.”
More talented teams await the Hurricanes, who have embraced each other more than they could expect. Dethroning its first top-five opponent since February 2019 in No. 4 Louisville drew closer bonds and belief for further success.
“First, I’ve had absolutely no issues, like not one off-court anything. They have just been wonderful, wonderful young ladies. Great GPA’s,” Meier said. “They really are very honest. We’re very honest and we’re very vulnerable with each other. So, we’ve been knocked down a couple of times and you tell them the truth and it doesn’t destroy them … They’re a great group to be around because we played 10 games in 23 days. I mean, you better love them because that was hard.
“You had to fall in love with our team when you watched us play. You had to fall in love with how we play and how much we love each other. I think people are really seeing that,” Meier continued.”
Following redshirt senior forward Destiny Harden’s midseason return, fellow veteran Kelsey Marshall, also an ACC All-Tournament First Team honoree, now endures less scoring load as the postseason progresses.
“We rode Destiny to that Duke win, which was all the pressure. So, I think Destiny can really answer the bell … It’s been nice to have other players [who] you know [can step up],” Meier said “Destiny knew the plays were coming her, she knew them and she wanted them and she came through. That’s a huge thing in March.”
But the former West Virginia transfer and Meier, both Chicago natives, have shared a unique bond, since Harden first played in front of her at the age of 16. Harden shared the surrealness of playing under Meier in the ACC Tournament, as she envisions forming more similar moments.
“I love her family,” Meier said. “When we did the home visit with her, I’m from Chicago and she’s from Chicago. It felt like family from the minute I met them.”
The road to the Final Four can feel long, but the mentality and standard remain as it was when Miami entered the Greensboro Coliseum as one of the ACC’s hottest teams. illed with drive and resilience from close losses to ranked opponents,
“Same as ACC’s, win or go home. When you think about it like that, everybody plays their role correctly,” Harden said. “Nobody [oversteps] their boundaries or anything like that. So, once everyone knows their roles on the team, then it’s easier to be a coachable team and for us to play [together] and have fun with each other.”
Luke Chaney also contributed to the reporting of this story.