After advancing to a second straight Elite Eight for the first time in program history, Jim Larrañaga just had to dance.
Miami’s all-time winningest coach busted out the moves to “Nightshift” by the Commodores in the locker room as players clapped along, smiling all the way. Guards Wooga Poplar and Bensley Joseph even joined in.
“Was like an A, not an A-plus,” guard Jordan Miller said of Larrañaga’s performance. “He was a little stiff. But you know, he’s still very mobile for his age.”
The scene came moments after the fifth-seeded Hurricanes upset No. 1 Houston 89-75 in the Sweet 16 on Friday night at the T-Mobile Center in Kansas City. Now, Miami looks to dance its way into the Final Four with a win over second-seeded Texas on Sunday at 5:05 p.m.
Larrañaga has already led a team to the Final Four in his historic coaching career — 11th-seeded George Mason in 2006. Just like Miami, which had never reached an Elite Eight until 2022, he turned that program around. The Patriots were the worst team in the Colonial Athletic Association upon Larrañaga’s arrival in 1997.
“To me, this [Miami] program is really in the same direction [as George Mason],” Larrañaga, who came to Coral Gables in 2011, said. “In these last two years, we’re enjoying the fruits of our labors that started 12 years ago.”
But the Hurricanes will have their hands full against a Longhorns team that annihilated third-seeded Xavier in the Sweet 16, 84-71. The Musketeers never led in a game they trailed by as many as 24.
Texas is the highest remaining seed in the NCAA tournament and in the Elite Eight for the first time since 2008. Interim head coach Rodney Terry took over midseason when former coach Chris Beard was fired after being charged with third-degree felony assault.
Terry, who previously made it to the Elite Eight three times as a Texas assistant between 2002-11, overcame the controversy and led the Longhorns to a 22-7 mark this season as head coach. Terry admires Larrañaga, who also has a knack for turning programs around.
“I really looked up to him as a players’ coach. Guys really, really enjoy playing for him. They run through a wall for him,” Terry said. “He’s brought that to Miami. He’s obviously taking them to the top of the league in the ACC. It doesn’t get any better than that. A lot of great respect for him and his staff.”
The Longhorns are on a tear in March, winning the Big 12 Tournament and outscoring its NCAA tournament opponents by an average of 12.3 points per game.
Forward Dylan Disu has been the catalyst for Texas’ success, averaging a team-high 17.8 points in the postseason until going down with a foot injury in the Round of 32. The 6-foot-9 forward played just two minutes in the Sweet 16 before exiting for the rest of the game.
Forward Christian Bishop stepped up in his absence and netted a season-best 18 points. Disu is considered day-to-day, according to Terry, but the ‘Canes will be prepared either way.
“Here’s the thing about a team like Texas, they have a lot of good players, and you can’t just focus your attention on [one] player,” Larrañaga said. “You have to focus on how they play together … we’ve just got to worry about them as a team.”
The Hurricanes have a lot of good players, too. Guard Nijel Pack is fresh off a 26-point performance in familiar territory — the T-Mobile Center, where the Kansas State transfer previously played in the Big 12 Tournament. Pack has played against Texas several times before.
“Playing this team in the past, they have a really good team, especially from the times that I played against them,” Pack said. “At the guard [position], they’re really [good].”
Miami needs its elite backcourt of Pack and ACC Player of the Year Isaiah Wong, which combined for 46 points against Houston, to outduel Longhorn guards Tyrese Hunter and Marcus Carr. Carr leads the team with 15.8 points per game, and Hunter paced Texas with a team-high 19 points against Xavier.
Big 12 Sixth Man of the Year Sir’Jabari Rice is another Longhorn to look out for. He’s coming off a 16-point, three-assist performance in the Elite Eight.
“They are very similar in size to us. In the ACC we’ve played against a lot of teams that had two 7-footers in the starting lineup,” Larrañaga said. “This is a much different matchup for us. I think it should make for a great game.”
Following Miami and Texas, ‘Canes women’s basketball faces LSU in the NCAA tournament. The Hurricanes are the only school with its men’s and women’s teams in the Elite Eight, and on Sunday, they can both advance to their first Final Four in program history.