Cinderella still dancing in Boca Raton while Coach L continues his magnificence in Coral Gables. The Miami women are rolling as well. It’s March in south Florida!

Incredibly, the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach MSA is the only US metro area with two Sweet 16 men’s teams (and a women’s one as the University of Miami women have made the Sweet 16). FAU and Miami have both made the Sweet 16, taking different routes with differing expectations. For FAU, this is an incredible ride, while for Miami, an Elite 8 team a year ago, a return NCAA run was the expectation this season.

Miami @ FAU warm ups last season – photo by self.

Let me preface this discussion by saying, I don’t like college football and the near obsession Floridians have over the sport, and perhaps originally to be contrarian thirty years ago, I embraced basketball, the second I stepped on the University of Florida campus as a freshman. But that contrarianism turned into a love while at UF and it’s stayed with me since. I love the sport and I support all Florida programs in the sport. Everyone else could geek out over football, but basketball at the college level was my passion. And Billy Donovan is the best thing that’s happened to this state in the last 25 years, in my opinion. Okay now I am getting too sappy, but anyway y’all get my point!

So back to this year…


Dusty May, FAU’s coach, was a La Tech and Florida Assistant under Mike White – whose brother, Brian is the Florida Atlantic Athletic Director. May took over a program with a losing legacy despite constantly hiring famous coaches who wanted to live in sunny south Florida or were at the end of the line. Sidney Green, Matt Doherty, Rex Walters, Mike Jarvis and Michael Curry were the five most recent FAU coaches before May – all were much better known than May when they took the FAU job. Only Green and Jarvis had any sort of remote level of success and even that was fleeting.

May has made FAU a winner – five successive winning seasons, the most for any D1 program in Florida and now Conference USA Champions. FAU will head to the American next year where they’ll match up with some of the biggest programs in the game.

Florida Atlantic had last made the NCAA Tournament in 2002 (under Green) – and last made the NIT in 2011 (under Jarvis). Both were one shot deals, losing to Alabama in the NCAA’s and Miami in the NIT. So FAU had never won a postseason NCAA or NIT tournament game before last week and then won two in three days.

When the Owls take on Tennessee tonight they should have every Floridian cheering for them. And I think they very well might win as May vs Rick Barnes is like the smartest kid in the room matching wits with the dumbest uncle whose luck always runs out – Barnes imo has been the worst high-level coach in the country the last 25 years (great recruiter, horrible gameday coach) and his teams always, always hit road bumps at points like this.

Besides, FAU is Cinderella and the first mid-major ever from this state to really build something sustainable (Florida Gulf Coast was a great story also ten years ago but they were more of a low-major than a mid-major TBH), in a state where the “big three” have been the only nationally relevant programs.


Speaking of those big three, Miami is still punching, but probably will draw blanks against Houston, the best team in the country Friday night. But even if Miami gets eliminated as expected, it’s been another good season for the Canes. And truthfully if anyone is going to beat Houston in this tournament, I think the Canes have the best shot outside of maybe Alabama.

Miami has made 5 of the last 7 NCAA tournaments (it should be 6 out of the last 8, as the 2014-15 snub of the Canes remains one of the worst ever for a school from Florida, alongside the 2005-06 FSU team being snubbed), and Jim Larrañaga, the Hurricanes legendary 73-year old coach has proven the last two years, his final act are among his greatest. The 2020-21 Miami team was the school’s worst in 27 years, largely down to Covid and injuries- Miami played much of the season with six scholarship players.

Given, basically a final season to return things to where they had been for many years prior to Covid, Larrañaga was about to be retired when the 2021-22 season started. After a 29 point loss to Alabama, Miami’s 3rd in six games, Larrañaga changed the way the Canes played, shifting systems in a matter of days and the Hurricanes went 20-7 in their final 27 Regular Season games to return to the NCAA’s and then won three tournament games to make the Elite 8. The clamoring I heard before the turnaround was that Larrañaga should announce in December he would retire at the end of the season. By the end of December, nobody felt that way anymore. That’s how quick and stunning the turnaround was.

Miami lost three of five starters from that Elite 8 team, but with two massive incoming transfers in Nijel Pack and Norchad Omier, Miami was expected to be good and has been. With the exception of a loss to a woeful Florida State team at home, where Miami (playing without Pack who was injured) blew a 25-point second half lead to lose to a team that won just once (the game we are talking about) in the last six weeks of the season, the Hurricanes have been good all season, win or lose.

But still, it’s tough to replace three starters from an Elite 8 team and get back to the Sweet 16, unless you are Kansas or UCLA or Villanova. But Miami has done that, and won the ACC Regular Season title as well, for the first time since 2013. So even with a likely Friday loss to Houston, Miami and Larrañaga has recycled its team while staying elite – that’s something very few programs in the country can do. Very few. And it’s absolutely something special. Larrañaga is a Hall-of-Famer, and the fact he hasn’t gotten in yet is a crime in my opinion. Maybe this season will finally do the trick.

As for the Miami women, WOW, what a win vs Indiana! They take on Villanova in the Sweet 16 tomorrow as well. It’s a daytime game which isn’t ideal for many of us, but try and tune in if you can.

So suddenly south Florida is a major college hoops hotbed. Let’s soak it in and enjoy it.

One comment

  1. I can imagine what a social outcast you were in Gainesville liking basketball better than football. Then again you’re a soccer guy in the US so it makes perfect sense lol.


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