NCAA Tournament: Hurricanes get No. 6 seed, will open against Loyola-Chicago in Dallas
Coral Gables —
Even though Lonnie Walker IV knew the Miami Hurricanes were pretty much a lock to earn an NCAA Tournament berth, there were still, the freshman confessed, a few butterflies as he waited for UM’s name to pop up on the screen.
By late Sunday evening, those butterflies were gone, replaced instead by a steely determination from Walker and his teammates to put together a better showing on college basketball’s biggest stage than the Hurricanes did last week in Brooklyn, when they were eliminated in their first game of the ACC Tournament.
The Hurricanes, a No. 6 seed, will get their chance to do just that starting Thursday when they open play in the NCAA Tournament against No. 11 seed Loyola-Chicago in Dallas. The game is set to tip-off at approximately 3 p.m., after the conclusion of the 12:40 p.m. opening game featuring 14th-seeded Wright State and No. 3 seed Tennessee.
The challenging South Region also features the likes of top-seeded Virginia, No. 2 seed Cincinnati, No. 4 seed Arizona and No. 5 seed Kentucky.
A win Thursday could pit Miami against the Volunteers, if Tennessee advances as well, but after celebrating with fans that joined them for an on-campus watch party as the brackets were unveiled, the Hurricanes said there was little thought of potential matchups that could lie ahead.
The focus now is on dealing with the Ramblers, who are making their sixth tournament appearance in program history and won the Missouri Valley Conference with a 28-5 record. One of those 28 wins caught the Hurricanes’ attention, the Ramblers notching a 65-59 win over Florida in Gainesville in December.
“They made March Madness just like us. That basically is self-explained. They’re a great team. I’m pretty sure they know what they’re doing,” Walker said. “They’re a 28-5 team, they beat Florida at Florida and they’re a great team. When you’re playing in March Madness, everyone’s good. The defensive intensity, the competitive edge that each team brings is going to be like no other. We have to play at our best.”
Added senior Ja’Quan Newton, “I know they’re very good. To be in this tournament, you have to be good. Nobody in this tournament is below average. They’re in this tournament, so that means they’re really good. … I saw them play once, against Florida and they beat Florida. They’re a very talented team. I’m looking forward to watching more film on them and I’m looking forward to playing against them.”
For the Hurricanes, Sunday marked the third consecutive year, fourth time in six years and 10th time in program history that Miami (22-9) has earned a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
All of that was especially gratifying for Hurricanes coach Jim Larrañaga, who took over at Miami in 2011 and has helped make postseason appearances regular occurrences in Coral Gables.
Miami has advanced to either the NCAA Tournament or the NIT in all but one of Larrañaga’s seasons as Hurricanes coach.
“One of the things my staff and I are very proud of - we’ve been here seven years - the things we heard right from the very beginning were that we’d never be able to beat Duke or [North] Carolina and we’ve battled them. We’ve been very competitive with those two programs. … They said we’d never be able to win an ACC regular-season [title] or tournament and we’ve done both. And they said we’d never be able to consistently draw a good crowd, and now we’ve been sold out for three straight years,” Larrañaga said. “And we’re getting better. We’ve been to the NCAA Tournament, now three consecutive years and even this year, with a very young team, we weren’t on the bubble like a lot of ACC teams were. That’s a major step in the right direction and we want to keep that growing and heading even further in that direction.”
The Hurricanes are one of nine ACC teams headed to the tournament joining Virginia, Clemson, Duke, Florida State, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Syracuse and Virginia Tech.