By David Song | @DeltaSigma96
Sports Capital Journalism Program
CHICAGO — Jim Larranaga has coached the Miami Hurricanes to 226 wins and counting, more than any of his peers at “The U”. None of those victories had ever come in a Sweet 16 matchup — until Friday night, that is.
No. 10 seed Miami triumphed over the No. 11 Iowa State Cyclones 70-56 to advance to the first Elite Eight in program history. Upperclassmen Kameron McGusty, Jordan Miller and Sam Waardenburg combined for 56 Miami points, equaling Iowa State’s total scoring output, as the Hurricanes pulled away late in a hard-fought contest.
The Hurricanes (26-10) will meet top-seeded Kansas in the Midwest Regional championship game on Sunday afternoon.
An elated Larranaga made no attempt to hide his feelings. “What the heck just happened?” he said to open the postgame press conference. “First of all, Iowa State is one heck of a basketball team. They played so hard and so well and the game was in the balance until [my] guys just stepped up and made one big play after another at both ends of the court.”
In the 43 NCAA tournaments with seeded teams, Larranaga is the first coach to lead two double-digit seeds to a regional final. His 11th-seeded George Mason team reached the Final Four in 2006.
Miami was far from perfect, giving the ball away 14 times against a Cyclones defense ranked second in America in terms of forced turnovers. The Hurricanes reserves played limited minutes and were shut out, while Iowa State’s bench scored 24 points. Miami’s usually-lethal fast break produced just eight points, tied for its fourth-lowest transition output all season.
Yet Larranaga’s squad beat the Cyclones at their own game, forcing 18 turnovers of their own and building a 14-8 edge in points off giveaways. McGusty led all players with 27 points, Miller notched 16 points on 6-of-6 shooting and Waardenburg had 13 points and eight boards. Waardenburg also had three blocks, one short of the Hurricanes’ all-time single-game NCAA tournament record (which he shares with Kamari Murphy).
Senior point guard Charlie Moore also contributed, to the tune of seven points and a game-high nine assists. Moore did not make his first field goal until 16:01 to play, but his five first-period helpers kept the ball moving. Furthermore, Miami shot 9-of-26 from deep but held Iowa State to just 4-of-22 from beyond the arc.
The Cyclones (22-13) led for all of 16 seconds in a game that only featured two lead changes. They drop to 2-6 all-time against Atlantic Coast Conference foes in the NCAA Tournament and 0-3 at United Center.
When asked why he always trusts in Larranaga’s game plan, Waardenburg quipped: “Because Coach L is the G.O.A.T. He knows exactly what he’s doing. He’s got an amazing coaching staff around him. He’s done a great job all season long making sure we’re prepared for any opponent we have.”
The Hurricanes have broken new ground, earning a chance on Sunday to qualify for their first Final Four. The mountains only get steeper from here, but Miami’s athletes understand the magnitude of what the Hurricanes have done. After all, they come from a school traditionally known for football. Media members ranked them 12th in their own conference during the 2021 ACC Tipoff event.
Now they get to play No. 1 seed Kansas, which became the winningest program in men’s college basketball with its regional semifinal victory over Providence.
“To reach the first Elite Eight in program history, it still feels unreal,” McGusty admitted. “I look at it as a new foundation for our basketball program. That’s going to be the new goal: get to the Elite Eight or Final Four, to beat the 2022’s team’s record.”
For Iowa State, Big 12 Freshman of the Year Tyrese Hunter scored 13 points and added seven assists in defeat. Seniors Gabe Kalscheur (13 points) and Izaiah Brockington (11 points) were the only other Cyclones in double-figures. Yet in spite of the result, Iowa State fans can be proud of the foundation their team laid.
T.J. Otzelberger led the Cyclones to a 22-12 record and a Sweet 16 berth just one year removed from a two-win campaign. It’s the most dramatic turnaround in Big 12 history and the best-ever by a coach in his first year.
“I’m proud of this group,” Otzelberger said after the game. “Right now we’re excited as things move forward what we can do with this program. But tonight all my attention is going to be paid to [my] guys and being thankful and grateful to them for how they’ve carried themselves: classroom, community and on the court.”
The day belonged to Larranaga and Miami. His 696 victories rank tenth among active Division I coaches. Miami has had 19 campaigns of 20-plus wins, and Larranaga masterminded seven of them. Kansas will in all likelihood be formidable, but as Waardenburg says, the Hurricanes have “full trust all the time” that their head coach will prepare them for the fight ahead.