GREENSBORO, N.C. -- For so long, University of Miami basketball players spent Selection Sunday on the dreaded bubble, watching TV somewhere in Coral Gables, hoping and praying, but knowing deep down they probably wouldn’t get an invitation to the NCAA Tournament.
The Canes got invited only once in the past decade.
This year, they got to experience how the big-time programs do it: Crammed into an out-of-town hotel suite, orange and green balloons decorating the lobby, conference championship trophy in hand, pieces of net tied onto their championship caps, and CBS cameras rolling for the live celebration shot. The Hurricanes’ only concern was whether they would be a No. 1 or a No. 2 seed.
They started the day by making history, winning the school’s first conference title with an 87-77 victory over crowd-favorite North Carolina in a sizzling Atlantic Coast Conference championship game that featured a record 25 three-pointers, 15 lead changes and 10 ties.
Their day ended with news that they had been assigned the No. 2 seed in the East Region, tying the 1998-99 team for highest seed in school history. They will face Pacific (22-12) in their opener in Austin at 2:10 p.m. Friday on TNT.
If they win, they play Sunday against the winner of the Illinois-Colorado game.
Every team that previously had won the ACC regular-season title outright and the ACC tournament had earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The NCAA had UM ranked fifth of the 68 teams, one spot short of a top seed.
But the Canes didn’t groan when their seed popped onto the screen. They cheered. Their coach had just reminded them to savor the moment.
Before the announcement, UM coach Jim Larranaga muted the TV, and told his players: “Everyone has the same record, 0 and 0. Every team shows up to play their best. The team that plays the best moves on. … You guys have been awesome all season long.
“You’re the best basketball team I’ve ever coached, and I’ve coached some great teams. You guys have proven so much to me. I want you to enjoy this. Have more fun than any other team. This is what college basketball is all about.”
Larranaga later said he “couldn’t care less” about the seeding. He was more concerned with which day the Canes would play, and was happy to know they’ll have an extra day to rest and prepare.
“We went through a grueling three-day tournament and we’re about to begin another tournament, so we need to sharpen our saw,” the coach said.
The saw reference was from his favorite book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The anecdote tells of two lumberjacks in a tree-cutting contest. The loser cut nonstop and can’t figure out why he lost. The winner reveals he took a break every hour to sharpen his saw.
Sixth-year senior Julian Gamble said the Canes are enjoying all this celebrating, and want more.
“After we clinched the outright regular-season title at home, we were saying, ‘Wasn’t that the funnest thing you’ve ever done?’ We want to go to Greensboro and do it again. Bring those same scissors. We’re a little more experienced at cutting the nets now. But we know we have another one to get. It’s not going to be easy at all.”
He didn’t care about the seeding. “All we care about is we have the opportunity to play another day.”