The University of Miami Hurricanes had just found out they are seeded No. 8 and headed to Tulsa, Oklahoma to play ninth-seeded Michigan State on Friday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament—and already some experts were dismissing them.
Upon the announcement of the Midwest bracket Sunday on CBS, analyst Seth Davis said he is looking forward to watching a second-round matchup between Michigan State and top-seeded Kansas, a statement that did not sit well with the Hurricane faithful gathered at the campus Rathskeller bar for the Selection Sunday watch party.
“Seth Davis said he’s looking forward to seeing Kansas against Michigan State in the next round,” UM coach Jim Larrañaga screamed into a microphone as the crowd booed. “I guess he’s never seen us play.”
The coach urged fans who watch the game on TV to, “Yell very loud, I’m sure we’ll hear you, and then it will be us against Kansas in the next round.”
The game will be the second Friday night on TNT.
Davis’ comment “gives me some ammunition to talk to my team about,” Larrañaga said.
He added that he understands why the Spartans, who have been to 20 consecutive NCAA Tournaments, would get more respect than the Hurricanes.
“There are certain programs in this country that demand a lot of respect.. Carolina, Duke, Louisville, Syracuse, Kansas... In the Big Ten, Michigan State is the premier program. They’ve been at the top of the national rankings, they’ve been to a lot of Final Fours, they’ve won a national championship under coach [Tom] Izzo. I think the media knows him and knows his program very, very well, and they give them a lot of respect.”
Senior Davon Reed said the Canes embrace being the underdog.
“We’ve been counted out a lot of times in my career here, this season, last season, the season before that,” Reed said. “We’ve got to just tune all that out and get ready to go play some great basketball.”
Fellow senior captain Kamari Murphy agreed: “People think of Miami think of the good weather, the beach, maybe LeBron when he was here... I think we had a little better season than Michigan State, but they have the name Michigan State. Miami’s always the underdog whether we’re winning a lot or losing. It keeps the chips on our shoulders, keeps you motivated.”
It is Miami’s ninth appearance in the NCAA Tournament, and third in six years under Larrañaga . UM’s best finishes were Sweet 16 appearances in 2000, 2013, and last year, when the Hurricanes entered the tournament as a No. 3 seed and were eliminated by eventual national champion Villanova.
In what has become a tradition since Larrañaga took over the program, Hurricane players, coaches, cheerleaders, and fans gathered at the Rathskeller to await their fate. They erupted in celebration upon seeing their logo pop up on the jumbo TV screen.
“I’m used to watching it on TV and now I’m playing in it, so it’s really exciting,” said freshman Bruce Brown. “I know a couple of their players from AAU basketball, so it will be a really good game.”
Just like last year, there was no question the Hurricanes (21-11, 10-8 Atlantic Coast Conference) were going to get an invitation to the NCAA Tournament. The only questions were what they’d be seeded, where they would be going, and who they would face.
Although they started the season with many questions after losing Angel Rodriguez, Sheldon McClellan and Tonye Jekiri from the Sweet 16 team, the Canes slowly but surely worked their way into the national conversation with signature home wins over then-No. 9 North Carolina (77-62) and then-No. 10 Duke (55-50), and an overtime road win at Virginia.
They broke into the Top 25 at No. 25 after the Duke win, but dropped out the following week after ending the regular season with back-to-back losses at Virginia Tech and Florida State — both of whom made the NCAA Tournament.
Miami is ranked 42 in the Ratings Percentage Index, was 3-3 in neutral sites, 4-6 on road courts, and 7-5 over the final 12 games. MSU has a 51 RPI, was 10-8 in the Big Ten, had a No. 10 strength of schedule and were 7-5 the final 12 games.
Three of the Spartans’ top four scorers are freshmen, led by Big Ten Freshman of the Year Miles Bridges (16.7 ppg, 8.3 rpg) and Nick Ward (13.7 ppg, 6.5 rpg).