KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Jim Larranaga – all 73 years of the guy, God bless him – was all over the place Sunday night. As his Miami players danced around him celebrating the school's first Final Four, the coach was spit-balling, theorizing, holding court on the court, trying to finalize a script that only he could write.
In that moment, Coach L wanted to talk planes. In his mind, the size of Miami's charters were as much a part of the narrative regarding the Canes' shocking 88-81 win over second-seeded Texas as anything.
"We're an ACC school," Larranaga said from the floor of the T-Mobile Center. "But there's a difference between being competitive and really being supportive."
Larranaga then briefly described how he lobbied the administration for improved facilities that would meet ACC standards. He was proud to say the team's jet for road games was upgraded from a 30-seater to a 70-seater. To him, that was the difference between flying coach and first class.
"That was the best way to improve our brand, get the word out," Larranaga said.
News flash, Jim. The word is out.
Sunday revealed the difference between the old and the new Miami on the actual basketball court. The Canes sparked an incredible 35-16 rally in the last 12 minutes that was as much about Texas' collapse as Miami's comeback.
"We had it," Texas forward Brock Cunningham said afterward, "borderline gave it away."
In the immediate aftermath of the elimination of the tournament's highest remaining seed (No. 2) no one was arguing. Something happened to Texas when leading scorer Marcus Carr went down with leg injury following a collision with 11 minutes left.
The old Miami led eventual national champion Kansas by six at halftime in last year's regional final, got in foul trouble and got run out of the building. The new Miami trailed Texas by eight at halftime of Sunday's Midwest Regional championship and trailed by as many 13 before the stirring comeback.
Carr returned but Texas was never the same. Something was missing. On the brink of returning to the Final Four for the first time in 20 years, the Horns were outscored 15-6 in the final five minutes. Worse, they were outhustled and outmuscled. These Canes wouldn't stop blowing by them.
Stunned would be a charitable way to put the Texas mood. Larranaga, though, proved once again, he strategizes with the best of them. With post player Norchad Omier in foul trouble, the coach moved 6-foot-7 guard to the 5 position in the middle. It was the smallest Miami had played all season, according to Larranaga.
Miller then continued to respond with the game of his – or pretty much anyone else's -- life. In scoring a Miami career-high 27 points, he took only seven shots from the field, made them all, and was 13 of 13 from the line.
"I wouldn't say I put the team on my back," Miller said. "My teammates did a good job of getting me the ball, and everybody [all five starters] were in double figures."
If you want symmetry or poetry or simpatico or whatever from Sunday, look no further than Miller. The fifth-year senior spent three years at George Mason before transferring to Miami.
Why does that matter? Miller was six years old when Larranaga put the gold stamp on his career with a miracle run to the Final Four with the same George Mason program out of the Colonial Athletic Conference. Sunday marked the 17th anniversary of the Patriots knocking off UConn in the regional final.
That run basically got Larranaga the Miami job five years later in 2011. Twelve years after that, Larranaga is at this moment where he reminds anyone who listens he is nowhere near retirement.
"I am a great believer in numbers and I think it tells a story," Larranaga said. "The story was, we're not that good on defense and we don't rebound that well … until the guys realize, hey, that's what's keeping us from being as good as can be."
It's true Miami turned into a different team in those final minutes. Texas came into the game 10th in adjusted defensive efficiency. Miami was 304th (out of 363 Division I teams.) The Canes are ranked in the 300s in points allowed per halfcourt possession. Only four teams are worse nationally on average points surrendered after timeout possessions.
So, of course the Canes strangled the Horns' offense down the stretch. Meanwhile, those 35 points in the final 12 minutes represented an offensive pace that would have netted Miami 117 points over a full 40 minutes.
"Our defense dramatically improved," Larranaga said. "Our rebounding improved. And once we get stops, we can really score the ball. So we went on a run offensively, defensively, and that completely turned the game around."
Carr had only one basket after the injury, with 1 ½ minutes left to tie the game 79-79. Texas never led again. The Horns really missed 6-9 post presence Dylan Disu who was out with a bone bruise. Consequently, it missed an opportunity that may not come around anytime soon again.
Texas interim coach Rodney Terry got emotional in the postgame with the realization the team he took over in December was done. For now, the speculation will continue as to what direction the program heads for a new coach.
Texas officials said over the weekend Terry hadn't been named the permanent coach during the tournament following Chris Beard's firing because it would cause a distraction. What is Texas waiting for? Terry was 22-7 since taking over. Texas led by 10 points with 10 to play.
Longhorns fans want to remember the season, not what happened in those final minutes.
"What I told the guys is we were rushing," Larranaga said. "In a game like this there's plenty of emotion. We were really excited. By going too fast, we made some mistakes. Once we calmed down, I told them, 'Guys we just have to play better.' "
If it were only that easy. For now, Miami heads to Houston with a loaded backcourt and loaded with confidence. Guards Nijel Pack and ACC Player of the Year Isaiah Wong combined for 75 of the Canes' 177 points in the two regional games.
Florida as a football state will have to fade into the background this week. Half the Final Four bracket will be from the Sunshine State. (Florida Atlantic being the other team heading to Houston.) For the first time since 1970 three teams – Miami, FAU, San Diego State -- will be making their first appearance in the Final Four.
The Hurricanes, of course, will fly there in style after Miami's biggest ever win. The last thing anyone will be thinking is whether this is a program that needs to upgrade to ACC standards.
"You invest," said University of Miami CEO Joe Echevarria, one of the executives responsible for those upgrades, "you expect returns."
Miami 2023 Final Four gear now available
The Hurricanes are headed to the first Final Four in school history. Celebrate with commemorative t-shirts, hats and more. Show your pride for the boys from South Florida here.
We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.