Miami Hurricanes looking for more history in Elite 8 matchup with Kansas Jayhawks

CHICAGO — The Miami Hurricanes are no strangers to being underdogs this season.

Coach Jim Larrañaga’s group was picked to finished 12th in the ACC in that conference’s preseason poll. That was months before they, as a 10 seed, had to face seven-seed USC in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Then two-seed Auburn. It wasn’t until the Sweet 16 that the Hurricanes were finally favored in a tournament game.

Those slights and spreads haven’t impacted Miami, though, who finished the year fourth in the ACC and have now reached their first Elite 8 in program history.

That mindset that has carried the Hurricanes all season isn’t going to change on Sunday just because it’s an unprecedented game for Miami.

“I would say I’m going to approach tomorrow’s game just like I do every game,” Larrañaga said. “I know there’s a tendency to think that this game is more important than other games. But if you didn’t make every game important, then you couldn’t get to this game.”

For as unique as this moment is for Miami, it isn’t for Larrañaga, who led one of the most-storied Cinderella teams of all time, 2006 George Mason, to a Final Four. There are some similarities between this team and that one 16 years ago, but he’s focusing on what’s making the 2022 group special.

“I think every trip to the NCAA tournament is a special event for that team,” Larrañaga said. “And it is for me. It’s a different group of guys even if just two or three guys new are on your team … Half our team is new. So it’s a special feeling to be able to enjoy it with them. And we’ve had some really great games this year.”

Miami and Kansas haven’t squared off many times, in fact Sunday’s game will be their first meeting since 1991. There is a unique familiarity between the Hurricanes and Jayhawks this year in the form of senior guard Charlie Moore.

Moore spent two seasons at Kansas, only playing in one due to transfer rules at the time, before transferring on to both DePaul and Miami. Now, in his seventh season in college basketball (he began his career at Cal), he’s playing some of his best basketball, including averaging 13.2 points and 7.2 assists per game in postseason play, including both the ACC and NCAA tournaments.

That connection with Moore has been talked about plenty publicly, but it’s not necessarily on the mind of the Hurricanes.

“We never spoke about it. And quite honestly, we won’t even bring that up,” Larrañaga said. “I know it might be a great storyline for the media. But for us, it’s not about Charlie versus his old team. This is about our team versus their team.”

Kansas coach Bill Self did speak glowing about Moore, though, applauding him for his court vision and his development since leaving the Jayhawks.

“He can do little things that get you off balance that allow him to get his shoulders past you and things like that,” Self said. “Charlie was a good player for us, but Charlie has become a terrific player.”

There’s a mutual respect between Larrañaga and Self, two coaches who have known each other for several years, albeit not in an exceptionally intimate way. Larrañaga raved about Self’s success at Kansas, and did the same when speaking about the KU program in general.

“His record in the Big 12, with winning regular season championships, is unlike any other coach in the history of college basketball,” Larrañaga said. And we’ve had the opportunity to spend time together. Sometimes we’d run into each other on the road recruiting. He’s a great guy. I admire him and have great respect for he and his staff.”

Miami has already made program history with its run this March. Getting any farther will take a win against last remaining No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. The Hurricanes have no problem being the underdog, they have been almost all year, but Larrañaga knows the program they’re facing deserves its due.

“I just found out, it’s the winningest basketball program in college basketball history,” Larrañaga said. “I guess their win last night put them at No. 1. So for our players, it’s a great opportunity to compete against the best. And to consider yourself amongst the best, you’ve got to beat really good teams. I think we’ve done that so far. And we’re looking forward to the contest tomorrow.”

Click below to hear what Jim Larrañaga and the Hurricanes had to say about facing Kansas in the Elite 8.

Jim Larrañaga

Sam Waardenburg, Jordan Miller, Isaiah Wong