Inside College Hoops: Jim Larranaga has Miami on the verge of ACC history

The University of Miami played basketball a long time ago. Then it stopped playing in 1971. Then it started playing again in 1985. And it’s been playing ever since, mostly in the Big East, but also, and now, in the ACC. And in all those years of playing basketball, Miami won exactly one league title before the school hired Jim Larranaga in April 2011.

Just one.

But now Miami is on the verge of winning its second ACC title in four years.

Granted, it won’t come easy — because the No. 7 Hurricanes are at Virginia Tech Saturday, and Virginia Tech is above .500 in the ACC with a win over Virginia, meaning Buzz Williams’ Hokies are solid and should be a tough out. That said, it is more likely than not, statistically speaking, that Miami will win another ACC championship, and an outright ACC title, which is possible, would be historic, and here’s why: there’s never been a four-year stretch in which either Duke or North Carolina didn’t at least share the ACC’s regular-season title at least once. But if Miami wins the outright league title, then the past four ACC champions will be …

  • 2013: Miami
  • 2014: Virginia
  • 2015: Virginia
  • 2016: Miami

Who could’ve predicted that? So the stakes are high atop the ACC this weekend. And that Miami is even involved in the conversation is a testament to the job Jim Larranaga is doing.

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ONE GAME I CAN’T WAIT TO WATCH THIS WEEKEND: The Miami-Virginia Tech game should end about 30 minutes before North Carolina-Duke starts, which means the No. 8 Tar Heels will, by tip-off, know whether they’re playing 17th-ranked Duke for a share of the ACC title (if Miami wins) or an outright ACC title (if Miami loses). Either way, the fact that they’ll likely, according to the point spread in Miami-Virginia Tech, need a win to at least split the ACC title presents a massive challenge, if only because winning at Cameron is typically a massive challenge. That said, it should be noted that UNC entered the final weekend of the 2012 regular season in need of a win at Duke to take the ACC championship — and the Tar Heels won that game 88-70. So Roy Williams has prevailed in this spot before.

ANOTHER GAME I CAN’T WAIT TO WATCH: Despite all the ups and downs — and a resume featuring five losses outside of the top 50 of the RPI — Kentucky still has a chance to win a fourth SEC championship in seven seasons under John Calipari, and all the 22nd-ranked Wildcats have to do to make this happen is beat LSU inside Rupp Arena on Saturday afternoon. And the two things you should know before trying to predict whether this will happen is that LSU is 3-7 in road games with losses to College of Charleston and Houston, and that Kentucky hasn’t lost a home game since February 2014.

YET ANOTHER GAME I CAN’T WAIT TO WATCH: The only thing left to determine in the Big 12 is whether Kansas will win the league by one game or two games or three games. But we already know Kansas is winning the league, for the 12th consecutive season, thanks largely to the 10-game winning streak the top-ranked Jayhawks will take into Saturday’s regular-season finale against 21st-ranked Iowa State at Allen Fieldhouse, i.e., a place KU hasn’t lost since January 2014. No matter what happens here, or in the Big 12 Tournament, I think, Kansas will be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament because the Jayhawks’ resume already features eight top-25 RPI wins, 13 top-50 RPI wins and only one sub-25 RPI loss. No other school, at this moment, has more than nine top-50 RPI wins, which means Kansas almost has as many top-25 RPI wins as anybody else has in the top 50.

FUN GAME BETWEEN UNRANKED TEAMS: VCU has secured at least a share of its first league title since 2009, and its first Atlantic 10 title ever. But the Rams need to win at Dayton to avoid sharing the championship with Archie Miller’s Flyers — and, more than likely, also Saint Joseph’s and St. Bonaventure. In other words, win, and VCU is the outright champ. But a VCU loss could create a four-way tie atop the Atlantic 10 standings, and is UD Arena going to be wild Saturday night or is UD Arena going to be wild Saturday night?

PLAYER TO KEEP AN EYE ON: The most famous Alex Hamilton was the founder of the nation’s financial system and first Secretary of Treasury of the United States of America. (He went by Alexander, actually.) But now there’s another Alex Hamilton. And though he’s not necessarily changing our country, he is dominating Conference USA — proof being how the 6-foot-4 guard is averaging 19.5 points, 6.3 assists and 5.7 rebounds. Last weekend, Hamilton got 25 points, 11 assists and 11 rebounds in a win over Rice. Then, Thursday night, he backed it with a 38-point, six-assist, four-rebound effort in a victory over Marshall. So Hamilton is now averaging 27.3 points, 8.3 assists and 7.7 rebounds in his last three games … and … yeah, good luck Saturday, Western Kentucky. You’re going to need it.

LOCK OF THE WEEKEND: Tom Crean, in his postgame speech to his players following Tuesday’s win at Iowa that secured an outright Big Ten title, suggested there’s “no way” Indiana’s seniors are going to lose their final game at Assembly Hall. So let’s trust Crean, lay points with the 12th-ranked Hoosiers over 14th-ranked Maryland on Sunday and #GetPaper.

FIVE THINGS WORTH NOTING

1. Oregon has already secured at least a share of its first Pac-12 title since 2002. But the No. 9 Ducks probably need to win at USC on Saturday afternoon to take the outright league championship, because Utah is just one game back of Oregon, and the 13th-ranked Utes host Colorado Saturday night in a game the Utes are favored to win.

2. Iowa was ranked third in the AP poll in late January, more specifically on the Monday after the Hawkeyes beat Purdue. But Fran McCaffery’s team has gone 4-6 since that day, and they’ll take a four-game losing streak into Saturday’s regular-season finale at Michigan. If the Hawkeyes lose, there’s a scenario where they could go from No. 3 in the AP poll to tied for seventh in the Big Ten, and that would be some kind of collapse.

3. Louisville’s season will end Saturday at Virginia thanks to a postseason ban the administration dumped on its players last month. If the 11th-ranked Cardinals upset the fourth-ranked Cavaliers — and Miami loses at Virginia Tech, and North Carolina loses at Duke — then Rick Pitino’s team would finish tied with UNC and Miami atop the ACC standings.

4. SMU’s season will end Sunday at Cincinnati thanks to a postseason ban. If the 24th-ranked Mustangs win, they’ll secure at least a share of their second straight AAC championship. SMU hasn’t won consecutive league titles since the 1960s.

5. I’m headed to St. Louis for the final rounds of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament, where all eyes will be on the Wichita State Shockers, who are trying to win the league’s automatic bid for the second time in two years. At this point, it’s impossible to say whether Wichita State needs the automatic bid to make the Field of 68. But anything short of winning the auto bid will reduce the Shockers to asking the selection committee to give a school an at-large bid whose resume features just one top-85 RPI win and four sub-50 losses, and, man, that’s not something the committee typically does.

FINAL THOUGHT: I have known Barry Hinson for a long time, like him a lot, both personally and professionally, and I think he’s a good man and basketball coach. So I’d never protest him winning Missouri Valley Conference Coach of the Year honors, and for two reasons:

1. He had a nice season this season at Southern Illinois, relative to expectations.

2. I don’t typically protest when good things happen to good people.

That said, I do understand why Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall might protest. And I also get why Marshall’s son, Kellen Marshall, tweeted the following Thursday afternoon …

I mean, he’s not wrong, is he?

More than anything, though, what happened in the MVC is what happens in most leagues, and that’s that the men who actually run their programs best and accomplish the most rarely get rewarded with Coach of the Year trophies, provided what they accomplished is what we expected them to accomplish. And this has never made sense to me.

For some reason, league COY awards usually go to the coach who overachieved most.

But why?

Recruiting great prospects, developing players, and building a program for sustained success shouldn’t be held against college coaches because, I mean, that’s what college coaching is all about. And yet, historically, those very things are held against men when it comes to leagues honoring them, and the best example is Billy Donovan.

Check this out.

By the end of the 2007 season, Donovan had three SEC regular-season titles, four SEC Tournament titles, three Final Fours, two national titles and zero SEC COY awards.

ZERO!

And if we can agree that it’s insane for an SEC coach to accomplish all of that without ever, at the time, winning an SEC Coach of the Year award, then we can agree the voters are doing it wrong. So it’s past time the voters started doing it right. And to do it right, all you have to do is, after each regular season, ask yourself this question: Which coach in this league has done the best job to get his program to the place it’s at right now?

That’s a simple question.

And there’s usually a simple answer to that question.

So I’d encourage voters to keep it simple and stop messing up.

Miami coach Jim Larranaga has the Hurricanes on the cusp of an ACC title. (USATSI)
Miami coach Jim Larranaga has the Hurricanes on the cusp of an ACC title. (USATSI)

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