|With the help of Jim Larranaga, no one has been able to stop the Hurricanes in 2013. (miamiherald.com)|
It seems like so long ago that George Mason took down one Goliath after another in route to a Final Four appearance. Jim Larranaga's name was being talked about for coach of the year, and he was later named the Clair Bee Coach of the Year for the Final Four appearance.
The George Mason run seems so long ago that Larranaga's name began to fade again, even while his teams continued to put up successful seasons. But now he should be in consideration for a coach of the year award again this year with the job he's done at Miami.
That won't be the only honor or award that's about to flow Miami's way if the last two months are any indication of how the remainder of the season will play out. Most news coming out of the "U" has been negative of late with accusations of improper benefits and the connect of Nevin Shapiro and then-Miami coach Frank Haith. But Larranaga, in only his second season with the Hurricanes, has turned the program around faster and better than most would have imagined.
There was no room at the top of the ACC for the Hurricanes at the start of the season, with the likes of NC State, Duke and UNC claiming attention as the favorites. Then ACC play began. (Fighting off the urge to type the phrase "the storm's coming.")
Wins at UNC and against Maryland in games two and three of conference play made a great start for the Hurricanes. Then came the smashing of No. Duke 90-63 in game five that turned heads. A one-point, grind-it-out victory at No. 19 NC State made Miami look like this was less of a fluke and then came the thrashing of UNC 87-61 Saturday, making the Hurricanes 10-0 in the ACC and by all accounts legitimate.
Miami does have a few blemishes early on the schedule (all in 2012) with three losses, and two of them considered "bad" losses. It is worth noting the first loss to Florida Gulf Coast was while leading scorer Durrand Scott was suspended and the Arizona and Indiana State losses were while center Reggie Johnson was injured. This is not to make excuses for early failures, but rather pointing out that since the Hurricanes have been healthy, no one has been able to stop them. Balanced scoring, strong defense and big plays makes this group fun to watch and hard to stop.
This is the rise-from-the-ashes success story college basketball was looking for in a year where parity is flowing throughout the game. With no perceivable "great" teams right now, this is the perfect season for a team like Miami to make this sort of unprecedented run. The Hurricanes have handled every talented ACC team thrown their way and have found their stride during conference play. Now they just have to makes sure not to play their best basketball before March.
The early losses still draw questions about whether this team is among the best in the country, but a team can evolve and grow quite a bit between November and February. Until Miami exposes a flaw and a loss as a complete unit, the Hurricanes need to be included in the discussion of the current best teams in the country and Larranaga's needs to again be in the running for national coach of the year.
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