Reporting Tim Kephart
MIAMI (CBSMiami) – University of Miami Hurricanes head basketball coach Jim Larranaga hopes he can awaken the echoes Thursday in the building that launched him to national prominence just six seasons ago.
When the Hurricanes take the court at the Verizon Center in Washington, DC Thursday night to play the Marquette Golden Eagles, they will be in the same arena where Larranaga’s 11th seeded George Mason team won in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight to make an improbable run to the Final Four in 2007.
This year, Larranaga wants to pull off the same feat with a Hurricanes team that is more talented than that George Mason team. The Canes are 29-6 and a number two seed in the 2013 NCAA Tournament. UM won both the Atlantic Coast Conference regular season championship, and the conference tournament, for the first time in team history.
“Coming into this building to them it’s just another venue,” Larranaga told Comcast Sports Net Washington. “To me and my staff it’s not because we have the memory. They don’t. They want to create those memories for themselves and for this team.”
UM faces a tough challenge in a Marquette team that statistically is almost a carbon copy of the Canes. Miami’s task became a little tougher before they even made the trip to Washington for the Sweet 16.
Center Reggie Johnson, all 6’11”, 292 pounds of him, did not make the trip after having minor knee surgery. The loss of Johnson is not something the Canes haven’t faced before this season. He was out for most of the first two months of 2013 and the Canes were undefeated in conference play until he returned.
Still, having Johnson as a backup would be a big help to Larranaga’s team if for nothing else than to have a big body to bang around in the low post against Marquette. The Golden Eagles have just one player who is larger than 6’9” tall, which will play in Miami’s favor with the Canes having multiple players at least 6’10” or taller.
Marquette though has been blessed throughout its first two games in the NCAA Tournament. The Golden Eagles beat Davidson by a point in the opening round and then beat Butler by two points to get to the Sweet 16.
The Canes hope that history will repeat itself Thursday and that Larranaga still has the Midas touch to get his team to at least the Elite Eight if not further.
“Hopefully he still has some [luck] left in him,” point guard Shane Larkin told Comcast Sports Net Washington. “Not saying that we need luck but hopefully he still has a winning touch.”
Whatever happens in the Verizon Center over the next 96 hours, Larranaga has once again put a team on the map and brought college basketball back to the forefront at a school that had toiled in mediocrity for several years.
“It’s so different. Everyone knows us now,” guard Durand Scott told CBSSports.com. “We have thousands more fans that we’ve never seen or heard from before. Everyone jumps on the wagon when you’re winning.”
Remember, you can see the Canes and Golden Eagles in their Sweet 16 matchup exclusively on CBS4 with a tipoff tentatively scheduled for 7:15 p.m. Thursday.