Jim Larranaga, 17 years after George Mason run, leads Miami to first Final Four

By | March 26, 2023

It’s fitting Miami coach Jim Larranaga made arguably the wildest Final Four of all time. 

No. 5 Miami erased a 13-point deficit to beat No. 2 Texas in the Midwest Region final on Sunday, which sent the Hurricanes to the Final Four along with No. 9 FAU, No. 5 San Diego State and No. 4 UConn. Those are the teams that will be in NRG Stadium in Houston next Saturday. 

There are no No. 1 seeds, no No. 2 seeds and no No. 3 seeds in the field. UConn has four national championships, but none of the coaches have won it all. Larranaga is the only coach who has been to the Final Four – a legendary run with No. 11 seed George Mason in 2006. 

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That run with the Patriots will come full circle in the Final Four against UConn. After all, in that ‘06 run George Mason beat No. 1 UConn 86-84 in the Elite Eight. Now, the Hurricanes will be underdogs against the Huskies, which blasted through the West Region with four victories by an average of 20 points per game. 

It’s a familiar feeling for Larranaga 17 years later. 

“It’s the same exhilaration, just the jubilant attitude and the effort,” Larranaga said in his postgame press conference. “You just love it when your player accomplishes a goal they set out before the season.”

Larranaga instantly becomes the coach you can root for in this Final Four. Seriously, 73 year olds shouldn’t be climbing ladders like that. Larranaga climbed the coaching ladder – with the first stop at American International in Division II before stops at Bowling Green and George Mason before Miami. Two more wins would give him 699 Division I victories for his career – which ranks seventh among active coaches. He’s the best coach in Miami history and the best coach in George Mason history and it isn’t close.

Larranaga had the Hurricanes close last season. Miami had a 35-29 lead against Kansas in the Elite Eight before the Jayhawks limited the Hurricanes to 15 second-half points in a 76-50 victory. Kansas, of course, went on to win the national championship. 

“That loss sat with me for a really, really long time,” Miami guard Jordan Miller said. “I had to put it in the past because it was a new season, but like I said, having the opportunity to kind of right your wrongs almost and get past something that stumped you previously is a great feeling.”

Miami took the lessons learned from last year’s Elite Eight run, then took the next step. Miller had a brilliant 27-point performance against Texas; a game where he didn’t miss a shot.

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He’s not the only talented player in that starting five either. Isaiah Wong averages 16.3 points per game. Norchad Omier, an Arkansas State transfer, averages a double-double in the paint. There’s been a hyper-focus on Nijel Pack’s lucrative NIL deal, but the Kansas State transfer has been a key piece in this Final Four run. Point guard Wooga Poplar ties it all together. That five combined for 83 of Miami’s 88 points against Texas. 

It’s not all that different from the formula Larranaga used at George Mason with this group, and he did it with the help of transfers and NIL. 

“I tell the players all the time it’s about having a positive attitude, making a total commitment, and behaving in a first-class manner,” Larranaga said. “So the university’s attitude has been to provide all of its athletic department sports the needed resources.”

It’s not a fluke either. The Hurricanes split the ACC regular-season championship. When’s the last time that conference’s champion was considered an underdog on this stage? Miami’s success might fly under the radar this week given UConn is the blueblood in the field and FAU and San Diego State are not power conference teams. So, it’s not quite the same as that run with George Mason. 

The Hurricanes earned this one by averaging 87.3 points in victories against higher seeds in No. 4 Indiana, No. 1 Houston and No. 2 Texas, and Larranaga has been on this stage before. That makes Miami more dangerous on Final Four weekend, even with the bulldozing Huskies the overwhelming favorite. 

Larranaga has made Miami the place to be, and he will celebrate on Monday the only way he knows how.

“I sat and talked with them because to be at the University of Miami is a very, very special place. It’s like a resort,” Larranaga said. “You’re not exactly on vacation because you’re working hard, but the venues are just tremendous, and we’re investing in ourselves and in our brand. I love it. My wife loves it. I’m going to go home and have a Smoothie King tomorrow.”