When you think about powerhouse college basketball programs, the names at the top of the list are the "bluebloods" of CBB. North Carolina. UCLA. Indiana. Duke. Kentucky. Louisville. Michigan State. Arizona. And the list goes on.
While not to that championship level, there's a team that has been up and down that now has the leadership and performance to be considered a top tier team year in and year out.
That team is the Miami Hurricanes.
Now, I know what you're thinking. "Miami has only made the NCAA tournament 8 times in history, and now they're a top tier program?" "Miami has won the ACC exactly ONCE, but they're good?" "Dude, MIAMI DIDN'T EVEN HAVE A BASKETBALL PROGRAM FROM 1970 to 1984!!! WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?!?!!?"
And, I have to admit, every one of those previous statements is 100% correct. So, too, is my statement that Miami Basketball is here to stay.
When talking about the foundation of the Miami Hurricanes Basketball program, any conversation has to start with the man in charge: Head Coach Jim Larrañaga.
The 66 year old coaching veteran has more than 30 years of experience and excellence. Yes, he led George Mason (GEORGE MASON) to the Final Four. And, he's come into Miami and gotten the Canes to the Sweet 16 twice in 4 years, and won the ACC regular season and tournament championships.
Heading into this season, Miami was predicted to be anywhere between 4th and 7th in the ACC. Common thought was that this team was decently talented, but not really GOOD. In actuality, Miami was one win away from a share of the ACC regular season championship. And that, friends, is in large part due to Larranaga's coaching excellence.
Larranaga isn't the only top tier coach on this staff. The Miami assistants are each great, and have been recognized for their abilities. So much so that Eric Konkol and Michael Huger, both longtime assistants on Larranaga's staff at Miami, were hired to be Head Coaches by Louisiana Tech and Bowling Green, respectively, at the end of last season.
And, while coaching is a big part of the equation, players win games. In the course of Larranaga's tenure at Miami, recruiting has risen to levels that have been previously unseen by the Miami Hurricanes basketball program.
Look at the construction of the 2013 team. Starters Shane Larkin, Trey McKinney-Jones, Kenny Kadji, and Julian Gamble were all transfers from other programs. And, the only signee that year was a raw post player originally from Nigeria: Tonye Jekiri.
When the seniors graduated from the 2013, and Larkin left for the NBA draft, Miami had a multi-year rebuild on deck. And, while the Canes were able to win some, it took years to get back to this Sweet 16 level.
Now, look at this year's team. Starters Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan were transfers from P5 programs (Kansas State and Texas, respectively), Ivan Cruz Uceda was a JUCO transfer, and they're balanced with highly touted recruits like Ja'Quan Newton, Anthony Lawrence, and Davon Reed. That balance of game-ready transfers and HS recruits that can be developed makes Miami a team that, instead of rebuilding in the future, can reload.
That reload brings me to my last point: THIS STAFF CAN RECRUIT!!!!! Miami basketball has signed the FIRST top-10 recruiting class in program history this year. With 2 5-star, top-25 players in America (McDonald's All-American PF Dewan Huell and combo guard Bruce Brown), 4-star C Rodney Miller (from storied Oak Hill Academy), and Australian PG Dejan Vasiljevic, Miami will be able to plug those players in and keep the momentum of the program going forward.
Now, I'll be the first to say that I WANT TO WIN THIS GAME!!! With a win over Villanova in the Sweet 16 tonight, Miami will make history and advance to the first Elite 8 in program history. This would be a landmark achievement that the Canes can hang their hat on for years to come.
But, even if Miami loses tonight, with the sage leadership of Jim Larranaga, the top-tier assistant coaching staff, the top notch players, and the ELITE recruits coming to join the program, this is a program that will routinely find itself at or near the top of the ACC, and making deep runs in the NCAA tournament.
Tonight's game could extend or end the 2016 Miami Hurricanes season. But, regardless of that result, the Canes will be a force to be reckoned with for years to come.