The February headlines in two sports have been dominated by members of the Harbaugh family.
That is because Indiana coach Tom Crean, who oversees the nation’s top-ranked men’s college basketball team, is a brother-in-law to both of the coaches who took their teams to Super Bowl XLVII, where John Harbaugh’s Baltimore Ravens defeated Jim Harbaugh’s San Francisco 49ers, 34-31.
So family mojo clearly is on Crean’s side when balloting begins to select the NCAA coach of the year for this topsy-turvy season. But with all due respect to Crean and the Hoosiers (24-3), the right choice for that honor is Miami coach Jim Larranaga.
Larranaga, in his second season at the school, has taken the second-ranked Hurricanes (22-4) to unprecedented heights in program history despite Saturday’s 80-65 loss at Wake Forest. Miami, the runaway ACC leader, already has reached its loftiest poll perch (No. 2) in school history and projects to receive a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, barring a late-season collapse.
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The Hurricanes, who began the season unranked, have fashioned a 3-0 record against ACC bluebloods North Carolina and No. 6 Duke, winning those meetings by an average margin of 20.7 points. In a city that is home to the NBA champs, the Miami Heat, the Hurricanes have become the hottest basketball ticket in town, drawing Heat stars LeBron James and Dwyane Wade among recent spectators to suddenly sold-out BankUnited Center.
“Right now, I feel like I’m dreaming,” said Kenny Kadji, a 6-foot-11 forward/center from Cameroon who ranks among the team leaders in scoring (12.8 avg.) and rebounding (6.4 avg.). “It’s insane right now about Miami. Everyone is asking about us. It’s great to see people recognize the hard work we’ve put in.”
The Hurricanes have done so under the direction of Larranaga, the former coach at George Mason. They have done so against the backdrop of an NCAA investigation into alleged rules violations in multiple sports that implicated former men’s basketball staffers.
Larranaga, who was not at Miami at the time of the alleged infractions, has taken a veteran roster, developed a top-notch point guard in sophomore Shane Larkin — one of the few Larranaga signees in the team’s playing rotation — and has made Miami one of the nation’s most consistent teams in an upset-filled season.
The Hurricanes, who were 20-13 last season, have lost just once since Dec. 25 and could be 14-1 in ACC play heading into the team’s March 2 rematch at Duke, which Miami pounded, 90-63, on Jan. 23.
All of that adds up to the top coaching performance in the nation, turned in by a guy who is working at a school that made its last NCAA Tournament appearance in 2008.
Larranaga’s secret? Roll with the flow and have a team flexible enough to win when it is making 15 of 26 shots from 3-point range while beating North Carolina, 87-61, or is capable of grinding out enough crunch-time defensive stops to edge Clemson, 45-43, with a last-minute rally.
“I just think college basketball is all about that particular night,” Larranaga said. “Every game is very different than the previous one. We’re just very pleased with where we are right now.”
He should be. Larranaga has taken Miami to places the program never has been, with a chance to climb even higher in the postseason. That should be enough to make him a landslide winner as college basketball’s national coach of the year.
Spotlight: Florida favored in crowded field
Florida, the No. 5 team in this week’s Associated Press men’s basketball poll, did not earn a single first-place vote from participating panelists. But the Gators (22-4) who fell to Missouri, 63-60, in a Tuesday game, have been installed as a slight favorite to win the 2013 NCAA Tournament, based on odds released earlier this week by Bovada Sports Book (www.Bovada.lv).
Florida, the front-runner in the Southeastern Conference, received 5-1 odds to win the national title among a balanced group of favorites. Other teams given the best odds of cutting down the nets in Atlanta, and listed with this week’s AP ranking, include No. 1 Indiana (11-2), No. 2 Miami (11-2), No. 7 Michigan (15-2), No. 6 Duke (9-1), No. 4 Michigan State (10-1), No. 3 Gonzaga (12-1), No. 10 Louisville (12-1) and No. 9 Kansas (14-1). All other teams received odds of at least 20-1.
Among other contenders from the Big 12, the best odds went to No. 14 Oklahoma State (50-1), No. 13 Kansas State (60-1), Baylor (150-1), Oklahoma (200-1) and Iowa State (200-1). Other notables on the list include No. 8 Syracuse (20-1), No. 11 Georgetown (60-1), No. 12 Arizona (20-1), No. 15 Butler (40-1), No. 16 New Mexico (50-1), No. 18 Ohio State (50-1) and unranked Kentucky (100-1), the defending champ.
Key week for Baylor: In pursuit of an at-large NCAA Tournament berth, the Bears (16-11, 7-7 in Big 12) face a Wednesday road trip to West Virginia (13-14, 6-8) and a Saturday home matchup against No. 13 Kansas State (22-5, 11-3).
Seeking top seed: No. 3 Gonzaga (27-2, 14-0 in West Coast Conference) plays a tough road game Thursday at Brigham Young (20-9, 9-5) that could impact the Zags’ hopes of earning a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Big logjam in Big East: Heading into the final two weeks of the regular season, at least five teams are viable candidates to earn the top seed in the Big East postseason tournament: No. 8 Syracuse (22-5), No. 11 Georgetown (21-4), No. 17 Marquette (19-7), No. 10 Louisville (22-5) and No. 25 Notre Dame (22-6).