CORAL GABLES — The Hurricanes entered Selection Sunday knowing they would play in their third consecutive NCAA Tournament.
Now they know where they’re heading: the great state of Texas.
Miami (22-9) earned a No. 6 seed in the South region, and will face No. 11 Loyola-Chicago on Thursday in a first-round game at AmericanAirlines Center in Dallas, home of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks.
The game will start at approximately 3:10 p.m. on TruTV. Click here to view the full bracket.
According to odds released Sunday by offshore sportsbook BetDSI, Miami is a 3-point favorite.
The Ramblers (28-5, 15-3) won the Missouri Valley Conference with a 65-49 decision over Illinois State. They won nine games at home, including a 65-59 win at then-No. 5 Florida on Dec. 6. This is their first NCAA bid since 1985.
The winner meets the winner of a Thursday first-round game between No. 3 seed Tennessee (25-8) and No. 14 Wright State (25-9). That game is Saturday.
If Miami makes it to the Sweet 16, it could meet either No. 2 Cincinnati, which plays No. 15 Georgia State in the first round, No. 7 Nevada or No. 10 Texas.
The South region runs through Atlanta. ACC champion Virginia is the No. 1 seed, and the NCAA Tournament’s top overall seed.
Players, coaches and about 75 fans watched the bracket reveal from a party UM threw at its Rathskeller bar on campus. Freshman guard Lonnie Walker admitted he was nervous as he waited to hear Miami’s name called.
“My stomach was really going through it,” said Walker, whose only trip to Dallas was for a high school dunk contest (he didn’t remember what types of dunks he threw down). “To see our name on the board was really pleasing,” he said.
“It’s something I’ve been dreaming about as a kid, playing in March Madness,” freshman guard Chris Lykes said.
Miami has faced two other Loyolas in its history — Maryland and New Orleans — but not Chicago, which in 1963 won the NCAA title and remains the only Division I basketball program from Illinois with a ring.
Coach Jim Larranaga was impressed by the Ramblers’ win at Florida, and in a short team meeting after the selection show, he made sure each of his players knew about it. He has a personal connection to the school: its athletics director, Steve Watson, played two years under Larranaga at Bowling Green. “He was a terrific player for me,” Larranaga said.
He noted that coach Porter Moser is a disciple of Rick Majerus, the late former coach of Utah and other schools. He called Majerus a “defensive genius,” and said Moser’s teams probably follow in that tradition.
Loyola-Chicago is indeed a strong defensive team, ranking 24th in Ken Pomeroy’s defensive efficiency ratings. Its offense is 68th, and it is 41st in KenPom’s overall rankings. It is also 312th of 351 Division I teams in tempo, meaning it prefers a slower game. Miami ranks 52nd in defense, 45th in offense, 36th overall and 225th in tempo.
Offensively, the Ramblers shoot 50.7 percent as a team and five of their players average in double-figures, led by 6-foot-1 guard Clayton Custer (13.4 points per game, 4.3 assists, 1.5 steals).
Guard Donte Ingram (11.6 points, 6.5 rebounds) is the Ramblers’ leading rebounder at 6-5, 215. They aren’t a big team, with center Cameron Krutwig (6-9, 260) and forward Aundre Jackson (6-5, 230) their beefiest regulars.
The Ramblers, who spent 34 years in the Horizon League before joining the MVC in 2013, finished 10th, sixth, eighth and fifth in the four previous years under Moser, who is in his seventh season. He had not had a winning conference record until going 15-3 this year. The Ramblers’ conference title was a program first. They were CBI champions in 2015, the same year Miami went to the NIT semifinals.
Between reaching the Sweet 16 in 1985 and their move to the MVC in 2013, they finished above .500 in the Horizon four times.
Miami went 11-8 against ACC opponents, and finished the end of the regular season ranked No. 24 in the Associated Press poll. The Hurricanes went 11-6 away from home, including a win at North Carolina, the ACC Tournament finalist.
Despite the fact the Canes lost to UNC 82-65 on Thursday in the conference tourney, they had more than enough on their resume to make it to the tournament. Since playing in the Sweet 16 in 2013 — a feat repeated in 2016 — Miami has gone dancing in four of the last five seasons.
“This school’s becoming a school where we’re making the tournament on a consistent basis now,” said guard Ja’Quan Newton, UM’s only senior. “Coach L’s really turned us around. It feels great, man. I’m blessed to be a part of it.”
The ACC had nine bids, more than any other conference. At the UM party, the loudest boos were reserved for screen appearances by Florida State, Duke and UNC, along with the SEC’s Florida. A few fans threw scattered boos at Notre Dame, and some laughed at the inclusion of Syracuse — an entrant despite its 20-13 record and 8-10 mark in ACC play.
Last year, Miami finished 21-12 (10-8 ACC) and lost to Michigan State 78-58 in a first-round tilt in Tulsa, Oklahoma. UM lost two seniors from that team (forward Kamari Murphy and guard Davon Reed).
This UM squad added freshman guard Lonnie Walker, who leads the team in scoring (11.5 points). Sophomore forward Dewan Huell is tied for second (11.4, with 6.6 rebounds). For the last 11 games, the Canes have been playing without leading rebounder and assist-getter Bruce Brown (7.1 and 4.0, along with 11.4 points), a sophomore who has a fracture in his left foot.
Larranaga said Sunday Brown will not return this year.
This team, which lacked experience heading into the year, figured out their roles. They learned how to win. And then, how to play without Brown.
“I thought throughout the year we made progress, but the progress was sometimes one step forward, two steps back,” Larranga said. I was absolutely thrilled when we won four straight to end the the regular season and earned the No. 3 seed in the ACC Tournament. I just was disappointed we didn’t play better in the ACC quarterfinals against Carolina. … Now we’ve got to bounce back and play much better come Thursday.”