Miami is heading to the Elite Eight for a second straight season after upsetting No. 1 seed Houston 89-75 in the Sweet 16 on Friday night. The No. 5 seed Hurricanes will play either Xavier or Texas on Sunday in the Midwest Regional final as the program strives for its first-ever Final Four appearance.
The 'Canes built a 42-36 halftime lead and only stepped on the gas from there, building their advantage to as much as 17 in the second half against a Houston defense that simply had no answers for Miami's dynamic guards. Nigel Pack led Miami with 26 points as the Hurricanes turned the ball over just six times and repeatedly knocked down timely 3-pointers.
Houston made 7 of 17 attempts from 3-point range in the first half but made just 2 of 14 in the second half from beyond the arc while struggling to keep up with the fast-paced Hurricanes. Houston entered ranked No. 342 of 363 nationally in adjusted tempo, according to kenpom.com, but Miami dictated the pace of the game by playing in transition with its small-ball lineup. While Houston did a good job of limiting its turnovers in the second half, the Hurricanes still dominated 15-4 in points off turnovers for the game by capitalizing on the Cougars' rare miscues.
.@CanesHoops is headed BACK to the Elite 8 as Miami takes down the remaining No. 1 seed Houston.— CBS Sports College Basketball 🏀 (@CBSSportsCBB) March 25, 2023
There are now NO No. 1 seeds in the Elite 8 for the FIRST TIME EVER‼️ pic.twitter.com/M5Nx8YPmwS
The loss is particularly crushing for Houston because the Cougars had a chance to play in their home city had they reached the Final Four. The outcome sends an already wonky bracket into utter chaos as all No. 1 seeds have now been eliminated before the Elite Eight for the first time since NCAA Tournament seeding began in 1979.
Money well spent
As Houston tried to mount a rally in the second half, Pack shut it down. He hit three 3-pointers in a span of just over two minutes. When he checked in at the 14:42 mark, Miami led just 51-48. When he checked out for his next breather at the 8:16 mark, Miami led 72-58.
Miami made headlines in the offseason when it landed the Kansas State transfer. Pack ranked as the No. 2 transfer in the sport last season, according to CBS Sports, and seemingly received a two-year, $800,000 deal with LifeWallet as part of an NIL deal amid the transfer. The publication of such a dollar figure raised eyebrows around the sport, though in reality it was just one example of a trend sweeping the sport with ultra-talented players.
Pack had just earned first-team All-Big 12 honors, finishing third in the conference in scoring at 17.4 points per game while posting an impressive 43.6% 3-point shooting percentage. Questions surrounded his fit with the Hurricanes, both in terms of chemistry and on-court fit. It turns out he fit well. Pack entered the Sweet 16 averaging 13.4 points per game on 39% 3-point shooting and was the hero for Miami on Friday.
Miami's 89 points were 12 more than Houston allowed against anyone else this season. In fact, the Hurricanes had more points at halftime (42) than Northern Colorado scored on Houston in an entire game back in November. Similarly, Tulsa and North Florida also finished with just 42 total points against the Cougars this season in a full 40 minutes.
Houston entered ranked No. 2 nationally in points allowed at just 56.6 and had held 11 foes below 50. But Miami surpassed its own season average of 79.1 points by 10 against one of the nation's top defensive squads. In all facets, it was an elite offensive effort from the Hurricanes.
This season was unkind to the ACC's other septuagenarian coaches as Jim Boeheim's Syracuse squad finished 17-15 before Boeheim, 78, retired after the team's loss in its first game at the ACC Tournament. Meanwhile, Florida State missed the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive season under Leonard Hamilton, 74, as the Seminoles struggled to a 9-23 record.
But Larranaga, 73, is coaching like he's in his prime, channeling the magic he used during George Mason's historic 2006 Final Four run to guide the Hurricanes to another Elite Eight. What is particularly striking about Miami's run is that Larranaga has embraced a modern, up-tempo style after his teams at George Mason routinely played a slower, more traditional style.
JIM LARRANAGA BREAKING IT DOWN IN THE LOCKER ROOM 🤣🕺 @CanesHoops pic.twitter.com/24gqeUVqbR— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) March 25, 2023
Larranaga has excellent guards at Miami and is thriving at coaching to their strengths. The Hurricanes dictated the tempo on Friday with their small-ball lineup, which is a credit to Larranaga's willingness to adapt and conviction to sticking with it even against a team like Houston that wanted to play a different style.