The first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament are in the books, and college basketball fans are still reveling in an incredible weekend that was filled with highlights, amazing individual performances, close finishes, and shocking upsets.
Each of the Sweet Sixteen teams remaining is now only two steps from the ultimate college basketball showcase: the Final Four. As difficult as it was for many to even get to this point, the path forward promises to only be more arduous. Such is the case for Miami and Houston, two teams that are trying to top last season’s Elite Eight appearances by getting through the Midwest region.
Neither team has had an easy path to the Sweet Sixteen. Houston has battled injuries and a 10-point halftime deficit with a hostile de facto road crowd against 9-seed Auburn (seriously NCAA, what was that?), while Miami overcame a late deficit to avoid an upset against 12-seed Drake, then followed that with a strong second half to pull away after losing a double-digit lead to Indiana and All-American Trayce Jackson-Davis.
Each team is the only one left from their respective conferences. Miami is representing the ACC following the fall of Virginia, NC State, Duke, and Pitt; Houston is carrying the torch for the AAC after Memphis’ ouster at the hands of Florida Atlantic.
Both schools are led by highly regarded coaches with extensive NCAA Tournament experience. Jim Larranaga of Miami is coaching in his 11th NCAA Tournament, having taken George Mason dancing five times and the Hurricanes six. He’s also no stranger to slaying giants, having defeated Michigan State and Tom Izzo, North Carolina and Roy Williams, and 1-seed UConn and Jim Calhoun in 2006 on the way to one of the most memorable Cinderella Final Four runs in history.
Houston’s Kelvin Sampson has been dancing 19 times during a career that has spanned stops at Washington State, Oklahoma, Indiana, and Houston, with Final Four appearances in 2002 and 2021. For all his success, this is the first time one of his teams has reached #1 in the AP poll, and this edition of the Cougars, which went 31-3 in the regular season, is widely regarded as his best chance to finally cut down the nets.
With two more wins, Houston would get the rare privilege of playing a Final Four in its home city. So how can Miami, regular season co-champs of the ACC, make sure that the Cougars can’t get into NRG Stadium without a ticket? Let’s take a look at three keys to a Hurricanes victory.