They should make the Sweet 16.
They can make the Final Four.
They could win it all.
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These three simple but surprising — even stupefying — sentences if said a few months ago are where you start today. They pull into perspective Miami's No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament and tell why Miami's opening game against Pacific in Austin, Texas, happened.
Jim Larranaga happened. Kenny Kadji happened. Shane Larkin really happened, all the way to Sunday's 87-77 win against North Carolina in the ACC Tournament championship game, another piece of the wonderful story of this season.
Now the question is how far Miami can, and it's one of a dozen teams in this confusing season thinking it can go all the way to the end of the dream. All the way to Atlanta. All the way the Final Four. All the way to where no one thought Miami basketball ever could go.
Austin, Texas, is as good a place as any for Miami to start, because it was the place of Miami's only relevance in March. Coach Leonard Hamilton sat in his hotel suite that last trip there, smiled and said, "We've got a chance to do something, and anything can happen."
He said, "I'm crazy enough to think we can be a Top Five program."
Miami then lost to Tulsa in the Sweet 16. That was 13 Marches ago. It was four coaches ago. It was so long ago, and Miami has been swept by such irrelevance since, that it's barely a memory.
"I didn't know they'd made the Sweet 16,'' Kadji, the star Miami forward, said earlier this year.
If Miami stops at the Sweet 16 this time, that would be a disappointment. That tells of the giant step this program has taken. Another sign? The debate over whether Miami should have been a top seed in the tournament.
Never before has a team won the ACC regular season and ACC tournament like Miami did and not earned a top seed in the NCAA tournament. Miami, for some reason, even ranked behind Duke among second seeds. Huh?
But Miami can't complain about its path to the Final Four, which is as comfortable as any route out there. Pacific of the Big West conference (2:10 p.m. on Friday on TNT), then the winner of two mid-level teams, Colorado and Illinois. That's the first weekend.
Ultimately, the path points to Miami against Indiana to get to the Final Four. Indiana is strong and storied and a lot of people's pick to win the title. It also has lost three of its past six games. So who knows?
"Any team can shoot you out of the gym this time of year," Hamilton said in his suite that last trip to Austin.
That's the beauty of the tournament. And every team has flaws. Just look at the top seeds beyond Indiana. Kansas lost three straight in February. Louisville lost three straight in January. And Gonzaga lost two of its three games against ranked teams.
Miami has a lot of things going for it beyond the fact it ran the table on the ACC this season. It has five seniors, showing a maturity few teams can. It also plays well on the road, as shown again by wins against North Carolina State and North Carolina to close out the ACC Tournament in Greensboro, N.C.
There's also this X-factor: None of its players beyond Kadji, then with Florida, have been in an NCAA Tournament. But it's coach, Larranaga, then with George Mason, took the lowest-seeded team (11th) to reach the Final Four in 2006.
Hamilton's final Miami team was a No. 2 seed whose road ended in Austin. Now Larranaga's starts in Austin. It opens against a Pacific team that lost by double-digits to tournament teams California and Gonzaga and beat St. Mary's, which has a play-in game to make the tournament.
"We won here, but we've got more work to do,'' Larranaga said after the ACC Tournament win.
They should make the Sweet 16. They can make the Final Four. They could win it all. Who thought those sentences ever would apply to Miami basketball?