CHICAGO (AP) — Jordan Miller played for George Mason for three seasons before transferring to Miami. So Miller was well aware of Hurricanes coach Jim Larrañaga long before he switched schools.
“Being at George Mason, it’s hard not to hear about his success there,” Miller said Saturday. “Coach L, actually, when I first talked to him, he actually said, ‘Do you know about my success at George Mason?’”
Sixteen years after he directed the Patriots to a memorable Final Four run, the affable Larrañaga has another double-digit seed on the brink of the national semifinals. Standing in his way is Kansas and Bill Self, another highly successful coach looking to make his own history.
Larrañaga and Self have never faced off as head coaches, but that changes Sunday when the 10th-seeded Hurricanes (26-10) and top-seeded Jayhawks (31-6) meet in the Elite Eight.
“When I think of his teams, I think of well-coached, but I also think of freedom,” Self said. “Seems like to me he always has his teams playing with joy, with a free mind and aggressive offensively, which I think is a great trait to have as a coach.”
Self, 59, is looking for his first Final Four since 2018 and No. 4 overall in 19 seasons at Kansas. He received what amounts to a lifetime contract about a year ago, even as the school awaits a decision from an independent panel investigating five Level I infractions alleged by the NCAA.
Self is one of five coaches in NCAA Division I history to take three different schools to the Elite Eight, but he is 3-7 in that round of the tournament.
“That’s not good enough,” Self said. “It is a different game because it’s the hardest game in the tournament to not win. You can talk about first round, you can talk about whatever, it’s the hardest game. The national championship finals, at least you’re playing for it all or whatever.”
The Jayhawks are the last No. 1 seed left in the tourney after they advanced with a 66-61 victory over Providence on Friday night. Led by Big 12 Player of the Year Ochai Agbaji and a rejuvenated Remy Martin, they have won eight in a row dating to a 74-64 loss at TCU on March 1.
If they are feeling the pressure of the moment, it’s hard to tell. They warmed up for practice Saturday with a game of Duck Duck Goose, and they buried four consecutive half-court shots as they wrapped up.
Self said fresh legs and minds are more important than practice time at this point in March. And Self’s team believes in him.
“I think the motivating factor that he brings to our team and all the teams that he’s coached is something that not a lot of people see,” Agbaji said. “He’ll always give speeches when we’re watching film or stuff like that and you’ll be ready to go run through a brick wall right after. That’s just how he is, and he’s one of the best motivators that I’ve ever met.”
Larrañaga, 72, coached Miami to a 70-56 win over Iowa State on Friday night, putting the Hurricanes in the Elite Eight for the first time in school history. Once again employing an opportunistic, attacking defense, Miami grabbed 11 steals in the Sweet 16 for its 16th time in double digits this season.
Larrañaga has seven 20-win seasons in his 11 years at Miami. He has recorded seven of the program’s 11 wins in the tourney.
“I would just say going to the tournament, he always lets us know every day, hey, just be you,” Hurricanes guard Isaiah Wong said. “At the end of the day, just play free and just play together as a team and just help the team as much as possible. Play hard, and just be yourself at the end of the day. And I feel like with that feeling it just makes us even better as a team.”
Jay Cohen can be reached at https://twitter.com/jcohenap
More AP coverage of March Madness: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness and https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25