What awaits the 'Canes on road to Final Four?
The regular-season Atlantic Coast Conference title and league tournament championship are in the books – nothing will change that.
Now, the Miami Hurricanes embark on a journey that will define whether their 2012-13 season goes down as being memorable, or as something truly special.
Miami is making its seventh NCAA tournament appearance in program history and only the sixth in the modern tournament era. The Hurricanes (27-6, 15-3) will begin play in the tournament on Friday, when they take on Pacific (22-12, 13-5 Big West) in the second round in Austin, Texas, at 2:10 p.m. ET.
Miami, the No. 2 seed in the East, will meet a group of 15th-seeded Tigers who have won seven straight games and nine of their last 11.
The ACC champs should, as expected, get past Pacific fairly easily. But remember, this month is known as March Madness for a reason. Upsets and Cinderella teams appear when and where they aren’t expected.
There are two reasons Miami and its fans should respect Pacific. First, the smaller Tigers routinely go nine to 10 deep. The Hurricanes regularly rely on no more than eight, so coach Jim Larranaga might go to his bench to try and give his key players some rest.
Pacific sports just one double-figure scorer, guard Lorenzo McCloud (11.4 ppg) but likely will be taking many 3-pointers. If they’re hot, the Tigers could make the 'Canes sweat.
Still, don’t expect Miami to become the latest No. 2 seed to be shocked by a No. 15 seed.
Here's what awaits Miami on the road to the Final Four ...
No. 7 Illinois (22-12, 8-10 Big Ten): Under first-year coach John Groce, the Illini earned an at-large bid from the country’s top league. They beat two No. 1 seeds – Gonzaga and Indiana -- and won their first 12 games, then began the conference slate 2-7, before winning 6 of 7. Which team are they? Guard Brandon Paul (16.6 ppg) can score, but leading rebounder, 6-foot-11 forward/center Nnanna Egwu, only averages 4.6 rpg.
No. 10 Colorado (21-11, 10-8 Pac-12): The Buffaloes are enjoying back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances for the first time in 50 years (1961-62 and 1962-63). They’re led by sophomore Spencer Dinwiddie (15.6 ppg, 3.0 apg), and the country’s second-leading rebounder in Andre Roberson (11.2 rpg).
Charlie projects: Illinois will be Miami's opponent.
Butler, Bucknell, Marquette or Davidson
No. 6 Butler (26-8, 11-5 Atlantic 10): Brad Stevens has made a national name for himself in six years. He led the Bulldogs to consecutive appearances in the national championship game in 2010 (lost to Duke) and 2011 (lost to Connecticut). Rotnei Clarke (16.7 ppg) and the Bulldogs earned an at-large bid but played their best ball early.
No. 11 Bucknell(28-5, 12-2 Patriot League): Senior center Mike Muscala averages 19 points and 11.2 rebounds for the Bison, who won their league’s regular-season crown and league tournament. It was their second automatic bid in three seasons.
No. 3 Marquette (23-8, 14-4 Big East): The Eagles won a share of the Big East regular-season title. Coach Buzz Williams has led the Golden Eagles to Sweet 16 runs the past two seasons. Vander Blue (14.3 ppg) is the leading scorer but has plenty of help.
No. 14 Davidson (26-7, 17-1 Southern): The Wildcats have won 17 straight games, the country’s longest active winning streak. Jake Cohen (14.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg) and De'Mon Brooks (13.8 ppg, 6.2 rpg) each has won conference player of the year during the past two years.
Charlie projects: Marquette will be Miami's opponent.
Indiana, LIU-Brooklyn, North Carolina State, Temple, UNLV, California, Syracuse or Montana
No. 1 Indiana (27-6, 14-4 Big Ten): Many people, including President Obama, like the Hoosiers to win it all. They’re the country’s third-highest scoring team with 80.0 ppg. Coach Tom Crean is the brother-in-law of Super Bowl-winning coach Jim Harbaugh of the Baltimore Ravens. Cody Zeller is the leading scorer (16.9 ppg.) and rebounder (8.2 rpg.). Guard Victor Oladipo can score but saves his best for defense.
No. 16 LIU-Brooklyn (20-13, 12-6 Northeast)/James Madison (20-14, 11-7 Colonial): The Blackbirds are the first NEC team to make three straight trips to the NCAAs. Jamal Olasewere (18.9 ppg., 8.9 rpg.) is joined by Jason Brickman, who leads the country in assists (8.3 apg). The Dukes were to be without leading scorer and rebounder Rayshawn Goins for the first half of the first-round game. Goins was suspended by coach Matt Brady after being arrested on charges of disorderly conduct and obstructing justice. James Madison was making its first trip to the NCAAs since 1994.
No. 8 NC State (24-10, 11-7 ACC): The Wolfpack weren’t sure if they would receive an at-large bid despite two wins in the ACC tournament. N.C. State is the country’s only team sporting five players averaging at least 12 points. Playing in the tournament extends the careers of juniors C.J. Leslie and Lorenzo Brown, both of whom are expected to leave early for the NBA.
No. 9 Temple(23-9, 11-5 Atlantic 10): Fran Dunphy’s Owls have won seven of their last eight and earned a sixth straight NCAA bid. Temple’s wins include beating Syracuse, Saint Louis, VCU and Villanova. Guard Khalif Wyatt (19.8 ppg.) has several teammates who can hit from outside.
No. 5 UNLV (25-9, 10-6 Mountain West): The Runnin’ Rebels have won seven of their last 10. They’re among the nation’s top rebounding teams, averaging 40.1. Freshman Anthony Bennett (16.1 ppg, 8.1 rpg) is the top Rebel.
No. 12 California (20-11, 12-6 Pac-12): The Golden Bears earned their fourth NCAA bid in the last five years. Coach Mike Montgomery has a team with talented guards -- Allen Crabbe (18.7 ppg.) and Justin Cobbs (15.5 ppg., 4.8 apg.). Thus, the Golden Bears can be dangerous.
No. 4 Syracuse (26-9, 11-7 Big East): There’s news the ‘Cuse is being investigated again for NCAA violations. How will that affect Jim Boeheim’s team in the program’s 36th NCAA appearance? C.J. Fair (14.4 ppg., 7.1 rpg.) shot 47.1 percent, including 49.1 percent from beyond 3-point territory.
No. 13 Montana (25-6, 19-1 Big Sky): The Grizzlies have won the Big Sky tournament three of the past four seasons. They’ve had 10 trips to the NCAAs overall, and have won twice (over Utah State ‘75 and Nevada ‘06). Kareem Jamar (14.5 ppg., 6.0 rpg.) has picked up his game after the loss of leading scorer Mathias Ward (foot surgery).
Charlie projects: UNLV will be Miami's opponent.
The just-completed regular season, with no clear No. 1 or invincible teams, would indicate the 2013 NCAA tournament should be as unpredictable and wild as ever. Hopefully, that will be true.
Still, excellent guard play and veteran presence often prevail when there’s a distinct advantage. That being the case, Miami could make this a truly special season in the next three weeks.
Charlie McCarthy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @mccarthy_chas