Heading into the 1997-1998 season, the Hurricanes had posted but one NCAA Tournament appearance (1960) in school history. “We have a chance to be real good,” Miami coach Leonard Hamilton said as the season opener against Southern Illinois approached.
Behind junior Tim James, Miami then rolled off 9 wins to start the season, including victories over #17 Charlotte, Georgetown, and Memphis, and Hamilton’s words seemed prophetic. It was the best start in program history and others began taking notice of Miami’s promise.
“I think they’re one of the better teams in the country,” Memphis head coach Tic Price said after the Canes defeated his Tigers 65-57 on Dec. 22, 1997. “They are deep, very talented, physical, and got good athletes. For them not to be ranked is an injustice. Leonard has them kids playing with tremendous intensity.”
Attendance at Miami home games, which had been lagging for much of the 1990s, soared, alongside energy in and around the program as the Canes won their first five Big East contests, punctuated by a 76-67 win over #8 UConn on Jan. 6, 1998.
Miami finished the regular season 18-8 with an 11-7 mark in the Big East. Though the Hurricanes lost to Georgetown 62-56 in the Big East Tournament’s opening round, Hamilton and his crew seemed well positioned for an invite to the Big Dance despite a late season slide that saw them go 5-5 in their last 10 games.
On Selection Sunday, it became official: Miami’s name popped up as a #11 seed set to face #6 UCLA in Atlanta.
And with that, Miami basketball broke a 38-year-old barrier and gained a degree of basketball notoriety that had long eluded The U.
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