CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) — To help reload after last season’s run to the Final Four, Miami coach Jim Larrañaga had to make a couple of recruiting trips into archrival territory.
It paid off.
Matthew Cleveland — who hit a deep desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer to help Florida State pull off the comeback of the year and beat the Hurricanes in Coral Gables last season — is wearing a Miami uniform now. He will join returning starters Norchad Omier, Nigel Pack and Wooga Poplar for a team that opens the season No. 13 in the AP Top 25.
“It was very difficult because I love Florida State, still kind of do love Florida State because I was there for two years,” Cleveland said of his transfer decision. “But I had to do what was best for me in a business decision. I feel like the biggest thing they showed to me is their success with transfers … how much of a jump they make.”
Larrañaga and assistant coach Bill Courtney went to Tallahassee twice to court Cleveland. They didn’t actually recruit on Florida State’s campus. Instead, they met with Cleveland basically just across the street from the school.
“We did that not once but twice to make sure that Matt knew he was our highest priority in the portal,” said Larrañaga, who guided Miami to a 29-8 record and its first Final Four appearance last season. “You look at a lot of different people, but you have to prioritize who you think is the best fit — and Matt was.”
Larrañaga values players who can deliver at the end of games. Miami went 12-6 last season in games decided by seven points or less, thanks in large part to departed starters Isaiah Wong (the Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year last season) and Jordan Miller.
Cleveland more than showed he can fill that void. Florida State was down by 23 at halftime last season before stunning Miami 85-84 when he connected from deep as time expired. Division I men’s teams that trailed by more than 20 at halftime last season went 1-574 — and Cleveland provided that lone win.
“He’s a great guy,” Omier said. “He’s a little funny to us. We love Matt. He’s a great addition to the team, and he’s going to be a special guy this year. We’re just lucky to have him.”
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
Wong (16.2) and Miller (15.3) were Miami’s two top scorers last season, and their 22 shots a game are now available to players like Pack (13.6 ppg), Omier (13.1 ppg, 10.0 rpg) and Poplar (8.4 ppg). Poplar — who has a big-time pullup jumper — is the player Larrañaga thinks has the best chance at breaking out, with a game that he expects could have him in the NBA as early as next season.
Miami started 13-1 last season, then went 3-4 in its next seven games before getting red-hot once again for the stretch run. The Hurricanes were the top seed in the ACC tournament, earned a No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament — then beat fourth-seeded Indiana, top-seeded Houston and second-seeded Texas on their way to the Final Four, where they lost to eventual national champion UConn.
Miami is the only team that has made the Elite Eight in each of the last two NCAA tournaments. The Hurricanes are 7-2 over the last two seasons in NCAA tourney games; only Kansas (7-1) has as many wins in that span.
The Miami men and Miami women have each reached the last two NCAA tournaments. In 2022, the men lost to Kansas, and the women to South Carolina. In 2023, the men lost to UConn, and the women lost to LSU.
The four teams that beat the Hurricanes in those NCAA contests went on to win the national titles.
The opener is Nov. 6 against the New Jersey Institute of Technology. The Hurricanes will play Georgia and either Kansas State or Providence in the Bahamas Nov. 17 and 19 and visit Kentucky for the ACC-SEC challenge on Nov. 28, The six teams Miami is facing twice in ACC play are Florida State, Virginia Tech, Boston College, Clemson, North Carolina and Notre Dame. The Hurricanes play host to Duke in their only meeting of this regular season, and Cleveland's return to Tallahassee would be in the regular-season finale on March 9.
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