Indiana, Miami highlight East Regional action

Miami’s Jim Larranaga saw the signs: A big season was in store for his Hurricanes.
Miami’s Jim Larranaga saw the signs: A big season was in store for his Hurricanes. (AP)
BOB LEVERONE/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Miami coach Jim Larranaga was telling school trustees and anybody else who would listen last fall that his second year with the Hurricanes could be a very special season. Maybe even the best in school history.

Larranaga might be able to brag to everybody about having the best team in the country.

‘‘It’s almost hard to put in words how he’s really changed the culture of our entire team. And just around the university as a whole,’’ senior big man Julian Gamble said. ‘‘He’s really gotten us back to worrying about the fundamentals of the game and doing little things well.’’

Already with the ACC regular-season and tournament titles, along with a school-record 27 wins, the Hurricanes play their first NCAA Tournament game in five years Friday in Austin, Texas. Miami is the No. 2 seed in the East Regional against Pacific (22-12), the Big West Conference tourney champion trying to extend the career of retiring long-time coach Bob Thomason.

Larranaga took mid-major George Mason to the NCAA Final Four in 2006. That makes him the only ACC coach not at Duke or North Carolina to take a team that far.

At Miami, he has a starting lineup of four seniors and standout sophomore Shane Larkin, the pick by league coaches as the ACC’s top player. There are six players on the current roster who have played at least 100 games.

Most experts didn’t expect Larranga’s George Mason team to even make the tournament. These Hurricanes, however, became the first ACC team to win the outright regular-season title and then the tournament and not get a No. 1 seed.

The other premier team in the regional is No. 1-ranked and top-seeded Indiana, who will take on 16th-seeded James Madison in Dayton, Ohio.

The Hoosiers (27-6), picked by President Obama to win the whole thing, will be overwhelming favorites. It’s essentially a warm-up game for the the Big Ten’s regular-season champs, but coach Tom Crean won’t overlook the fearless Dukes (21-14), who beat LIU Brooklyn on Wednesday night.

‘‘The Big Ten prepares you for anything and everything,’’ Crean said, ‘‘and the one thing it totally prepares you for is to never take anything lightly.’’

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Crean has Indiana looking like the Indiana of old.

Five years ago, he inherited a program that had bottomed out, leveled by NCAA sanctions and disgraced by scandal under former coach Kelvin Sampson. Crean won just six games in his first season, 10 and 12 the next two. Last year, the Hoosiers returned to the NCAA field for the first time since 2007 and won two games before losing to eventual champ Kentucky.

The mission in 2013 is simple: Hang a title banner inside Assembly Hall next to the ones from 1940, 1953, 1976, 1981, and 1987.

The Hoosiers have no apparent weaknesses, but that won’t stop the Dukes, who notched their first NCAA tourney win since 1983 earlier this week, from looking for some flaws. James Madison’s players intend to make the most of their chance to become the first No. 16 to take out a No. 1 seed.