WASHINGTON - Jim Larranaga smiled and raised both hands to acknowledge the fans in green - those from both Miami and George Mason - as he walked onto the court where he became part of a national sensation seven years ago.
He signed autographs, posed for pictures and was about to turn his attention to practice when he spotted two special people: Lamar Butler and Tony Skinn, starters from the 2006 GMU team. Larranaga hugged them both and reminisced about "you guys running over to our section" of fans at the final whistle to celebrate the win over Connecticut that sent the mid-major Patriots to the Final Four.
"This is not just any other arena," the coach said.
No, it's not. This is the Verizon Center, where it became believable that an out-of-the-blue school could advance to college basketball's biggest stage. It's where Larranaga gathered his players Wednesday at midcourt and told them: "You know why they call it the Sweet 16? It's sweet! Let's go."
"To them I'm kind of wacky, you know?" he said. "I say a lot of things to them and initially they don't understand. I use quotes and our thought of the day. I ask them to explain it; they have no idea. I have to then educate them of what we're trying to get across. Coming into this building, to them it's just another venue, but to me and my staff, it's not."
He's in a different league now, leading ACC champion and second-seeded Miami (29-6) against third-seeded Marquette (25-8) in today's East Region semifinals.
"His approach to the game is different," senior forward Julian Gamble said.
Meanwhile, Marquette coach Buzz Williams' arrival in the nation's capital was no match for his counterpart's homecoming, even though the Golden Eagles have been on a compelling run.
Marquette won its first two games by a combined three points, both with late comebacks.
Syracuse on a roll
WASHINGTON - Yelps of support and applause greeted the voice booming over the loudspeakers Wednesday: "Coached by Jim Boeheim, please welcome the Syracuse Orange!"
And … nothing. No sign of Boeheim or any of his players for six minutes. They'll return to that court tonight to face No. 1 seed Indiana.
Syracuse never really did show up the last time it played a game at this arena: The Orange lost its Big East regular-season finale three weeks ago against host Georgetown 61-39.
"I can't remember that game," Boeheim deadpanned Wednesday, face straight and arms crossed. "Just can't remember."
Since that disappointing performance, Syracuse (28-9) has gone on a run, winning five of its last six games to reach the Big East tournament final and join Indiana (29-6), No. 2 Miami and No. 3 Marquette to form the only group of 1-4 seeds left in any NCAA region this year.
"That probably is a little surprising," Indiana freshman guard Yogi Ferrell said. "It shows that we are all high-level programs, and all great teams."
• Memphis men's basketball coach Josh Pastner has agreed to terms on a contract extension.
The length of the extension and financial terms weren't disclosed when the announcement was made Wednesday. Pastner is a former Arizona Wildcats player and assistant coach.
• Duke has won six of seven NCAA tournament games played in Indianapolis and has won two national titles there, most recently in 2010.
A pair of victories there this weekend, starting Friday night against third-seeded Michigan, would send second-seeded Duke back to its first Final Four since 2010.
• Shaka Smart and VCU have agreed in principle to a deal to keep the men's coach at the school.
• UConn women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma, signed a $10.86 million, five-year contract, the school announced Wednesday.