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Mo Wagner, Michigan end Loyola-Chicago’s miracle run

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SAN ANTONIO — It was only going to be a matter of time before Flexing Mo Wagner upstaged Sister Jean.

Michigan’s German import finished with 24 points and 15 boards, hitting a massive three with 6:52 left in the second half to tie a game that Loyola-Chicago had total control of as the Wolverines. That three came in a 12-0 game-changing run that turned a 47-42 deficit into a 54-47 lead. Fittingly, Wagner capped the run with his sixth offensive rebound, a put-back plus the foul that spanned three minutes of game-time.

In reality, it was Michigan’s defense that once again made the difference. The Wolverines forced turnovers on five straight Loyola-Chicago possessions during that stretch, keeping the Ramblers from even attempting a shot for more than three minutes of game-time.

And with that, John Beilein is off to his second national title game in six seasons with a 69-57 win, and in a game where the Wolverines looked dreadful for 20 minutes, it’s fitting that a team that is built around their ability to defend won because they found a way to score.

The first half on Saturday night was a slugfest that only too predictable for a pair of teams that slow the ball down and grind you with their defense while playing under the pressure of the Final Four for the first time.

Michigan jumped out to a 12-4 lead and led 15-10 before the Loyola surge started. The Ramblers would score the next nine points and close the half on a 19-7 surge to head into the break with a 29-22 lead. Mo Wagner and Charles Matthews combined for 19 of those 22 points, and the only other Wolverine to make a shot in the first half was center Jon Teske.

Zavier Simpson was terrible. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman might have been worse. They combined to shoot 0-for-10 from the floor with four turnovers. Things did not get much better early in the second half, not until Beilein made those adjustments.

Michigan scored 47 points in the second half. They shot 57 percent from the floor after shooting just 9-for-31 in the first 20 minutes. They made five threes, all of which came during a second-half surge that saw Loyola get outscored 24-6.

“They rotated so quickly,” Beilein said of Loyola’s defense. “And this has been our dilemma all year long: How are people going to guard a shooting five? And we have to adjust as the game goes on. We didn’t adjust very well.”

“But the second half, after we saw how [they defended our] actions. Then we needed to make some shots, we couldn’t make them for a while but then we did. And our young guys came in there, all of a sudden we took off like crazy.”

And therein lies the brilliance of Beilein.

He is, unquestionably, one of the brightest offensive minds in college basketball. Anyone that knows anything about basketball can tell you as much. If the fact that he is winning these basketball games with players that no one else wanted doesn’t tell you that, look at the success that his best players — Trey Burke, Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinsin III — had with his program and then had in the NBA.

He knows how to get the best out of his best players.

And he did again on Saturday.

The changes weren’t that complicated. He went to a more offensive-minded lineup. He started Duncan Robinson in the second half. He put Jordan Poole on the floor, who scored six points during that Michigan surge. He let Charles Matthews get isolations. He found a way to beat Loyola’s switching defense — a defense that makes it very, very difficult to get shots out of offensive sets — and got his players to execute it.

The ‘it’?

It was actually pretty simple.

“We stopped running so many sets with ball-screens,” Robinson said, but in reality, the adjustment itself was less important than what it led to: A couple of threes going down. First it was Jaaron Simmons getting one to go. Then Robinson got one to drop, pounding on his chest and letting out a scream as he returned to the defensive end of the floor.

“It felt like a lid came off,” he said, and to a man, everyone in the Michigan locker room agreed. Once they saw a few shots go down, the entire energy changed. Suddenly they were playing with confidence and purpose and momentum and every other cliché that you can think of.

“When the shots were falling the defensive intensity picked up,” Simpson said.

He did that on a team that he has, with the help of his defensive coordinator Luke Yaklich, turned into one of the best defensive teams in college basketball.

Beilein is one of the best coaches in the sport, and within coaching circles he is respected as such.

But he doesn’t have a national title to his name, and now, on Monday night, he’ll have a chance to put one on his résumé.

And if he does, the question then becomes just how long he’ll have to wait until the Hall of Fame talk starts.

Minnesota adds Vanderbilt transfer Payton Willis

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Minnesota has added some depth for the future.

The Golden Gophers received a pledge from Vanderbilt transfer Payton Willis over the weekend, giving him a guard with two seasons of eligibility remaining starting in 2019-20.

Willis will sit out the upcoming season under NCAA transfer rules.

The 6-foot-4 guard played a limited role in two seasons in Nashville, never averaging more than 18. 5 minutes or 5.2 points per game. He scored in double figures in three games as a sophomore.

Willis was a top-150 prospect in the Class of 2016 coming out of Fayetteville, Ark. with offers from the likes of Tulsa, Rice and Dayton. Vandy and Minnesota were his two high-major offers.

After being ranked in the top-15, Minnesota was beset by injury and suspensions last season as they limped to the finish line in a 15-17 season that featured losses in 12 of its last 13 games.

Richard Pitino still has two available scholarships for the 2018-19 campaign.

Report: Quade Green returning to Kentucky

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John Calipari just landed a critical recruit for 2018-19, and he was already on the roster.

Quade Green, who averaged 25 minutes per game last season, is returning to Kentucky for his sophomore season, his mother told the Lexington Herald-Leader on Monday.

Given that six Wildcat players have entered the draft (Kevin Knox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Hami Diallo are signing with agents), getting the 6-foot point guard back for a second season is a massive deal for Calipari and Co. The Wildcats have always been at their best under Calipari with returning players as the cornerstones of the roster with talented one-and-dones providing the extra boost. Getting one such returner at the point guard position is even more critical.

Green, who came to Kentucky as a five-star recruit last year, averaged 9.3 points and 2.7 assists per game while shooting 45.1 percent from the field and a respectable 37.1 percent from 3-point range, an area where Kentucky continually needs help.

With Green back in the fold, Kentucky will now await the decisions of PJ Washington, Wenyen Gabriel and Jarred Vanderbilt, who are all going through the pre-draft process without hiring agents, which will potentially allow them to return to school and bolster a Kentucky roster has the look of a top-five team.

CBT Podcast: NBA Draft Early Entry Deadline: Winners, losers and who has the most on the line?

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The NBA Draft Early Entry Deadline came and went on Sunday night, meaning there are now roughly 60 college players that have signed with an agent and another 100 or so that have declared for the draft while retaining their college eligibility. Who were the winners? Who were the losers? Who has the most on the line? Sam Vecenie of the Game Theory podcast joined Rob Dauster to talk through all of it. The rundown:

OPEN: What do NBA teams value in players these days?

10:00: Villanova has more on the line during this testing the water process than anyone

19:00: Just how important was De’Andre Hunter’s decision to return to Virginia

25:25: Gonzaga getting Rui and Killian Tillie back makes them a title favorite

32:10: Nevada has a top ten season on the line with the Martin twins and Jordan Caroline

36:15: #RANTALERT – The decision to turn pro is so much more complicated than “is he a first round pick”

48:30: Rapid fire: Maryland, Kansas, Syracuse, Nebraska, Purdue and Michigan. What do they have on the line?

North Carolina’s Luke Maye declaring for NBA draft without hiring agent

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina junior Luke Maye has declared for the NBA draft but isn’t hiring an agent.

The 6-foot-8 forward was a third-team Associated Press All-American after averaging 16.9 points and 10.1 rebounds. He was named the Atlantic Coast Conference’s most improved player after increasing his scoring average by 11.4 points from his sophomore to junior seasons.

Coach Roy Williams says in a statement that it’s ”a great opportunity” for Maye to work out for NBA teams and get feedback on what to improve in his game.

The deadline for college players to declare early for the draft was Sunday night. Players who don’t hire an agent can maintain their college eligibility as long as they withdraw by May 30, which is 10 days after the NBA draft combine.

Gonzaga star undergoes surgery on his shoulder

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The most important players for Gonzaga heading into the 2018-19 season will have an offseason dedicated to rehabilitation.

Josh Perkins, Gonzaga’s starting point guard, underwent surgery on Friday to repair a shoulder that he injured back in December. According to the Spokesman-Review, Perkins expects to be healthy and ready to play by the start of next season.

Perkins averaged 12.3 points and 5.3 assists during the 2017-18 season despite playing through those shoulder issues. After December’s win over Washington, a game in which Perkins left wincing in pain and clutching his shoulders, Perkins said “Just popped out a little bit. It’s not very strong right now, but everything is good.”

For my money, Perkins is the player that is going to be the x-factor for the Zags next season. They have a terrific front court with Rui Hachimura and Killian Tillie returning, and with the likes of Zach Norvell and Corey Kispert back, there is plenty of talent on the wings. Perkins, the senior point guard, is the blue that is going to be needed to hold it all together.

Gonzaga is a top five team heading into next year. They have national title aspirations. Perkins might end up being the guy that determines whether they live up to those goals or get knocked out of the field in the Sweet 16.