Isaiah Hicks, the unlikely hero, leads North Carolina to title-game win

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GLENDALE, Ariz. — The coldest man in college basketball was the hero on Monday night.

North Carolina’s Isaiah Hicks had missed 15 of the first 17 shots that he took in the Final Four. He made the last four, including a basket with 25 seconds left on the clock to give North Carolina a 68-65 lead. One possession earlier, with 1:25 left in the game, Gonzaga’s star point guard and all-american Nigel Williams-Goss rolled his right ankle. On the ensuing possession, after the Zags used a time out, he missed a pull-up jumper and after Hicks bucket, Williams-Goss had a shot blocked by Kennedy Meeks. On the previous two possessions, Williams-Goss had scored.

North Carolina would go on to win 71-65, earning a national title almost a year to the day after they had their hearts broken by Kris Jenkins’ buzzer-beating, title-winning three.

“It felt like last game I was trying and nothing was going in. Everybody was saying I was frustrated; thought I was frustrated and everything,” Hicks said. “But I really wanted it. It’s all about the next thing. And tonight I just really wanted to get after it.”

The story of the game ended up being the referees. There were 43 fouls called on the night, 26 of them coming in the second half. Both teams were in the bonus with 14 minutes left in the second half, a half where there were 23 fouls called in the first 15 minutes and every big man on the floor played their way into foul trouble. It took all the rhythm out of the game and played a pretty big role in why neither team was able to find a groove offensively. At one point, with seven minutes left in the half, the two teams had combined to shoot 11-for-42 from the floor.

“It’s a very difficult game to call. I’m sitting over there, I’m not thinking the officials are doing a terrible job. I swear to goodness, that’s not what I’m thinking. I’m thinking our offense stinks,” North Carolina head coach Roy Williams said. “I mean, serious. I told them don’t worry about what the referee is doing, he missed a call, but, my God, we missed four free throws in a row, missed layups. So we were at fault just as much as anybody else.”

Hicks changed the game in the second half. He had spent the first 60 minutes of the Final Four playing abysmal basketball, shooting 2-for-17 from the floor while shooting with the kind of confidence that Karl Malone with have. Three minutes into the second half, he committed an awful turnover that ended an 8-0 North Carolina run and set the Zags up for an 8-0 run of their own, a surge that ended what felt like a game-changing swing of momentum at the start of the second half.

But Hicks finally found the rhythm down the stretch. He had three huge buckets midway through the half, a stretch where North Carolina’s offense went ice cold, and scored the bucket to put the Tar Heels up three with 25 seconds left.

“Isaiah made, I think, I don’t have the stat — I have a stat sheet but I don’t have play-by-play. Things have been swirling around,” Williams said. “But, I think Isaiah made two big baskets in the last three minutes. And I think that that was just a youngster willing the ball in the hole, because he had stunk it up for the last couple of weeks most of the time.”

Josh Perkins was averaging 5.2 points and shooting 34.8 percent from the floor in the first five games of the NCAA tournament, but his play buoyed Gonzaga in the first half, scoring 13 points — more than he’s scored in any game since Feb. 23rd, a total he eclipsed just twice since Christmas — and helping Gonzaga jump out to an early nine-point lead, but the Zags, overall, did not play all that well in the first 20 minutes. They entered the break up just 35-32 despite the fact that Berry and Jackson combined to shoot just 5-for-16 from the floor; Jackson was 0-for-6 from three.

As a team, the Tar Heels posted their second-worst shooting first half of the season at 30.6 percent; the loser was their blowout loss at Miami in February.

“26-for-73, you’re not going to win many games; 57 percent from the free-throw line you’re not going to win many games,” Jackson said. “But those last three minutes I think we made plays that ended up calling the game. And for us we’re just happy we came out on top, and this is an amazing feeling.”

North Carolina did, however, win the battle of the big men in the first half, as both Karnowski and Collins picked up two fouls in the first 20 minutes. Karnowski went 0-for-4 in the half, turning the ball over three times, while Collins lasted all of eight minutes before getting into foul trouble. Meeks, fresh off his 25-point, 14-rebound performance against Oregon in the Final Four, had just four points and five boards and Hicks’ struggles continued, as he went 1-for-5 in the half, but getting the Gonzaga bigs out of the game is what opened up the offensive glass and allowed UNC to get back into the game. The Tar Heels had three offensive boards in the first 16 minutes; they had five in the final four and took the lead back within the first 30 seconds of the second half.

Trae Jefferson to transfer out of Texas Southern

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Texas Southern guard and NCAA tournament darling Trae Jefferson announced on Saturday that he’s leaving the school.

The 5-foot-7 Jefferson was sensational at times during his sophomore season with the Tigers as he put up 23.1 points, 4.6 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game, helping lead Texas Southern to a victory in the 2018 NCAA Tournament’s First Four in Dayton over North Carolina Central. One of the most entertaining talents in college basketball, Jefferson is leaving Texas Southern in-part because former head coach Mike Davis took the job at Detroit this offseason.

While Detroit is going to be the favorite to land Jefferson, because of his connection to Davis, it’ll be interesting to see what his transfer market looks like. Jefferson also made it clear on his Twitter page that he would like to be closer to his hometown of Milwaukee so that he can be closer to his ailing grandfather.

Given NCAA transfer rules, Jefferson would likely have to sit out next season before getting two more years of eligibility. But he could be applying for a waiver if he’s trying to be closer to home to deal with his family situation.

Nevada’s Josh Hall transfers to Missouri State

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Nevada lost a talented player from last season’s team as rising junior Josh Hall opted to transfer to Missouri State on Friday night.

The 6-foot-7 Hall is a former top-150 recruit who played a key part in the Wolf Pack’s postseason run as he elevated his play to average 13 points and 4.7 rebounds per game during the 2018 NCAA Tournament. Hall also made the game-winning bucket to lift Nevada past No. 2 seed Cincinnati in the second round.

Although Hall picked up his play late in the year, he was coming off the bench most of his sophomore campaign as he averaged 6.9 points and 3.9 rebounds per game last season.

Since Nevada took in some talented transfers, while players like Jordan Caroline and the Martin twins opted not to turn pro, it left head coach Eric Musselman with too many scholarship players for the 2018-19 season. It looks like some of those issues are now going away as Hall is leaving for Missouri State and graduate transfer guard Ehab Amin opted to decommit from the school.

Nevada is expected to be a preseason top-10 team next season with all of the talent they have returning to the roster, along with the addition of some new pieces like McDonald’s All-American big man Jordan Brown.

Hall will likely have to sit out next season due to NCAA transfer rules as he still has two years of eligibility remaining.

Chris Webber accepts Jim Harbaugh’s invitation to be honorary Michigan football captain

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The frosty relationship between Chris Webber and the University of Michigan could be thawing — thanks to an invitation from football head coach Jim Harbaugh.

On Friday, Harbaugh called in to WTKA’s “The M Zone” as show host Jamie Morris had Webber on the show. Harbaugh offered Webber the opportunity to be an honorary captain for the Michigan football team next season, to which Webber replied that he would love the opportunity.

Webber, a former member of the “Fab Five” who helped the Wolverines to two consecutive NCAA tournament title-game appearances in 1992 and 1993, has not associated directly with the school, or with other members of the Fab Five, for many years.

The NCAA mandated that Webber and Michigan not associate with one another for 10 years after the Ed Martin booster scandal. Webber has always been reluctant to participate in anything Michigan or Fab Five related. When the famous Fab Five documentary was made a few years ago, Webber was the only member of the quintet not to participate in the making of the film. Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson all have a solid relationship with the University of Michigan at this point.

Webber later criticized the film during an appearance on the Dan Patrick Show, as King and Rose fired back with responses to reignite the feud. In the past, Rose has also been vocal in his belief that Webber should apologize for what happened at Michigan, as the group is hoping to move forward.

Although Webber still isn’t mending fences with the other Fab Five members, or the basketball program, returning to Michigan in some kind of official capacity is a big deal considering his past with the school.

Harbaugh and Webber haven’t decided on a game for next season yet as that will be something to watch for over the next several months.

Akoy Agau returning to Louisville as graduate transfer

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Louisville received a boost to its frontcourt rotation on Friday as former big man Akoy Agau will return to the Cardinals as a graduate transfer.

The 6-foot-8 Agau originally committed and enrolled at Louisville for a season and a half to begin his college hoops career before transferring to Georgetown. After leaving the Hoyas to play at SMU last season, Agau received a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA after battling injury for much of his career.

Agau gives Louisville an experienced forward who should earn some solid minutes next season. With the Mustangs during the 2017-18 season, Agau averaged 5.0 points and 3.6 rebounds per game in 16.1 minutes per contest.

While this isn’t the biggest splash for the Cardinals, they have plenty of scholarships to use for next season as new head coach Chris Mack tries to find a stable rotation. Getting a graduate transfer like Agau, who should be familiar with the school and the conference at the very least, is a nice step for a one-year placeholder.

NCAA President Mark Emmert got a $500,000 raise in 2016

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NCAA president Mark Emmert, the man in charge of a non-profit association that doesn’t have enough money to pay its laborers, received a $500,000 raise for the 2016 calendar year, bringing his total income to more than $2.4 million, according to an NCAA tax return that was obtained by USA Today.

That number actually pales in comparison to the salaries that are received by the commissioners of the Power 5 conferences.

But there’s not enough money to pay the players.

Nope.

Everyone is broke.

Carry on with your day, and pray for the well-being of NCAA administrators like Mark Emmert, whose salary is in no way whatsoever inflated by amateurism, which allows the schools and the NCAA to bank all of the advertising revenue that college basketball and football brings in and bars the players themselves from accessing that money.