2018 Final Four Preview: No. 3 Michigan vs. No. 11 Loyola-Chicago

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The first game of this weekend’s Final Four will feature the an outsider that crashed the final weekend of the college basketball season: No. 11 seed Loyola-Chicago taking on No. 3 seed Michigan. 

This is the first Final Four for Porter Moser and the second for John Beilein, but both, with a win, will be playing for their first national title on Monday night.

Here is everything you need to know about the Final Four opener:

THREE KEY MATCHUPS

1. WHAT DOES LOYOLA DO ABOUT MO WAGNER: Wagner is the ultimate mismatch for anyone that Michigan comes up against.

At 6-foot-10, Wagner is Michigan’s starting center, and this season, he really has embraced that role on both ends of the floor. Zavier Simpson has been influential in Michigan’s defensive renaissance, as has the fact that this Wolverine team is far more athletic than any John Beilein team of the past. We can’t dismiss the impact that defensive coordinator Luke Yaklich’s arrival has had, either, but Wagner’s emergence as an elite defensive rebounder has certainly played as big of a role as any. You can’t get stops if you can’t end possessions with a defensive rebound.

But it’s on the offensive end of the floor where he causes so many problems. The Dirk Nowitzki comparisons are probably unfair — you can’t just go around putting a borderline first round pick in the same conversation as an all-time great — but it’s easy to see why they are made. Both are German, both are really tall and both have the kind of guard skills that really tall people aren’t supposed to have. He makes threes. He puts the ball on the floor. He’s a pick-and-pop nightmare for defenses.

And when he gets hot, he changes everything.

How does Loyola, you know, keep him cold?

2. MICHIGAN’S DEFENSE AGAINST LOYOLA’S OFFENSE: I cannot make this point more emphatically: Michigan is a defensive monster. They all do things differently, but going strictly off of the numbers, the Wolverines are essentially the same as Virginia, Cincinnati and Texas Tech. They are teams that grind you down on the defensive end while doing just enough scoring to win basketball games.

How does Loyola deal with that?

Well, they just run their offense, I think.

The cliché is as old as time: Good offense beats good defense, and the best way to run good offense at the college level is to … run good offense. Loyola doesn’t really have any superstars. They don’t have a go-to guy the way that, say, Houston did. They have a bunch of dudes that can make shots and that understand how to execute what Porter Moser wants them to execute. I don’t know if teams that play a lot of iso-ball will be able to beat Michigan. Teams that run their stuff and get good shots out of their actions and counters probably can.

And for my money, that is where this game is going to be won or lost. Just how good will the shots be that Loyola is able to get?

3. WHO GUARDS CLAYTON CUSTER: Custer is the best player on this Michigan team, and while I know this is going to be contrary to everything I just said, but if Loyola gets to a point where they cannot actually get points off of their offense, Custer is the best bet to be able to create on his own.

Whether or not that will work is a different story, but he’s certainly good enough to carry them for stretches when those points may be harder to come by.

(Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

THE BEST STORY LINE

Loyola is just the fourth No. 11-seed to play in the Final Four. LSU made it in 1986. George Mason got there in 2006. VCU arrived in 2011 after playing in the First Four. But the one thing that all three of those teams have in common is that they lost once they arrived in the final weekend of the college basketball season.

Loyola has a chance to make history. The lowest-seeded team to ever play for a national title is a No. 8-seed. Villanova cut down the nets in 1985, playing the perfect game in a win over Big East rival Georgetown. In 2011, No. 8-seed Butler dispatched that Cinderella VCU team to get to the national title game where they lost to UConn, while No. 8-seed Kentucky also lost to the Huskies, who won the national title as a No. 7-seed in 2014.

And rest assured, Loyola has a very real chance to make the impossible a reality. They don’t come with the glitz and the glamour of some of college basketball’s best programs, but what they do works. They defend hard, they execute offensively and they have a number of guys that can end your season on any given night. Donte Ingram hit a game-winner in the first round. Clayton Custer hit one in the second round. Marques Townes hit the winner in the Sweet 16. Ben Richardson’s career-high 23 points was the difference in the Elite Eight.

Oh, and they have Sister Jean.

How long will the slipper fit?

AND THE WINNER WILL BE …

Michigan. I just think that they are too good defensively, and I don’t think that Wagner is going to have another performance like the one he had against Florida State.

Former Penn coach allegedly took bribes from potential recruit’s father

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Former Penn head coach Jerome Allen allegedly took bribes from a Miami businessman who wanted his son to get into the school as a “recruited basketball player” — increasing his chances to gain entry to the Ivy League school.

According to a report from Bloomberg’s Michael Smith, David Voreacos and Eben Novy-Williams, Allen was involved with Miami businessman Philip Esformes, who had a son, Morris, who was allegedly recruited by several Ivy League schools. When Philip Esformes was accused of health-care fraud, money laundering, conspiracy and bribery, the government uncovered more than $74,000 in gifts that Esformes gave to Allen in 2013 and 2014.

Allen is identified strictly as “Coach-2” in the indictment that alleges that he took multiple cash payments, paid trips from Philadelphia to Miami, and a private jet trip that included Allen, Esformes and his son. The benefits are alleged to be $74,558 — including three separate wired payments of $15,000, $20,000 and $18,000 to Allen from Esformes.

These alleged incidents took place in 2013 and 2014, when Allen was still head coach at Penn and Morris Esformes was a high school basketball player trying to make it to the Division I level. Esformes was eventually granted admission to Penn as he was allegedly going to be on the basketball team. But Allen was fired before Esformes enrolled at the school. So Esformes went to school at Penn, but he never played for the basketball team. Esformes is currently still a senior at Penn.

Allen has been an assistant coach under Brad Stevens with the Boston Celtics since leaving Penn in 2015. He hasn’t been criminally charged for any of these alleged benefits while the NCAA also hasn’t been involved with anything yet.

But this is yet another black eye on college basketball — and this time coming from a prestigious Ivy League institution. It shows that cheating and using leverage happens at all levels of Division I college basketball. Lately, the schools have been paying to get players. This shows there are instances of wealthy people attempting to gain influence through athletics.

This case at Penn is certainly a rare one. Esformes tried to exploit a loophole that would allow his son entry into a great school under the guise that he was a potential Division I-caliber basketball player. And Morris Esformes did end up at Penn — and seems to be doing well. So, this didn’t end poorly for Morris or Allen.

Since Allen is coaching at the NBA level, this likely won’t alter his coaching career, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see the NCAA get involved with Penn and Allen going forward.

Elite Class of 2020 point guard to reclassify

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Nico Mannion, a five-star point guard from Arizona, announced on Friday that he will be reclassifying into the Class of 2019.

Mannion was a top 20 player in 2020 but, according to 247 Sports, he will be ranked No. 11 in 2019. The athletic, 6-foot-3 Mannion was long-rumored to be considering a move up a class because of his age. He’ll turn 18 in March of next year, meaning that he’ll arrive on campus the same age as a typical college freshman.

Mannion cut his list to ten schools in June — Duke, Arizona, Villanova, Kansas, USC, UCLA, Oregon, Vanderbilt, Marquette and Utah — but Duke and Arizona appear to be the favorites at this point.

Mannion plays his high school ball for Pinnacle High School in Phoenix and with West Coast Elite on the Under Armour Association circuit. He played for Team USA’s youth ranks, but his mother is Italian and, in June, he was called up to the Italian men’s senior national team, scoring nine points in 29 minutes of a FIBA World Cup Qualifier.

Nebraska to lose junior big man to transfer

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Nebraska’s frontcourt depth took a blow on Thursday as junior big man Jordy Tshimanga informed the program that he will be transferring.

“Jordy called me tonight and asked for his release,” head coach Tim Miles said in a statement that was given to the Lincoln Journal-Star. “The University of Nebraska and our program wish Jordy and his family the best.”

Tshimanga averaged 4.0 points and 4.6 boards in 13 minutes this past season, and a source close to the program told NBC Sports he wasn’t expected to play much more than that this season.

Miles’ has spent the better part of the last two seasons on the hot seat, and this certainly doesn’t make his job easier, but with the talent the Cornhuskers have on their roster, they look like an NCAA tournament team already. They bring back their top four scorers, including former five-star prospect Isaac Copeland and potential first-team all-Big Ten wing James Palmer. With or without Tshimanga, Nebraska has a shot to finish top four in the Big Ten.

North Carolina, UCLA, Michigan State part of Las Vegas event

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — North Carolina, UCLA, Michigan State and Texas will play in an early season basketball tournament in Las Vegas.

The Las Vegas Invitational will include games at campus sites, then the final two rounds on Nov. 22-23 in Las Vegas. North Carolina takes on Texas in one semifinal, and Michigan State faces UCLA in the other.

UNC, UCLA and Michigan State are all top 20 teams in the NBC Sports preseason top 25.

The championship is Nov. 23, and the semifinal losers also play each other that day.

NCAA to study possible effects of widespread legal wagering

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The NCAA plans to study how the expansion of legalized betting could affect college athletics and member schools.

The NCAA announced Thursday it will create a working group of “subject matter experts” to assess areas such as officiating, NCAA rules, federal and state laws, and the use of integrity services. NCAA leadership has already called for federal regulation on sports betting. NCAA rules prohibit sports wagering by athletes and athletic department employees.

The Supreme Court opened the door for states to have legal wagering on sporting events when it struck down a federal ban in May. Schools in some states such as West Virginia, Mississippi and New Jersey are already exploring the possibility of collecting integrity fees in anticipation of legal sports books opening in their states.

“While we certainly respect the Supreme Court’s decision, our position on sports wagering remains,” said Donald Remy, NCAA chief legal officer. “With this new landscape, we must evolve and expand our long-standing efforts to protect both the integrity of competitions and the well-being of student-athletes.”

The NCAA Board of Governors has already suspended the association’s ban on holding championships in states with legalized sports betting, a policy that only affected Nevada.

“Legalized sports gambling across the country is rather new, but the NCAA and its members have committed significant resources over the years to policy, research and education around sports wagering,” said Joni Comstock, senior vice president of championships and alliances. “With student-athlete well-being as the centerpiece, we will continue to build upon these efforts to assist members as they adapt to legalized sports wagering in their states and regions.”