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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.

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.”