Rolling toward Saturday with 50 things to know about the four national semifinalists. Some items are about the game, such as Phil Booth being one of Villanova’s most reliable players. Some are not, such as the amazing tale of the Michigan kid who survived two plane crashes. Enjoy the hoops.
1 Loyola’s Donte Ingram, who played at Chicago’s renowned Simeon High School with Jabari Parker, joined Twitter just a few weeks ago after getting saluted by Chance the Rapper in a tweet following Ingram’s game-winning shot to beat Miami in the first round.
2 Other notable Simeon alums include Derrick Rose, Nick Anderson, former Phillies outfielder Wes Chamberlain and former Phillies first-round pick Jeff Jackson – known forever as the guy the Phillies drafted instead of Frank Thomas.
3 Loyola has five players who average double figures in points and they shoot 50.9 percent from the field as a team. During the NCAAs – when the competition is much stiffer – they’ve shot 52.5 percent. Impressive.
4 Michigan coach John Beilein’s mother was cousins with the Niland family, which sent four siblings to World War II and helped inspire the film, “Saving Private Ryan.” Bob and Preston Niland died during the Normandy invasion, Edward was a Japanese POW who falsely was presumed dead and Fritz was the Niland brother sent home shortly after D-Day.
5 All four teams won their conference tournaments: Loyola (Missouri Valley), Villanova (Big East), Kansas (Big 12) and Michigan (Big Ten).
6 A bunch of Loyola players ran into some fans at the team hotel in Atlanta after they won the South Region. One fan, not knowing that Clayton Custer was the Ramblers’ leading scorer, asked Custer to snap a photo.
7 Kansas’ largest deficit of the NCAA tournament was the 10 points by which it trailed Penn in the first half of their first-round game.
8 Random sampling of where some NBA mock draft sites have Mikal Bridges going (if he decides to forgo his senior season): NBADraft.net – 13; SI.com – 8; CBSSports.com – 10; MyNBADraft.com – 12.
9 Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman will set the Michigan career record for games played on Saturday with No. 143. He’s currently tied with Zak Irvin (2014-17) and Jordan Morgan (2011-14). Abdur-Rahkman has played in 137 consecutive games.
10 Loyola is the seventh team seeded ninth or lower to make it to the Final Four. The previous six all lost in the semifinals. The Ramblers also are the fourth No. 11 – joining LSU (1986), George Mason (2006) and VCU (2011).
Lowest seeds to reach the Final Four. All lost in the semifinals.
|Year||Cinderella||Lost to …|
|2018||11-Loyola-Chicago||vs. 3-Michigan (Sat.)|
11 Jalen Brunson was rated the 16th-best recruit by ESPN among the class of 2014-15. Ben Simmons was first, Brandon Ingram third, Jaylen Brown fourth and Malik Newman was 10th.
12 Brunson is the only player remaining from the academic All-America teams. A second-team selection, the junior point guard’s grade-point average (3.34) is among twice his turnover average (1.76).
13 Kansas’ Devonte’ Graham figures to be Brunson’s biggest challenger for the Naismith Award for national player of the year, which will be announced Sunday. Arizona’s Deandre Ayton and Duke’s Marvin Bagley are the other finalists. A Villanova player has never won the award.
14 Graham’s 279 assists are a single-season school record, pretty impressive given all the terrific point guards who have played for the Jayhawks over the years. He’s also fourth in made threes in a single season with 106.
15 Teammate Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk set the KU single-season record for threes on Sunday. He has 114. His name is pronounced: svee-AT-uh-slahv muh-KIE-luke. Guess how many languages he speaks. Three: Ukrainian, Russian and English.
16 For comparison, here are the other teams’ leaders in threes made this season – Mikal Bridges, Villanova, 99; Duncan Robinson, Michigan, 76; Donte Ingram, Loyola 74.
Final Four Schedule (All on TBS)
|Michigan vs. Loyola-Chicago, 6:09 p.m.||Michigan -5/129.5|
|Villanova vs. Kansas, 8:49 p.m.||Villanova -5/155.5|
|Semifinal winners, 9:20 p.m.|
17 Villanova needs to make seven three-pointers to break the all-time single-season team record of 442 made by VMI in 2006-07. That Keydets team went 14-19 and finished sixth in the Big South. It shot 32.0 percent from three. Villanova has made 44.0 percent of its threes.
18 Michigan’s basketball and ice hockey teams are in the final four of the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time in school history (1964, 1992, 1993). The basketball team did not win the title those years. The hockey team won it in 1964.
19 Current winning streaks: Loyola 14, Michigan 13, Villanova 9, Kansas 7.
20 Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt, Loyola’s 98-year-old team chaplain and good-luck charm, taught grade school in Hollywood after becoming a nun in 1940. Among her students were the children of Frank Sinatra and Bob Hope. She’s been the team’s chaplain since 1994.
21 Loyola coach Porter Moser first met Sister Jean when he was hired in 2013. “She gave me a high-five when I walked into the [introductory] press conference,” the coach told the Chicago Tribune. “And five hours later, I got an email from her evaluating every single current player on the roster.”
22 Michigan’s inspirational answer to Sister Jean is student assistant Austin Hatch, who survived the TWO plane crashes which claimed the rest of his family. Injuries forced him to end his playing career, but he still helps out at practices, travels with the team and keeps the players upbeat.
23 ”If you would’ve told me 6 1/2 years ago when I was in a hospital and couldn’t walk that I would be getting ready to graduate from Michigan, that I was getting married to the woman of the dreams, that I would’ve had an incredible experience in four years at Michigan,” Hatch told Steve Kornacki of the team’s website MGoBlue.com, “I’d have been like, ‘You’re crazy.’ I’m here to tell you [being at Michigan has] been better than I even could’ve imagined.” Talk about perspective.
24 Kansas has won three national championships. Its most recent was in 2008, the last time San Antonio hosted the Final Four. Connecticut (2004) and Kentucky (1998) also won championships in San Antone.
25 Villanova and Loyola are 4-0 against the spread in the tournament, Michigan is 2-1-1, Kansas is 2-2. Many who had Michigan -4.5 against Florida State will point out quite angrily that the Wolverines are 2-2 ATS. The consensus line was -4, however. Sorry about that.
Against the spread
26 Kansas sophomore Malik Newman, the hero of the Elite Eight game with a career-high 32 points (13 in overtime), is the first Mississippi native to play at Kansas. Newman started his college career at Mississippi State and sat out last season after transferring.
27 Michigan point guard Zavier Simpson’s struggles at the free-throw line are borderline bizarre. He shot 77 percent as a high school senior, 71 percent last year (22-31) as a freshman, but is just 51.1 percent this season. He hit 10 of 12 in two games during the Big Ten tournament and 3 of 10 in the other two. He’s 3 for 7 in the NCAAs.
28 During Loyola’s 1963 championship season, the only other time the Ramblers were in the Final Four, they beat Mississippi State in a regional semifinal known as the “Game of Change.” Loyola, with a predominantly black lineup, beat the all-white Rebels, who were threatened by Mississippi Gov. Ross Barnett not to compete.
29 While “Game of Change” may be a little overstated, it was a modest step during the explosive civil-rights era. “They were perfect gentlemen — just like any other team we played,” Mississippi State captain Joe Dan Gold said to the Associated Press afterward. “They beat us on the offensive backboards. They just had too many big men for us and they won it by taking all those rebounds.”
30 Gold’s pregame and postgame handshakes with Loyola captain Jerry Harkness had to be earth-shaking to segregationists down south.
31 “I love that this run is sparking the renewed conversation of what that team meant to our country and integration,” Loyola coach Porter Moser said last week, “and to hear the stories firsthand from them and to hear the brotherhood that they had, the black guys, the white guys, everyone together. It was a brotherhood, it was a high character. They embraced the Loyola education.”
32 In winning the West Region, third-seeded Michigan beat teams seeded 14th (Montana), sixth (Houston), seventh (Texas A&M) and ninth (Florida State). They get 11th-seeded Loyola in Saturday’s Final Four. Jordan Poole beat Houston with a shot that is eerily similar to a game-winner he hit in high school.
Jordan Poole practiced this shot in high schoolpic.twitter.com/rrvPHeJXvN
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 18, 2018
33 Villanova (34-4) will set the school record for victories in a season with two more, breaking the mark set by the 2016 championship team. Not that anyone will care, if confetti is raining down on them for the second time in three years.
34 Kansas had lost in the Elite Eight the last two years before breaking through with a win over Duke that needed overtime. The Jayhawks’ loss two years ago was to Villanova.
35 “Everything we’ve been through … we do it for moments like this,” Kansas’ Graham said. “Especially after the last two years, getting over the hump. It just feels [perfect].”
— Devonte' Graham (@Devonte_Graham4) March 26, 2018
36 The four teams are a combined 43-1 in neutral-site games this season. Villanova is 13-0, Kansas 10-0, Loyola 9-0 and Michigan 11-1. The Wolves’ loss was to LSU in the Maui Invitational.
37 Freshman Billy Preston, a McDonald’s All-American who went to four high schools, left Kansas in January without ever playing a game. He was suspended amid murky compliance issues and chose to play professionally in Europe to prepare for the NBA draft.
38 Preston played in just three games in Bosnia before developing a shoulder injury, according to ESPN, and is now in basketball limbo. Think about him and others left by the curbside when the “One Shining Moment” video plays on Monday night.
39 Michigan scored 99 points in its Sweet 16 win over Texas A&M and 58 in the Elite Eight over Florida State.
40 In the seven games Phil Booth missed with a broken hand, Villanova’s defense allowed an average of 77.9 points per game. In the 31 he’s played, they give up 70.3. They are 5-2 without him, 29-2 with him.
41 Booth shot 10 for 13 in the two Final Four games two years ago, including 4 for 4 from distance. His 20 points in the championship game led the Wildcats. Now that’s clutch.
42 Michigan super-sub Duncan Robinson also played in the Final Four in 2013, but it was with Division III Williams College. He transferred to Ann Arbor when his coach, Mike Maker, took the Marist job. Maker, a former assistant to Beilein at West Virginia, then recommended Robinson, who is averaging 9.5 and was the Big Ten’s sixth man of the year. As best as Michigan can determine, Robinson is the first Division III player to transfer to D-I and receive a major scholarship.
43 Loyola won at Florida in December and on its way to the Final Four beat teams from the ACC (Miami), SEC (Tennessee) and Big 12 (Kansas State), in addition to Nevada, which won the Mountain West regular-season crown.
44 Kansas’ mountainous center Udoka Azubuike (7-foot, 280 pounds) leads the nation in field-goal shooting at a staggering 77.2 percent. He misses a little less than two shots per game.
45 Azubuike, born in Nigeria, sat out the Big 12 Tournament with a sprained left MCL, but has played in the NCAAs. He missed last year’s postseason with a wrist injury. His pronunciation: ew-DOE-kuh az-uh-BOO-kee.
46 Michigan last played in the Final Four in 2013, losing to Louisville in the title game. It’s where starting center Moritz Wagner first saw the Wolverines. Wagner was a teenage prospect for his hometown German club Alba Berlin.
47 One of Wagner’s former teammates at Alba was Reggie Redding, the former St. Joseph’s Prep star who played at Villanova from 2006-10. Wagner maintained his amateur status while playing with the pros over in Germany.
48 Wagner averaged 2.9 points as a freshman and saw less than nine minutes per game. Two years later, he’s at 14.3 points per game and being compared to a poor man’s Dirk Nowitzki and is projected by many to be a first-round pick if he leaves.
49 Loyola’s Clayton Custer and Ben Richardson have been teammates since they were in third grade. Custer was the Missouri Valley Conference player of the year and Richardson was the South Region MVP.
50 “We’re just a bunch of guys that everybody laughed at … when we [said] we were going to play Division I basketball,” Custer explained after clinching the Final Four berth. “Nobody thought we could do any of this.”