Michigan rallied from a 10-point deficit to end Loyola-Chicago’s miraculous run with a 69-57 victory to reach the national championship, then watched Villanova destroy Kansas, 95-79, in the nightcap Saturday evening. Here’s a few takeaways from the national semifinals ahead of Monday night’s title game between the Wolverines and Wildcats.
Villanova put on a shooting clinic in win over Kansas: Just six days after posting its worst shooting performance in three years in a win over Texas Tech in the East Region final, Villanova responded as only it could in Saturday’s Final Four nightcap against Kansas. In a dominant 95-79 win over the Jayhawks, the Wildcats tied a Final Four single-game record with 13 three-pointers — in the first half alone.
It finished with 18-made three-pointers overall, just short of the tournament record of 21 hit by Loyola Marymount in 1989 against Michigan. Villanova entered the Final Four with 436 made-three-pointers on the season — including 44 three-pointers in the first three games of the tournament, the most ever in that stretch — so Saturday wasn’t necessarily a surprise. Villanova’s leader, Big East Player of the Year Jalen Brunson, finished with 18 points and was one of six players to hit multiple three-pointers as Villanova set the new Division I single-season record for made three-pointers in a season, per ESPN.
But the most impressive part was the clinic that Villanova’s big men put on. Eric Paschall finished with 24 points on 10-for-11 shooting; Omari Spellman had 15 on 6-for-15 shooting from the field and 13 rebounds. The frontcourt tandem hit a combined 7-for-14 from three-point range and provided a stark reminder why the Wildcats are often so impossible to defend with their small-ball lineup. Michigan is among the best defensive teams in the country, ranking third in adjusted defensive efficiency according to kenpom.com, but how they handle Villanova’s big men and defend the three-point line will be pivotal in the national championship game.
Moe Wagner joins exclusive company: Speaking of big men that can stretch the floor, Wagner’s performance not only saved the Wolverines from a 10-point deficit and a major upset on Saturday, but his 24 points and 15 rebounds made him just third player to finish with more than 20 points and 15 rebounds in a national semifinal game, joining Akeem Olajuwon (1983) and Larry Bird (1979). Wagner will likely need to produce a similar performance Monday night as his team makes its first national championship appearance since 2013, especially given that he thrives on pick-and-pop opportunities and Villanova will try to exploit that by switching screens with their ultra-quick lineup. Here is Wagner’s decisive shot on Saturday with just over three minutes remaining.
Michigan’s backcourt must show up in title game: The Wolverines’ duo of Zavier Simpson and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman combined to go 2-for-17 (0-for-8 from three) for seven points against Loyola-Chicago; Simpson was particularly awful on the offensive end, finishing scoreless on 0-for-6 shooting with four of his team’s 11 turnovers. It was the first time since mid-February that Simpson was held scoreless, and the first time since early January that he committed at least four turnovers. The pace will be different Monday, but both will have to bounce back against their toughest assignment of the season in Brunson and Booth.
Loyola Chicago’s run will not be forgotten: The Ramblers, looking to become the first in a tiny fraternity of No. 11 seeds to break through and win the national championship, captivated the country for several weeks with their improbable run to the Final Four before faltering down the stretch to Wagner and Michigan on Saturday. That led to an outpouring of tributes on Twitter and elsewhere, thanking the Ramblers for providing a bright spot for a sport that has been dominated by headlines of corruption all season.
Here’s The Post’s Jerry Brewer on Loyola’s contribution after Saturday loss: “For the past three weeks, the Ramblers made it okay to be unapologetically overjoyed about a college basketball team, something the unbiased observer couldn’t be sure was possible when this tournament started. It wasn’t just fun. It was uplifting. It was the best of a dirty game, evidence that college basketball has a soul that can be saved. ”
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