Loyola did something only true believers could have imagined possible at this school. It’s been proven possible for Valley teams to have March success. But there was no reason to believe Loyola was the school to return the Valley to a Final 4 so soon after losing Creighton and Wichita State. Quite frankly, before Porter Moser got there and even after, no one thought this possible. They were a very good team this season but out of all the recent 11-seeds to make a Final 4, Loyola was the luckiest. A buzzer beater over Miami, a late bucket over Tennessee, drawing the 7 and 9 seed in the regionals helped a lot. They won their first 3 games of the tournament by 4 points but to their credit, they kicked the door down Saturday night handling a Kansas State team who can frustrate any and all opponents. My hunch is, this is a fluky George Mason like run versus a Butler or VCU run. Butler and VCU had tasted some March success before a Final 4. Whatever the case, Loyola owes no one an apology and will not be a pushover for Michigan.
Speaking of Michigan, like Loyola, they owe their Final 4 to a stroke of luck as Jordan Poole saved their season with a buzzer beater over Houston. They also got help from Leonard Hamilton who inexplicably called off the dogs late Saturday despite Michigan being a woeful FT shooting team. Doesn’t matter, they’re in the Final 4 for the second time under John Beilein and 10th time overall. Win or lose this weekend, John Beilein has established his reputation as one of the great college coaches of all time. He adapts to fit his personnel and fixes his deficiencies. His hiring of Luke Yaklich as an assistant was the best coaching move of the past year. Brian texted me calling Michigan, “Virginiaesque”. Nah, they’re closer to Wisconsin but without the grabbing, flopping and undercutting.
Of all the Final 4 participants, Villanova was the one where some luck wasn’t needed. Oh, there was some involved. They drew West Virginia and Texas Tech, teams that love to foul and Villanova will eat your dead at the line. Jay Wright now has 3 Final 4’s under his belt and makes Tom Oates look like an idiot. As great as Rollie was, Jay Wright has established himself as the best coach in Nova history.
Finally, Kansas rode the brilliance of Malik Newman (pats self on back) past Duke. Duke avoided heading west where UNC got trounced by Texas A&M but looking back, they would have had an easier path to a Final 4. Instead, they ended up in the Midwest and basically played a road game in a regional final. As they say, them’s the breaks. It won’t make Brian feel any better, but that was a fantastic game where no one deserved to lose. Bill Self takes a lot of criticism but I thought he had a great game plan yesterday. He threw double teams at Duke’s bigs forcing the guards to beat them and Trevon Duval was almost up to the task. On offense, KU was patient and got a lot of good look 3’s and enough lobs to force Duke to defend the rim. Players have to execute and KU did. That’s a credit to Self and his staff. Duke played a great game and lost. It happens. It sucks, but I saw a group of kids that left it all on the court and despite idiotic proclamations about the folly of one-and-dones, the kids that have gone through Duke have always given effort and looked like great teammates. The criticism of Coach K is petty jealousy. If you think that team was bad for college basketball, you’re an idiot.
Finally, a lot of Badger fans took satisfaction in Grayson Allen’s career ending. That’s fine. He has a national title at the expense of the best team in Badgers history. Enjoy that big win yesterday.