Villanova’s Brunson studied Dirk Nowitzki’s post moves

Villanova guard Jalen Brunson has won two major Player of the Year awards.

Villanova guard Jalen Brunson is an old soul in so many respects. The way he defers to his teammates. The way he studies the game.

The way he uses, as a point guard, post-up moves that would make some NBA centers take notice.

Named as the Player of the Year in college basketball by both the Associated Press and the U.S. Basketball Writers, Brunson will lead the Wildcats into the Final Four Saturday night against the Kansas Jayhawks.

He said Thursday that he developed his post game with help from his father, Rick Brunson, an assistant coach with the Minnesota Timberwolves and a former nine-year NBA veteran out of Temple.

But, surprisingly, Brunson said the player he watched and studied most wasn’t a guard.

“I know this is going to sound crazy,” Brunson told The JB Replay. “But I really like how (Dallas Mavericks center) Dirk Nowitzki plays in the post.

“I just love the way he uses his shot. He just finds the ways to use his footwork … for angles to make plays not just for himself, but for others.

“Honestly, I watched a lot of that, and my dad really helped me with that, to be able to use my footwork and to be able to use my mind to read a defense.

“To use my body to see how a defender’s playing. Its a culmination of all that.”

Villanova coach Jay Wright said coaches discovered Brunson’s effectiveness with his back to the basket in a drill “a couple of summers ago.”

“We put Jalen in there and … coaches started looking at each other like, ‘Wow, his post moves are incredible … we’re going with this, we’re using this.

“But then as he’s continued to develop, he loves it. And he loves to work at it, and his footwork is incredible.”

Sister Jean draws a crowd at press conference

Loyola-Chicago basketball team chaplain Jean Dolores Schmidt, known to fans worldwide as ‘Sister Jean,’ met with the media Friday morning in San Antonio.

The Ramblers will take on the Michigan Wolverines in the NCAA semifinals on Saturday at the Alamodome.

One question to Sister Jean centered on a comment from Mary Belle Hicks, the 100-year-old grandmother of former Michigan star Jalen Rose.

“Sister Jean, it’s been a good ride. But it’s over Saturday. Go Blue!” Hicks said in a video.

Sister Jean said she’s seen the video.

“I saw it on Facebook the other day,” she told reporters. “I also heard that she said she’s out to get me, so we’ll see.

“Somebody said, ‘Maybe you need a pair of boxing gloves,’ and
I said, ‘Well, we’ll see what happens.’

“I hope we see each other. I hope we meet there. I love to meet people.”

Sister Jean said it’s been a challenge to balance religious obligations with basketball on Easter weekend.

“It’s a real challenge, but we’re going to Good Friday service this afternoon because we have that nice break.

“We’re having a university Mass together on Easter Sunday – you know I said Easter Sunday because we hope to stay, and
we’re confident enough we will.

“And one of our Jesuits is coming down to say the Mass for us. It’s hard, though. We have to keep our minds in a quiet attitude as well, and I think we make that space, and that’s what we do at Loyola.

“We think about what we’re doing. We focus on what we do. That’s part of the team’s success.”

Loyola coach says ’98 NCAA title game loss haunted Majerus

Coach Porter Moser has led Loyola-Chicago to its first Final Four in 55 years.

In writing sports since the days of the 53-team NCAA Tournament, I’ve covered basketball for a good chunk of my career, but I never got a chance to meet the late Rick Majerus.

And really, all I can say about that is, it’s a damned shame.

From all accounts, Majerus was smart, funny and dedicated to his craft.

That’s why I got a kick out of listening to Loyola-Chicago coach Porter Moser Thursday at the NCAA Final Four media session.

Moser addressed a question about what a coincidence it is for his Loyola team to arrive in San Antonio 20 years after his mentor, Majerus, brought his Utah Utes to the city in 1998.

For Majerus, it was his one and only trip to the Final Four.

“I remember seeing coach Majerus in a white T-shirt that said, ‘Utah Utes,’ and his team walking out (to the court),” said Moser, who worked then at Texas A&M. “I remember going, ‘Holy Cow, look at how big that team (is).’ I remember seeing them at a restaurant on the River Walk.

“I remember that vividly.”

In 2007, the coaches’ careers intersected again. Majerus, then the head coach at Saint Louis, threw Moser a life line, of sorts.

Fired after four years as head coach at Illinois State, Moser joined Majerus as an assistant.

The two spent four years together, until another opportunity presented itself to Moser.

In 2011, Loyola handed him the head coaching job. Now, Moser has led the Ramblers to their first Final Four in 55 years.

Moser reminisced about his days at Saint Louis with Majerus, who died of heart failure in December 2012.

He was 64.

“Of all the things about coach, he remembers things,” Moser said. “There’s nothing that stuck in his craw more than losing that (1998) championship game to Kentucky. He could tell you every play. He could tell you everything.”

In the semifinals, the Andre Miller- and Michael Doleac-led Utes knocked off the North Carolina Tar Heels, 65-59. But in the finals, the Tubby Smith-coached Wildcats prevailed, 78-69.

“It physically bothered him to lose that game,” Moser said, “and he talked about it.”

Because the Loyola coach has looked up to Majerus so much, he said bringing his team to San Antonio this year is special.

He said people ask him often about what Majerus would say about the Ramblers, who have stormed through regional play as a No. 11 seed, all the way to San Antonio.

Loyola will play the Michigan Wolverines in the first of two NCAA semifinals Saturday.

“I think he’d love our team,” Moser said. “We share (the ball). I think he’d say we play the right way.”

The Ramblers will play the Michigan Wolverines in the first of two NCAA semifinals Saturday.

“We’ve got to be the first team in Final Four history to win the first four games with no dunks” Moser said. “It’s a stat I’m not proud of.

“But I think (coach Majerus) would be proud of our guys and how unselfish (they are) and how they share it.”

With two Catholic schools in Final Four spotlight, UIW rebuilds

Carson Cunningham started work this week as men’s basketball coach at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio.

The presence of the Loyola-Chicago Ramblers and the Villanova Wildcats at the NCAA Final Four this week serves as proof that small, Catholic schools can compete – and win – against larger, state-supported institutions.

On the other hand, the Division I basketball gods don’t always smile on the Catholic institutions.

If you doubt that, just call over to the athletic department at the University of the Incarnate Word and ask for new men’s basketball coach Carson Cunningham.

Cunningham, who has been on the job for only a few days, is busy trying to figure out how to correct problems that led to a 19-38 combined record the past two seasons.

UIW finished 7-21 last year and at one point lost 17 straight.

Asked about the nature of the rebuilding task at UIW, Cunningham said Tuesday afternoon that “we certainly have work to do.”

Which is precisely why UIW athletic director Brian Wickstrom wanted him in the first place.

Cunningham, a former starting point guard for Gene Keady at Purdue, has found success as a head coach at both Andrean High School in Merrillville, Indiana, and at NAIA Carroll College in Helena, Montana.

At Carroll, the Fighting Saints won only two games in 2012-13, the year before Cunningham arrived. In his last two seasons, they won 29 and 28, respectively.

“I have been through a rebuilding process before,” Cunningham said. “So, I’m confident we can build a program (at UIW) that alumni and current students and fans can be proud of and can celebrate. That’s certainly the goal.”

In Saturday’s national semifinals at the Alamodome, Loyola-Chicago will take on Michigan, before Philadelphia-based Villanova battles against Kansas.

Some might suggest that it’s a good omen for Cunningham that two Catholic schools from urban areas have advanced to play at the dome this week, his first on the job at UIW.

Though Cunningham smiled at the question, he wasn’t buying into that line of thinking. He just said it shows that every school has an opportunity to succeed with hard work.

“Being from Northwest Indiana and having lived in Chicago for several years, you know, I know Loyola and its background and kind of its general story quite well,” he said. “To think that it’s in the Final Four in 2018 is unbelievable.

“I think it just represents opportunity. It’s not easy. What they’re doing is out of this world, and I’m sure they feel great about it, as they should.”

A former history teacher at DePaul, in Chicago, Cunningham said “it’s awesome” that Loyola’s 98-year-old chaplain, Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, is getting recognized for her many years of service to the school.

“I think it just serves as a motivator to us,” Cunningham said. “I know, really, so many people across the nation are awed by Sister Jean’s story, and I think it’s a great representation of what Catholic higher education is, at the heart.”

UIW doesn’t have the resources to match Villanova, which plays in the powerful Big East Conference.

Even though UIW has recorded a few important victories on the basketball court over the past few years under former coach Ken Burmeister, the program lacks the tradition of a Villanova or a Loyola-Chicago, which have both won NCAA titles.

Still, UIW does have the tradition of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, brave souls who came to Texas in 1869 to help set up a hospital to treat victims of cholera, Cunningham said.

The coach also pointed out the accomplishments of Sister Walter Maher, the vice president for Mission and Ministry at UIW, whose background includes work as an administrator in the CHRISTUS Healthcare system.

Like Sister Jean, Sister Walter works with UIW athletes.

Cunningham said it’s important in starting to build his program that it “wave the banner” for Sister Walter and for those who came before her.

“That’s deeply motivating to know that we are part of that story,” the coach said. “Even if it’s just through basketball, we can at least be connected to that larger mission. Again, that’s a great honor.”

Final Four glance: Loyola, Michigan, Villanova, Kansas

Welcome to the NCAA Final Four in San Antonio, from The JB Replay.

The NCAA Final Four is set to tip off Saturday at the Alamodome, with Loyola-Chicago playing Michigan at 5:09 p.m. Villanova takes on Kansas in the second of two national semifinals at 7:49. Here’s a quick glance at each team:

Loyola-Chicago Ramblers

Coach: Porter Moser
Conference: Missouri Valley
Record: 32-5
Streak: Won 14 in a row and 21 of 22

NCAA road to San Antonio: Beat Miami, 64-62; beat Tennessee, 63-62; beat Nevada, 69-68; beat Kansas State, 78-62.

Reasons to believe: With a 98-year-old nun known as Sister Jean cheering them on, the Ramblers called on different players to hit game-deciding shots in the last 10 seconds of their first three tournament games. Loyola then won going away against Kansas State.

Michigan Wolverines

Coach: John Beilein
Conference: Big Ten
Record: 32-7
Streak: Won 13 in a row and 15 of 16

NCAA road to San Antonio: Beat Montana, 61-47; beat Houston, 64-63; beat Texas A&M, 99-72; beat Florida State, 58-54.

Reasons to believe: Wolverines play tough defense, yielding only 63 points per game. Most of their games are of the grind-it-out style, but they can play fast, as evidenced by a 99-point explosion against Texas A&M in the Sweet 16.

Villanova Wildcats

Coach: Jay Wright
Conference: Big East
Record: 34-4
Streak: Won 9 in a row and 11 of 12

NCAA road to San Antonio: Beat Radford, 87-61; beat Alabama, 81-58; beat West Virginia, 90-78; beat Texas Tech, 71-59.

Reasons to believe: The Wildcats always seem to have the answers in big moments, most notably point guard Jalon Brunson. Both Brunson and Phil Booth played major roles in ‘Nova’s 2016 national championship.

Kansas Jayhawks

Coach: Bill Self
Conference: Big 12
Record: 31-7
Streak: Won 7 in a row and 12 of 13

NCAA road to San Antonio: Beat Penn, 76-60; beat Seton Hall, 83-79; beat Clemson, 80-76; beat Duke, 85-81, overtime.

Reasons to believe: Jayhawks point guard Devonte’ Graham is playing with supreme confidence. Guards Malik Newman, Lagerald Vick and Svi Mykhailiuk all hit big shots against Duke. Bill Self has the mojo. He won here in 2008.

Rock chalk: Kansas beats Duke in overtime for Final Four trip

Sophomore Malik Newman scored a career-high 32 points Sunday as the Kansas Jayhawks outlasted Duke 85-81 in overtime to win the NCAA Midwest Regional title.

Newman, named as the region’s Most Outstanding Player, scored all 13 points for the Jayhawks in overtime, leading Kansas to its 15th Final Four.

The champions of the Big 12 Conference will take on Villanova in the national semifinals on Saturday in San Antonio at the Alamodome.

The win was sweet for a Kansas team that had been knocked out in the regional finals in each of the past two seasons.

It is Kansas’ first trip to a Final Four since 2012, in New Orleans. That year, the Jayhawks lost to Kentucky in the finals.

Kansas won its last championship in 2008 in San Antonio with an overtime victory over Memphis.

NCAA Final Four

Semifinals/Saturday

Loyola-Chicago (32-5) vs. Michigan (32-7), 5:09 p.m., TBS
Villanova (34-4) vs. Kansas (31-7), 7:49 p.m., TBS

Championship game/Monday, April 2

Semifinals winners, 8:20 p.m., TBS

Villanova downs Texas Tech to secure another Final Four berth

All that bad mojo affecting top-seeded teams in the NCAA South and West regions didn’t seem to bother the Villanova Wildcats in the East.

No. 1 Villanova capped an impressive 4-0 streak in the tournament with a 71-59 victory over third-seeded Texas Tech Sunday afternoon at Boston.

With the win, the Wildcats earned a berth in the Final Four this week in San Antonio.

It is the second trip to a Texas-based Final Four for Villanova in three years.

The Wildcats won the 2016 title at Houston.

Villanova will play either Kansas or Duke in the semifinals on Saturday at the Alamodome.

For Texas Tech, the loss brought to an end the deepest run in the tournament in school history.

“I told the young guys that we’d be back,” Texas Tech coach Chris Beard told CBS television. “I told the seniors thanks for everything.”

Loyola-Chicago to the Final Four after victory over Kansas State

In what could be viewed as a boost for all the underdogs in life, the Loyola-Chicago Ramblers have qualified to play in the NCAA Final Four.

The 11th-seeded Ramblers claimed their ticket to San Antonio with a 78-62 victory over Kansas State Saturday in Atlanta for the South Regional championship.

It is Loyola’s first trip to the Final Four since the Ramblers won the 1963 NCAA championship.

Winners of 14 in a row and 21 of their last 22, the Missouri Valley Conference champions tied with three other programs in the modern history of the tournament as the lowest seed to reach the national semifinals.

In addition, a basketball coincidence has emerged with Loyola-Chicago coach Porter Moser coming to the Alamodome.

The late Rick Majerus brought his Utah Utes to the Final Four in 1998 in San Antonio’s first year to host the event.

Rising through the coaching ranks, Moser always considered Majerus as one of his mentors.

He worked on Majerus’ staff at Saint Louis for four years before taking the job at Loyola-Chicago in 2011.

Majerus, battling heart trouble, died in 2012. He was 64.

“It’s hard to quantify all the things I got from him,” Moser, the MVC Coach of the Year, told the Chicago Tribune recently. “I made the most of four years with him as a friend and a coach.”

Lowest seeds to the Final Four

No team seeded lower than No. 11 has ever made it to the NCAA Final Four since 1985, according to The Sporting News.

The following are the lowest seeds to make it:

No. 11 — LSU (in 1986), George Mason (2006) and Virginia Commonwealth (2011)

No. 10 — Syracuse (2016)

No. 9 — Wichita State (2013)

No. 8 — Villanova (1985), North Carolina (2000), Wisconsin (2000), Butler (2011), Kentucky (2014).

Note: The tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985.

Texas Tech beats Purdue, advances to NCAA Elite Eight

The third-seeded Texas Tech Red Raiders ran away from No. 2 Purdue 78-65 Friday night in Boston, advancing to the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history.

Texas Tech will play No. 1-seed Villanova on Sunday for the East Region championship and a trip to the Final Four in San Antonio.

In a television interview, Texas Tech coach Chris Beard called it “one of our best defensive games” of the season and cited guard Keenan Evans for taking over “like he usually does.”

Evans hit clutch shots down the stretch in finishing with a team-high 16 points.

Perhaps more significantly, the Red Raiders held Purdue to 44 percent shooting and forced 17 turnovers.

Texas Tech had made it to the Round of 16 twice in the past 22 years but lost both times.

Tech’s victory places a third team from the Big 12 Conference in the Elite Eight.

The Red Raiders will join the Kansas State Wildcats and the Kansas Jayhawks, all with a chance to make it to San Antonio.

In Saturday’s Elite Eight games, Kansas State will play Loyola-Chicago in Atlanta for the South Region championship, while Florida State will take on Michigan in Los Angeles for the West title.

On Sunday, Tech will face off against talented Villanova in Boston, while Kansas will play Duke, in Omaha, for Midwest Region crown.

Tech might have as balanced of a team as any left in the tournament because of its athleticism, its defense and its ability to get shots close to the basket.

“We just gave up way too many layups,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “We couldn’t keep ’em out of the paint.”

Top-seeded Kansas holds off Clemson in NCAA round of 16

The Big 12 champion Kansas Jayhawks scored a Round of 16 victory in the NCAA Tournament Friday with an 80-76 decision over the Clemson Tigers.

Kansas, with a No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region, held off a furious second-half charge by the fifth-seeded Tigers in the game at Omaha, Nebraska.

Leading by 20 early in the second half, the Jayhawks had to make free throws at the end, and they did, knocking down 5 of 6 in the final minute.

Guard Devonte’ Graham was 4 for 4 in that stretch, including two with 13 seconds left for a six-point lead that put the game away.

As the No. 1 seed in the East Region, the Villanova Wildcats have made a living all season with offensive bursts that leave opponents searching for answers.

Villanova slapped an 11-0 run on fifth-seeded West Virginia in the second half en route to a 90-78 victory in the Round of 16 at Boston.

Mikal Bridges and Omari Spellman capped the run with plays that brought Wildcats fans to their feet.

First, Bridges sank a three from the corner. Next, Spellman blocked a West Virginia shot.

On the other end, Spellman trailed the play and followed a miss by Phil Booth for a monster dunk.

Just like that, a six-point deficit for Villanova turned into a 65-60 lead with nine minutes left.