Michigan's Moritz Wagner, Zavier Simpson, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Duncan Robinson discuss their NCAA Tournament run and Monday's title game against Villanova. Matt Charboneau, Detroit News
New York — In the middle of the postgame media session in the New York Knicks locker room in Madison Square Garden, a loud yell came from the distance in the training room.
Trey Burke recognized the voice as Tim Hardaway Jr. and didn’t flinch.
“I hear Tim, so something (good) is happening,” Burke said.
Burke and Hardaway, the Michigan backcourt from the 2013 team that was the last to advance to the national championship game, was keeping up with the Wolverines’ exploits in the Final Four on Saturday night, just as their game against the Pistons had ended.
Half a country away in San Antonio, Michigan had cut the deficit to three points, on the way to a second-half surge and a 69-57 win over Loyola-Chicago.
In Miami, a similar scenario was unfolding, with another pair of teammates from that 2013 team trying to balance their own NBA game and following the Wolverines.
With a later start time to their game Saturday, Nets wings Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert got to watch the first half, but were on pins and needles not knowing the final outcome.
“We had the game on in the locker room so I was able to see up until the last 10 minutes,” Stauskas said. “When I was watching, we were down five or 10 and when I stopped watching in was 45-42 and Duncan hit a 3 to make it a 3-point game.
That’s about the same point that Hardaway let out his loud bellow in New York. Two saw the start; two saw the finish. Stauskas said he got in-game updates from Nets teammate Milton Doyle, who is a Loyola-Chicago alum.
“With the way the game had been going and the way we hadn’t been scoring, I went out into warmups thinking we might not win this one today,” Stauskas said. “(Doyle) wasn’t playing so he was in the locker room as we went to go warm up and after we came in during the national anthem, he said we won.”
Coach John Beilein sees similarities between Villanova and Loyola, and shares his philosophy on the athletic training and development of recruits. "You're not amassing talent, you're building a team."
The current group of Wolverines doesn’t have the same pedigree as the 2013 team, which boasted five-star talent in Mitch McGary, plus Burke, who was the national player of the year, and Hardaway, who was a big-time scorer. Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Spike Albrecht were freshmen who were just looking to make a contribution.
Most Michigan fans hadn’t heard of Moritz Wagner before he got to Ann Arbor and none of the current group were big-time national recruits. Still, the result is the same – playing in the national championship game.
“Same thing that happened with us. We had Mitch and Glenn, who were more highly-touted, but me and Caris and Spike, nobody thought we were going to help bring that team to a national championship game,” Stauskas said. “(Beilein) always focused on recruiting good kids who come from good families and people who work hard and love the game.
“Over time, recruiting those types of people and having them buy into his system, good things just happened. … It says a lot. He’s able to get the best out of anyone he’s able to coach.”
It’s a different group now that has a chance to one-up the 2013 squad and it’s mainly with one key difference: defense. The Wolverines haven’t shot well in the tournament as a whole, but they’ve been better on the other end of the court.
That’s a credit to Beilein and his coaching staff, including assistant coach Luke Yaklich to install new defensive principles. While the ’13 team was known for its scoring and slew of NBA talent, the current squad is doing yeoman’s work — and is one game from the title.
“I think the team that’s there right now is doing it a lot differently than how we did it. We didn’t defend, to be honest,” Stauskas said. “We defended a little bit, but we were always middle of the pack in the Big Ten in defensive efficiency.
“We were never one of the top teams in the country in locking people up. This team is able to have off-shooting games and still win. We never had that. If guys were off, we weren’t winning games. That’s the biggest difference.”
Michigan vs. Villanova
Tip-off: 9:20 p.m. Monday, Alamodome, San Antonio
Records: No. 3 seed Michigan 33-7; No. 1 seed Villanova 35-4