2013 Final Four: Michigan Wolverines
Michigan's offense is fun to watch, but can its improving defense make the grade in Atlanta?
Michigan looks like the team many thought it would be back in November, December and early January. What fun it is to watch this offense go, and to be led by the best point guard in the country -- heck, the best player in the country. That's what Trey Burke is.
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And does the help Burke has around him and Michigan's depth make the Wolverines the best team left in the tournament? No, I think Louisville has the no-doubt-about-it case there. But this offense makes you think it's capable of getting the program its first national title in almost 25 years.
Can they do it? Of course they can. Let's look at who this Wolverine team is:
Coach: John Beilein | NCAA tournament record: 12-7
Beilein's best finish: Final Four in 2013 (current)
Assistants: Jeff Meyer, Bacari Alexander, LaVall Jordan
G Trey Burke
G Nik Stauskas
G/F Tim Hardaway, Jr.
F Glenn Robinson III
F: Mitch McGary
Top reserve: F Jordan Morgan
Leading scorer: Trey Burke (19.2)
Leading rebounder: Mitch McGary (6.2)
National titles: 1989 | Last Final Four: 1993 (later vacated by NCAA)
How Michigan got here: The Wolverines took out 13th seeded South Dakota State in the Round of 64, then destroyed No. 5 VCU in the Round of 32, winning 78-53. In the Sweet 16 Trey Burke hit a 3-pointer from about 27 feet deep that sent the game into overtime, capping the comeback of this tourney, and Michigan eventually won 87-85 over No. 1 Kansas. The Elite Eight was an easy affair. UM had no trouble with No. 3 Florida, winning 79-59 to get back to their first Final Four since 1993, though that one has been scrubbed from the record books by the NCAA.
Why Michigan might win it all: They've got the best player in Burke, who helps fuel an offensive attack that's the most dynamic in college basketball. Michigan's O has been top-five in hoops all season long, and now it's rounding fully into form. Having the best player at the Final Four always means you have a chance.
Why Michigan might not win it all: That defense is the reason. It's the reason Michigan didn't finish in the top three in its own -- very good -- league. It's shown up here the past two weekends, but there is some suspicion there would be problems here if it were to face a team like Louisville.
Player to watch: Burke's the easiest choice, but I'll go with McGary, the big man who's come so far since his first few college games back in November. The freshman is a beneficiary of Burke's good play, but man, he can run the floor. And he's a crafty lefty. A big player, built like a linebacker -- except bigger. He's set career records in points and rebounds in this tournament and had two double-doubles as well.
One guy soaring: McGary's the pick, though I'll set him aside and also mention Nik Stauskas, another freshman, this one a versatile wing who can slash and shoot. He hit six 3-pointers against Florida, finally breaking through after slumping a bit in his first three tournament games. Stauskas is a weapon unlike any other among the remaining teams in this bracket.
One guy slumping: Tough to say, but you could argue Tim Hardaway, Jr. isn't quite producing at the clip he's capable of. But that's why Michigan is so dangerous. Here's a player who can absolutely put up 24 on you if he's feeling it and the offense runs through him.
Notable stat: Can I throw two stats at you? I'm gonna do that. First off, the team averages 1.22 points per possession on the season. That's the best in college basketball now, even better than what Indiana was putting out before their Sweet 16 exit. But the team is so good because it turns the ball over on just 14.5 percent of its possessions -- also the best number in hoops. No one's more careful with the ball than this team, and of course that comes back to Burke.
Final thought: This was once the No. 1 team in the rankings, back when it was 16-0 in mid-January. Then it took some hits in Big Ten play. The defense backfired and Burke wasn't absolutely dominating in every game. But since losing to Penn State on Feb. 27, Michigan's been a different team. It lost by one at home to Indiana in the regular-season finale, a loss Hardaway, Jr. told me really did burn the team when it happened. Then it fell to vexing Wisconsin in the Big Ten tourney. But the team's patterns had changed by then. The offense was on the way back.
Louisville is the best defensive team in college basketball, and Michigan's the best on offense. It would be only fitting if these two were to meet in the national title game. And that is what I think happens. This team's too fun, too efficient, too good at what it does to get topped by a Syracuse club with a great zone D but that lacks in overall ability with the ball.
So I like Michigan in the title game, but I'll stop there. Unless Burke goes Burke again. That display against Kansas was one of the finest performances I've ever seen from a player, in person, in this tournament. He is the instigator and igniter for this team, and I don't doubt his ability against any defense. Michigan makes basketball look fun -- and they win. You can't ask for more than that in modern college hoops.
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