AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- It was havoc all right. In fact, true mayhem. Michigan freshman Mitch McGary was setting bone-crushing screens, diving for loose balls, taking charges, finishing around the basket with authority and leading this young Wolverines team to a Sweet 16 berth with a resounding victory over Shaka Smart's VCU Rams.
This team needed McGary. It was desperate for his 6-foot-10, 250-pound frame, his rebounding prowess and his non-stop motor.
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But what the Wolverines truly needed was his toughness and intensity.
"I don't mind doing the dirty work," McGary said after the 78-53 rout. "In fact, I love it."
John Beilein's teams have always been known for their skill and finesse, and this year is no different. Sure, this group was more talented than any he's coached at any of his previous stops or in Ann Arbor. He also boasts the nation's top point guard in Trey Burke, a couple of talented wings in Tim Hardaway Jr. and Nik Stauskas and a terrific young forward in Glenn Robinson III. But this team was missing something. Jordan Morgan was a solid, steadying veteran influence down on the block, but he played because Beilein could trust his decision-making, especially on the defensive end. However, it was just a matter of time before he realized McGary's true value to this team.
It's not that this team is soft. Burke is a tremendous leader despite being just a sophomore. However, he's not a rah-rah guy. Neither are his teammates -- and that's part of the reason why the Wolverines struggled through three losses in five games, including one complete stinker at Penn State -- in February. There was no energy in Happy Valley because McGary was only on the court for a grand total of eight minutes.
"We're an even-keeled group," Stauskas said. "Except for Mitch."
McGary never stops. Moving, talking, throwing his body around. It's not pretty, but it's effective.
Beilein finally decided to insert the big freshman into the starting lineup (he started two games earliest this year) against South Dakota State on Thursday and McGary responded with 13 points and nine rebounds. However, that was just an appetizer of what was to come against a VCU team that was supposed to come in waves and give this Michigan team fits. Instead, the Wolverines handled the pressure with virtual ease and McGary was unstoppable. He was diving all over the court, outrunning quicker and faster VCU big men and overpowering defenders in the post. He finished with career-highs of 21 points and 14 rebounds and only missed one shot all day as Michigan advanced to the Sweet 16.
McGary was, not that long ago, ranked as the No. 1 player in his high school class, largely due to his non-stop motor and ability to dominate due to his size and effort. He shocked many in the recruiting world when he chose to play for Michigan over Duke, and he heard plenty of skepticism regarding his decision. Then McGary got off to a slow start this season and was ineffective due to his poor conditioning. McGary said he was all the way up to 273 pounds at one point because of poor eating habits.
"He couldn't play more than a couple minutes without being winded," Hardaway Jr. said.
"He never could have done what he did today," added Burke.
McGary logged a career-high 34 minutes and couldn't be seen huffing and puffing at any point, even after he hurled his body to the floor with 2:37 left and the Wolverines in front by 28 points. He gave the Michigan Wolverines that dimension they have lacked all season, a relentless enforcer who will stand toe-to-toe with any big man in the country.
Smart sat on the podium and talked about his team, and how it just didn't come out with the necessary intensity to compete with Michigan, and specifically McGary. Rams big man Juvonte Reddic admitted he was outhustled and outplayed by McGary.
"For whatever reason, we didn't have great bounce or intensity today," Smart said.
It's because there wasn't any left over after McGary gobbled it all up.
Now Michigan, which was bumped a year ago in the first round by Ohio, will face the Kansas-North Carolina winner in Dallas. Instead of VCU's vaunted pressure, next up could be one the nation's most effective shot-blockers in Kansas 7-footer Jeff Withey.
But Michigan has an answer these days.
"We've got Mitch McGary," Burke said.