|I recently had the pleasure to talk with Zak Irvin, one of the crown jewels of Michigan’s 2013 recruiting class, about the season that just ended, what his plans are for this summer, a little bit of Twitter fun with an old teammate, and much more.
Irvin was recently selected as Indiana’s Mr. Basketball award recipient, becoming the first ever Michigan signee to win the highly-coveted award. He follows last year’s Indiana Mr. Basketball winner, Gary Harris, to the state of Michigan and to the Big Ten, but looks to be his rival on the court next year should Harris return to East Lansing. Here is what Zak had to say:
Maize & Go Blue: First things first. Obviously Michigan’s season just ended in the National Championship game on Monday, but give me your thoughts on the year they had?
Zak Irvin: You know, I thought they had a great year, had a great start and ended up being the (second-to) last team left. When they got a four-seed, a lot of people didn’t think they’d go as far as they did, but they made a nice run. Overall they had a great season.
M&GB: Do you think the team’s success this season adds any pressure for you guys coming in next year?
Irvin: You know, I think it does. Them going to the national championship puts a target on our back, but I think we’ll be ready and we’ll play great together next year.
M&GB: You were in Atlanta last weekend along with Derrick Walton for a high school three-point contest. How did things go there?
Irvin: I definitely had a lot of fun, especially with Derrick as my roommate and who will be my teammate next year. There were a lot of great shooters there and we all had a great time. (Neither Zak nor Derrick won the contest, however.)
M&GB: Did you and Derrick talk about next season at all or meet up with Mark Donnal?
Irvin: No, I didn’t see Mark, but me and Derrick are always talking about next year together.
M&GB: Were you able to stay down in Atlanta for the Final Four games?
Irvin: No, I came home Saturday morning.
M&GB: Have you seen Austin Hatch at all recently?
Irvin: The last time I saw him was at the Michigan-IU game. It was great to see him cause I don’t get to see him that often, but we are real close with each other.
M&GB: A few players on this year’s team, notably Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway, Jr., Glenn Robinson III, and Mitch McGary, and other Big Ten teams, including your former teammate Gary Harris, have big decisions to make regarding their future careers. How do their decisions impact you and next year’s team?
Irvin: Just from playing with Gary three years in high school it definitely impacts me a lot, he really helped me to improve as a basketball player. Just watching Trey, Tim, and Mitch I just see myself, envision myself like them. I watch them and I’m just going to play hard and be the best that I can.
M&GB: Your own season ended with an early exit in the Indiana state playoffs to North Central, but how did you feel you played as a team and individually?
Irvin: As a team, we had a great regular season, finishing 17-4 when a lot of people didn’t expect that because Gary left. For myself, I received the Gatorade Indiana Player of the Year and Mr. Basketball awards so I thought I had a great year.
M&GB: What were your final numbers on the season?
Irvin: I averaged 25 points, 9 rebounds, and 3 assists per game.
M&GB: You mentioned that you won Indiana’s Mr. Basketball award last week. Over the last seven years, the winners of Indiana’s Mr. Basketball award have been Greg Oden, Eric Gordon, Tyler Zeller, Jordan Hulls, Deshaun Thomas, Cody Zeller, and Gary Harris. What does it feel like to be in the company of such great college and NBA players?
Irvin: It’s an honor just to have my name in the same category as those players. I’ve been blessed that all the hard work I’ve put in is paying off.
M&GB: When will you be moving up to Ann Arbor for summer classes and summer ball?
Irvin: I have to be in Ann Arbor on June 22.
M&GB: Do you have any plans as to what you want to study at Michigan yet?
Irvin: I want to study something with business, so I think maybe Sports Management.
M&GB: Have any of the Michigan coaches been in contact with you since Monday?
Irvin: No, I haven’t talked to any of them since then.
M&GB: What have the Michigan coaches told you to work on individually this summer as you prepare for college basketball?
Irvin: Definitely getting stronger because Big Ten basketball is so physical, so that’s a key thing I’m working on, just getting stronger in the weight room, and I’m always working on ball handling and shooting.
M&GB: What would you consider to be the strengths and weaknesses of your game right now?
Irvin: I’d say my biggest strength is being able to mix it up, I can shoot a jump shot or take it to the hole. My weakness was getting down when a game is not going well, but my senior year I really worked on keeping a level head no matter what and really improved that my senior year.
M&GB: Lastly, what played the biggest factor in your commitment back in 2011 to play at Michigan?
Irvin: The coaching staff. The first time I stepped on campus the coaches made it known that I was a priority at the University of Michigan and I just have a great relationship with all the coaches there.
M&GB: Can you tell us about that picture of Gary Harris that surfaced on twitter of him wearing a Maize Rage t-shirt?
Irvin: (Laughs) As a matter of fact I was just talking with him about that a couple hours ago but that was from last year. When Michigan played Michigan State we had a bet that whichever team won, the loser had to wear that team’s shirt to school the next day, and Michigan won so Gary had to wear a Michigan t-shirt all the next day.
Posts Tagged ‘Glenn Robinson III’
Michigan’s magical season came to an end Monday night in heartbreaking fashion. But it was hard to stay down for long given the show Team 96 put on in one of the greatest national championship games we’ll ever see. No one will ever say a loss is a good thing. It’s not and this one wasn’t. It hurt, moreso for the players and coaches involved than you or I will ever know. But the young Wolverines played like they belonged to be there. They played well enough to win, and if not for a bad break here or there, they would have.
But even though the season ended just short of the ultimate goal, what Team 96 achieved will go down in Michigan history right alongside the national championship winning 1989 team, the Fab Five, and all the rest of the great teams to don the maize and blue.
Six months from now, Team 97 will begin anew and we will root them on with a renewed love and passion for Michigan basketball. For the first time in a long time, Michigan basketball will enter a season viewed in high regard on a national stage. But before we get there, and before we even turn our full attention to football, let’s look back at what we expected out of this team and compare our expectations to how it performed.
Back in November as Michigan was getting ready to open its season at home against Slippery Rock, Sam posted his season preview. In it, he pegged the Wolverines to finish the regular season 26-6 and 13-5 in the Big Ten. In reality, they went 26-7 and 12-6. Furthermore, he pegged Michigan as a Final Four squad, which they not only were, but went one game further and finished the season with a school record 31 wins and just eight losses. Sam picked Michigan to finish first in the Big Ten, but they fell just short, although the fifth-place finish is deceiving since they were one rotation of the ball away from beating Indiana and claiming a share of the title.
As far as individual players go, in Sam’s player previews, he forecasted their stat lines from points, rebounds, and assists to field goal and three-point percentage. Let’s see how they performed based on expectations.
Recap: The sentence that hit the nail on the head was “A huge season for Trey likely means a deep run in March for the Wolverines, but if he sees a sophomore slump, Michigan could find itself underachieving massively.” Big Tean and National Player of the Year is certainly a huge year and Michigan made the deepest March run possible. Burke outperformed his expectations in nearly every category – at least in the ones that matter most – and led Michigan to the brink of a national title.
Future: Trey is the most likely player to jump to the NBA and if he does, no one will blame him. He has done more in his two seasons in Ann Arbor than most players do in their career. He set the single season assists record, was a consensus first team All-American, Big Ten Player of the Year, Naismith Player of the Year, and Wooden Award winner to name a few. He’s a projected lottery pick in the NBA Draft – Chad Ford has him listed 6th in his updated mock draft – and he’s only that low because of his height. He doesn’t have much left to prove at Michigan, but maybe, just maybe, he will want to return to lead the Wolverines to a Big Ten title and win a national championship next season. We can hope.
|Tim Hardaway Jr.|
Recap: Hardaway improved his shooting and three-point shooting this season compared to his sophomore season, but they still fell short of his projected averages. In Sam’s preview of Tim he wrote, “There’s no doubt that that Tim Hardaway is one of the best players on this team and an intriguing NBA prospect…but he will need to show some consistency on both ends of the court if he is to realize his dream and follow in his dad’s footsteps to the League.” Hardaway still struggled with consistency this season. When he was on, he was on. Take the Ohio State game in Ann Arbor for instance, when he hit 6-of-9 three-point attempts to carry the Wolverines to victory. However, he also went a combined 4-of-23 from the field in two games against Michigan State and went just 16-of-53 (30.2 percent) from the field and 5-of-22 (22.7 percent) from downtown in the final four games of the NCAA Tournament.
Future: Based purely on speculation, if I had to bet on it right now, I’d say Hardaway will make the jump to the NBA. But scouts don’t have him as a first round prospect anymore and he could drastically help his draft prospects with one more year in Ann Arbor. If he stays and is able to improve his shooting and become more consistent, he could easily work his way into the top half of the first round in 2014.
Recap: Predicting the production from a true freshman is next to impossible because you don’t know how long it will take him to adapt to the college game. Everyone knew McGary would be a very good player for Michigan, but nobody really knew whether it would be right from the start or whether it would take him a while. He showed flashes of his potential right from the start, but served as Michigan’s sixth man for most of the season, giving the team a spark off the bench. In the tournament, however, he blossomed into a star. He was the talk of the tournament – at least up until his disappointing performance that was marred by foul trouble in the national title game – after back-to-back dominant performances against VCU and Kansas. He underperformed based on Sam’s projections, but he showed everyone late in the season that the expectations will be high next season.
Future: McGary’s breakout tournament performance moved him all the way up to 12th in Chad Ford’s latest mock draft, something that might tempt him to make the jump. But I don’t think he will. He has the potential to be an absolute star, and with a full season in 2013-14 like he had in the tournament, could easily become a lottery pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. Expect McGary to return to dominate the paint for Michigan next season.
Recap: As with McGary, predicting the stats of a true freshman can sometimes be very wrong. In this case, Stauskas performed much better than predicted. In a sense, much more was known about McGary coming out of high school as, at one point, the #2 player in the class, but there wasn’t much to go off of for Stauskas, the Canadian assassin. All that was really known was that he was deadly from behind the arc. It wasn’t until the season started that everybody realized the often heard phrase “he’s not just a shooter.” He finished third on the team with 11 points a game, which is impressive, and earned a starting spot very early on, so his minutes were much higher than predicted. But his shot struggled in the second half of the season with the exception of the 6-of-6 performance against Florida in the Elite Eight. He finished the season 46.3 percent from the field and 44 percent from three-point.
Future: Stauskas isn’t a threat to go pro this season, so we don’t have to worry about that. He has vowed to return a different player next season, hitting the gym hard during the summer and coming back stronger and better defensively. The defensive end was by far his weak point this season, and if he can improve that, he’ll be a very dangerous player going forward.
|Glenn Robinson III|
Recap: Robinson might have been the easiest freshman to predict since most knew he would start from the get-go. His 11 points per game average was exactly what Sam projected and he exceeded his projected rebound average, finishing as the team’s second best rebounder behind McGary. He played more minutes than expected and was always dangerous on the baseline and around the rim.
Future: There’s a slight chance Robinson could make the jump to the NBA since he oozes potential. Chad Ford projected him to go 15th in his latest mock draft. He’ll likely stick around for at least one more year to improve his game and potentially move into the top 10. The main area of work is creating his own shots. In his player preview, Sam said, “He’s certainly a capable shooter, but no one is quite sure how good. We also know he can fill it up from mid-range and will be deadly around the rim, but I’ll be interested to see how his overall offensive game develops and where the majority of his shots come from.” This season, he was mostly reliant on Burke and others to get him the ball in position to hit a shot or to score around the rim. If he can improve to the point where he can create his own shots, he will be lethal.
Recap: It’s no secret that Morgan was somewhat of a disappointment this season. No one expected him to be a first team All-Big Ten caliber player, but in his first two seasons he showed potential to be a reliable big man. But this season, he struggled to be a consistent scoring option and had problems catching the ball down low. He underperformed in nearly every category and eventually lost his starting job to McGary during the tournament.
Future: Morgan has one season left in Ann Arbor and is still an important piece of the puzzle for John Beilein. He remains one of Michigan’s best defensive players, and that was no more evident than when he came in and took a charge at the end of the Final Four game against Syracuse that essentially sealed Michigan’s win. If he can work on his hands to the point that he’s able to catch the balls that are fed to him on the pick and roll, he could earn back some playing time next season. Otherwise, he’s probably destined to be the first or second man off the bench.
Recap: Horford continues to develop as a player and fight through injuries early in his career. He missed several games early in the season due to injury, which set back his development and allowed McGary to eat up some of his playing time. Sam said as much in his player preview: “Pay very close attention to him early on to see how his season may go.” The time missed resulted in only 8.8 minutes per game throughout the season. When he was on the court, he was usually reliable, capable of rebounding and finishing when given the opportunity and stepping up and hitting free throws. But he wasn’t the breakout player that Sam thought he might become.
Future: There is still optimism for Big Jon’s future. He has the lineage and the work ethic – he hit the gym to work on shooting right after Michigan arrived back in Ann Arbor after the national championship game – to become a dependable big man worthy of more minutes. He just needs a full off-season and season of staying healthy. If he, Morgan, and McGary continue to develop, Michigan could have a very good frontcourt next season.
Recap: Perhaps the rotation player that carried the lowest expectations into the season, Spike proved that he has what it takes to run the basketball team at the college level. He was only expected to manage the offense for a few minutes a game while Burke got a breather, and he did that adequately. But in the Final Four, he gave the world a glimpse of his potential. In the semifinal against Syracuse, he hit two key threes to fuel Michigan’s lead, and then in the national championship game, he exploded for 17 first half points. It was like Rudy, except you know, good. He fizzled in the second half, not used to playing so many minutes, especially on such a big stage, but his performance at least put to ease concerns about who will run the team if Burke makes the jump to the NBA.
Future: While Michigan has had the bittersweet reality of great point guards that leave early the past few years – first Darius Morris and now, most likely, Burke – Albrecht is a nice change of pace. He’ll never be a threat to leave early and he may never even earn a starting spot since Michigan has another talented point guard coming in next season. But he gives the position quality depth, which is something it has lacked.
Recap: Like Morgan, Matt Vogrich saw his playing time dip this season, but his happened a lot sooner. He began the year as a starter, but that only lasted a handful of games before Stauskas took over. In fact, Vogrich played double digit minutes in only four games all season. He scored his season high of eight points in the season opener against Slipper Rock and then didn’t score more than three in a game the rest of the way. He enjoyed an interesting career that saw his playing time fall as his career went on, but that also coincided with team success.
Future: Vogrich’s career is over.
As you can see, the player who most outperformed his expectations was Burke, which is extremely impressive given the expectations he had after his freshman campaign. It’s no wonder he won every award imaginable. Stauskas also vastly outperformed his projections, though I don’t think anyone could have thought he’d have so much early success. Glenn Robinson III performed right on his expectations and will likely have them raised going into next season.
The biggest underperformers were the big men. Morgan and Horford could improve next year, while McGary will likely have the highest expectations of anyone on the team going into 2013-14. Hardaway also underperformed slightly despite improving his shooting. If he returns for his senior season, his expectations will be high once again.
Now, we wait and see what Burke, Hardaway, McGary, and Robinson decide regarding their futures. The choices they make will determine the expectations the team has going into next season. It’s most likely that two of the four will leave, but as we saw with Taylor Lewan’s surprising decision to return for his senior year, anything is possible.
Meet Josh Bartelstein, Michigan’s senior captain who played a total of 56 minutes in his Michigan career, none of them meaningful in any game, but all of them significant to his 14 teammates. The blogger and son of a prominent NBA agent, Bartelstein is more likely to represent future professionals than ever get paid to play himself, but the respect this team had for him was immense. No Michigan player was ever more excited to see a made three-pointer than when Bartelstein made either of his two career field goals, one last year and one the year prior.
Meet Corey Person, a fifth-year senior who was offered to come back for one last year this season not because of his on-court production but because of his off-court leadership, and, most likely, his pre-game dance ritual, a staple that will be dearly missed and never forgotten. Person entered graduate school after earning his bachelor’s degree last year, and despite the time commitment he made for such little recognition, Person never once questioned his decision, a sacrifice certainly appreciated by his teammates.
Meet Eso Akunne, another senior who rarely had a direct impact on any game but again stuck it out and never complained. Akunne lost his mother two summers ago to cancer, and was never able to give her a final farewell as she passed away a half-world apart, but his strength and courage contributed to the team’s success perhaps more than any basketball play could have.
Meet Matt Vogrich and Blake McLimans, the fourth and fifth senior veterans of this University of Michigan basketball team. Both Vogrich and McLimans accepted scholarship offers from John Beilein with very little to go off other than one NCAA Tournament appearance and eventually had to accept “role player” spots on the team as younger players’ talent won out. Regardless, neither player once complained to the media or otherwise about a reduction in minutes played and points scored in each of their last three seasons, instead cheering on their teammates and happily playing their part as senior leaders.
Meet Jordan Morgan, a fourth-year junior who will be back for one final swan song next season. Morgan entered the year as a starter and played the role admirably for the most part before injuring his ankle in Michigan’s first loss of the season and never fully recovering health-wise or confidence-wise, eventually seeing his starting spot dissipate as freshman Mitch McGary stole headlines throughout the NCAA Tournament. Nonetheless, Morgan continued to give everything he had and was often the on-court vocal leader of this team and a guy who everyone looked up to despite his struggles. A quiet night in the championship game was aptly preceded for Morgan by his thunderous game-ending dunk in the semifinals over Syracuse.
Meet Max Bielfeldt, who chose to play for Michigan two years ago despite an unclear situation in terms of playing time and his family’s strong allegiances to Illinois. Bielfeldt, a redshirt freshman who must feel like a sixth wheel among the “Fresh Five”, has three years left of eligibility but certainly realizes that his battle for playing time will continue to be an uphill climb as the years continue to pass. Still, the player lovingly referred to as Moose by his fellow teammates was nothing but smiles and laughs throughout Michigan’s post-season run even though he only stepped on the floor for less than one minute the entire time.
Meet Jon Horford, a redshirt sophomore who continues to ooze potential but has a ways to go before putting it all together. Horford always seemed to be in positive spirits despite an early-season knee injury (his second in two seasons) and worked his way into productive minutes this year. The younger brother of NBA All-Star Al Horford is often over-shadowed in the media and was often over-matched on the court by stronger, quicker, and more talented big men this year, but Jon still has plenty more basketball to look forward to in Ann Arbor and will continue to put forth full effort every time he steps on the floor. His length and shot-blocking prowess make him an important piece moving forward, and Horford’s final point this year, a made free throw to give Michigan a three-point lead with just 18 seconds left against Syracuse in the first Final Four game, was absolutely crucial, especially considering he had missed the first.
Meet Caris LeVert, the skinniest, youngest, and last member of this year’s freshman class. A former Ohio University commit, LeVert switched his pledge to Michigan after coach John Groce left the Bobcat program and was immediately projected to redshirt this year in order to gain some weight and experience off the court. Early on, however, it was clear that LeVert had too much heart and not enough quit to let that happen, quickly over-taking Vogrich’s minutes by mid-season and going on to make a bigger impact than anyone could have predicted. The lanky 18-year-old was almost always out-muscled by his man and he finished this season with by far the lowest shooting percentage of any regularly-used player, but LeVert’s defense was always praised by coaches and his gutty eight-point performance against Syracuse was the difference between the biggest win and the hardest loss of the season for the Maize and Blue.
Meet Nik Stauskas, the Canadian sniper that will probably end up being the best shooter Michigan coach John Beilein has ever taught when his career comes to an end. The second commit of this freshman class, Stauskas honed his shooting skills in his cold backyard with the rebounding help of his dad for years as preparation for this – a chance to contribute on a championship-contending team and a potential future NBA career. This year saw its ups and downs for Stauskas, from the amazing 22-point shooting display to lead Michigan over Florida for the South regional title to the measly three combined points in the two Final Four games in Atlanta, but overall it was an incredible year for the calm, confident kid with a bright future in Ann Arbor and beyond.
Meet Spike Albrecht, another unheralded freshman who was brought in as a last-minute emergency plan in case Trey Burke had decided to bolt for the NBA last year. Once Burke announced his plans to return, most assumed that Albrecht would be relegated to a bench-warming spot, and his baby-face looks lent to some confusion as to whether Spike was a player or manager, but the sure-handed and sure-headed 20-year-old set things straight throughout the year with solid contributions in spot minutes. As the year went on, Albrecht seemed to provide more and more on a nightly basis, finally culminating with a captivating 17-point first half performance in the championship game on a brilliant 6-of-7 shooting stretch that stole big minutes on ESPN and stunned college basketball fans around the country – a show that followed a perfect, albeit short-lived, six-point outing in four minutes against Syracuse. Spike has now won over the hearts of many young women and Michigan fans everywhere and will look to build on his already growing legacy with three more years in Ann Arbor and a more prominent spotlight.
Meet Glenn Robinson III, the quiet, athletic freshman assassin. The son of former college great Glenn Robinson, Little Dog was never the focal point of this Michigan offense, but he always seemed to manage double-digit points while grabbing a few rebounds, helping the team to so many victories while never once complaining about not getting as many shots as perhaps he would demand on a lesser team. With his next-level athletic abilities and his knack for finishing around the rim, Robinson has turned the heads of many scouts and faces a decision of whether to declare for the NBA Draft or return to Michigan to work toward completing some unfinished business with the rest of the team. No matter what he decides, Glenn Robinson III has already carved out a spot in the hearts of many Michigan fans after blossoming from a lowly-regarded high school player to a top player on one of the best college teams in the country.
Meet Mitch McGary, the freshman big man and ball of energy. After committing to play for Michigan as the second-highest rated high schooler in the country, McGary was expected to star right off the bat, but his learning curve was a little slow. Alas, the 20-year-old struggled academically at his four-year high school in Chesterton, Indiana before transferring far away from home to Brewster Academy in New Hampshire before getting his grades in order and refining his basketball game. With time, McGary’s conditioning and overall game improved slowly but surely at Michigan; his energy, on the other hand, has never lacked. As the NCAA Tournament finally rolled around, McGary’s star started to shine bright on the national stage, as he poured in double digit points in five of Michigan’s six games, including a new career high in consecutive games over VCU and Kansas, and recorded double-doubles over the same stretch before slightly struggling to reach the same level in the championship game, where he was hampered with four fouls. McGary, who now finds himself on draft boards with these renewed looks, has a decision to make much like his roommate Robinson’s. If he stays, McGary is seen as a potentially dominant animal in the post, a guy who could conceivably average a double-double, expand his game, and lead Michigan back to the promised land. If he goes, McGary will be seen as a Wolverine whose love of Michigan and passion for tough play have already ingratiated him in the hearts of all Michigan fans.
Meet Tim Hardaway, Jr., the son of NBA legend Tim Hardaway. The junior and second-leading scorer of this Michigan team bounced back from a tough year last year to become a scoring force on offense, a solid defender, and a player who could turn the course of a game with a huge dunk or a streak of three-pointers. Despite some difficult games here and there, Hardaway always seemed to be a steadying force and the seasoned veteran within a lineup full of underclassmen, scoring 10 or more points in all but eight games this year. As a freshman, Hardaway championed Michigan back to the NCAA Tournament after the Wolverines had struggled to a 15-17 mark the year prior to his arrival, and despite his tough shooting year last season, Hardaway has always been a great scorer and a phenomenal team player. Many expect him to forego his last year of eligibility and follow in his dad’s footsteps to the NBA; regardless of what he does, however, Hardaway’s three years so far will never be forgotten, and performances like his 23-point night to beat Ohio State in overtime this season will go down in Michigan history.
Meet Trey Burke, the one-time no-name prospect and Penn State commit out of Columbus, Ohio. A high school teammate of former Buckeye Jared Sullinger, Burke had always dreamed of playing for Ohio State, but when he was shunned by Thad Matta, he decided to take his talents north and play for John Beilein. Two short years later, Burke has become the best Michigan player in at least 20 years, gaining far too many accolades – including First Team All-American honors and Big Ten, Naismith, and Wooden Player of the Year awards – to list off at once. Last year, Burke’s out-of-nowhere freshman stardom nearly convinced him to take off for the pro ranks after just one season of college, but a talking to from his parents and thoughts of the promise of this year’s team led him back to Ann Arbor, where he put on a show for the ages. Night in and night out, Burke’s cool leadership from the point guard spot led Beilein’s team, and his exceptional team play, his caring for his fellow Wolverines, always stood out to those on-lookers. In retrospect, he was without a doubt the best player on the court every time he suited up for Michigan, and his number will one day hang from the rafters of the Crisler Center. Trey, just like his teammates, was always quick to praise teammates for Michigan’s success, even though it was clear that he was the biggest reason for it. So many of his performances are unforgettable, both for Michigan fans and college basketball fans in general, and his ball-handling prowess, passing, and scoring ability will perhaps never again be matched by a Michigan player. In what will almost certainly be his final collegiate game, Trey Burke again showed why he will always be loved by Michigan fans, scoring 24 points, grabbing four rebounds, and dishing out three assists while his slight 6’0″ frame took a constant beating from the physical Louisville front line. It wasn’t enough, but, like usual, it was more than what could have ever been asked of him.
Meet the 2012-13 Michigan basketball team. In the end, these 15 young men came up just short of the finish line, losing 82-76 in the National Championship after an improbable run through five rounds of the Big Dance. Much like the teams of the early 1990s, they couldn’t match Michigan’s one national title from 1989, and they will not go down in history as the best team in the country in 2013. But they will forever hold a special place in the hearts of all Michigan fans, and rightfully so. Though the last game may have said otherwise, these Wolverines always have been, and always will be, winners in our hearts.
|#10 Michigan (31-8)||38||38||76|
|#2 Louisville (35-5)||37||45||82|
Too young. Too inexperienced. The youngest team in this year’s tournament field was supposed to bow out of the tournament by the end of the first weekend. They had limped to a 6-6 regular season finish that included an embarrassing loss to Penn State, a team that finished the season just 2-16 in Big Ten play.
But something magical happened.
Five games into the Big Dance, not once had the unanimous Big Ten and National Player of the Year, Trey Burke, led the team in scoring. Yet they had won every one of them. Sure, he saved the season with an iconic 30-foot three against Kansas, but he hadn’t played like a player of the year for most of that game. Instead, other stars blossomed.
In the opener against South Dakota State, who many picked to knock off the Wolverines, it was Glenn Robinson III who stole the show, matching his season-high with 21 points. Next, it was Mitch McGary’s turn to shine with a 21-point, 14-rebound performance against VCU, another team that most expected to send Michigan packing.
In that Sweet 16 matchup with Kansas, McGary out-performed All-American Kansas center Jeff Withey with 25 points and 14 boards while Burke was held scoreless in the first half. Against Florida in the Elite Eight, Nik Stauskas stepped up, hitting all six of his three-point attempts en route to a 22-point game and a 20-point Michigan win. Not to be outdone, the less heralded of the freshmen, Caris LeVert and Spike Albrecht rose to the occasion in the Final Four with eight and seven points, respectively, to help Michigan top Syracuse. McGary led the way once again with his third double-double in four games while Burke was held to just seven points.
All five freshmen made major contributions to the team’s improbable tournament run. Fab Five they were not, but they didn’t need to be. Twenty years after that illustrious and polarizing squad took Michigan to the brink of a national championship as sophomores, the Fresh Five did the same. And with the legends in attendance, they took the court looking to do one better.
But it wasn’t meant to be, as Michigan raced out to a 12-point first half lead only to watch it whittle down to one by halftime. In the second half, the lead was gone they were forced to play catch up for the remainder of the game. The youthful Wolverines and the experienced Cardinals went blow-by-blow in one of the greatest national championship games ever played – certainly the first half could make a case for the greatest half ever played.
It was the stuff of legends, a legend so deep that the star of the first half was Albrecht, who averaged just 1.8 points per game all season. The kid who looks more like Frodo than a basketball star, and was only recruited at the last minute last April as a safety net in case Burke went pro after his freshman season, scored 17 points and helped Michigan jump out to that big lead.
It was a legend so deep that at one point, on the nation’s biggest stage, in front of the Fab Five who were all in the same building together for the first time since 1994, John Beilein put all five freshmen on the court at the same time. Burke sat on the bench with two fouls. Hardaway sat to get a breather. Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford sat too. It was a glimpse of what’s to come for Michigan basketball when Burke and Hardaway depart for the NBA, likely as soon as the next week or two. It lasted only but for a minute, but in that moment, Michigan basketball was on top of the world.
Luke Hancock, Louisville’s own unlikely star, a lightly-recruited transfer from George Mason, brought Michigan back to earth. His four straight threes helped cut Michigan’s lead to just one at halftime and he earned the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player award.
In the end, Michigan’s magical run came up just short, but it was fun. The way the game played out was symbolic of the entire season. Michigan struggled all season long with coming out of the gate in big games. In Columbus, the Wolverines trailed 24-6 in the first 10 minutes before a rally came up just short. In Bloomington, Michigan fell behind 26-11 in the first 10 minutes before nearly pulling off a comeback. In this one, Michigan charged out of the gates, confidently seizing a big lead. But this night’s opponent did what it, and Michigan, has done all season – come back from a large deficit – and it was just good enough to hand Michigan defeat.
The 96th team in program history will return to Ann Arbor this afternoon and clean out their lockers. Burke and Hardaway, and perhaps McGary and Robinson III, will contemplate whether their futures are at the next level or whether they can put that off for one more year to make another title run. Whatever choice they make will be just fine. Selfishly, it would be nice if they came back. But if they don’t, what they gave us was a legacy that will be remembered alongside that of the Fab Five, perhaps with even greater reverence because they did it with class and humility right to the very end.
As fans, we will turn our attention to football season, but for the first time in a long time, we will do so with our heads held high. We will do so with an eagerness for the next basketball season to begin because it’s fun again. It’s not just something to fill the time between bowl games and September. Michigan basketball is back and the world knows it. Thank you, Team 96.
|Final Game Stats|
|01||Glenn Robinson III*||3-4||0-1||6-8||1||1||2||1||12||2||0||0||0||38|
|10||Tim Hardaway Jr.*||5-13||0-4||2-4||0||5||5||0||12||4||2||0||0||35|
Twenty years ago, a fabulous group of five sophomores played for a national championship against a college basketball powerhouse. We all know the result, which has been trumpeted across newsstands and the internet for the past week. Chris Webber’s timeout that gave North Carolina two free throws and the ball to seal the victory with 11 seconds remaining was a heartbreaking moment for the Michigan basketball program. And the aftermath was just as devastating. Michigan plunged into basketball purgatory as a result of Webber’s (and others’) off-the-court actions – taking money from booster Ed Martin – and only started climbing out within the past few years.
John Beilein, a college basketball journeyman in his own right, took the reigns from Tommy Amaker in 2007 and suffered through a 10-22 season. Five years later, and just a day removed from the 20th anniversary of that Webber timeout mishap, Michigan returns to the title game against another college basketball thoroughbred.
Louisville entered the tournament as the top overall seed and hasn’t disappointed. The Cardinals rolled through North Carolina A&T, Colorado State, Oregon, and Duke before nearly stumbling in Saturday’s Final Four matchup with Wichita State. The Shockers held a one-point lead at halftime and widened it to 12 with under 14 minutes to play, but Louisville dialed up the defensive pressure, forcing seven turnovers in the final seven minutes to fuel the comeback.
Just like Michigan got unlikely contributions in its Final Four win over Syracuse, Louisville got a 20-point game from backup wing Luke Hancock. The junior averages just 7.7 points per game in 22 minutes of action on the season. But he’s certainly not the Cardinals’ go-to man. That would be junior guard Russ Smith who averages 18.9 point per game. He’s the only player on the team averaging in double figures and he has scored at least 21 points in every tournament game so far. In those five games, he has shot an impressive 50 percent from the field. He’s certainly not shy about shooting the ball, averaging nearly 16 shots – and six threes – per game during the tournament. Like Trey Burke, he is susceptible to poor outings every now and then like a 2-for-13 performance in a January loss to Villanova.
Joining Smith in the backcourt is senior guard Peyton Siva who averages 9.8 points and 5.7 assists per game. He has had an up and down tournament so far, with a 16-point night against Duke in which he made 6-of-10 from the field, but also combined to shoot 2-of-14 for 11 points in games against Oregon and Wichita State. He’s a capable scorer, but he’s much more of a set-up man for Smith.
Inside, the Cardinals have a talented center in Gorgui Dieng who averages 9.8 points and 9.4 rebounds per contest. He didn’t score a point in 30 minutes on Saturday, but scored 14 points and grabbed 11 rebounds against Duke in the Elite Eight matchup. His length and athleticism allow him to control the paint where he averages 2.5 blocks per game.
Sophomore forward Chane Behanan scores 9.6 points per game and ranks second on the team with a 6.4 rebound average. He nearly had a double-double against Wichita State with 10 points and nine boards. Wingman Wayne Blackshear gets about 20 minutes per game and averages 7.6 points, while freshman forward Montrezl Harrell averages 5.7 in 16 minutes a game. Harrell scored 11 points against Colorado State on 5-of-7 shooting.
Of course the player that will soak up the airtime on tonight’s broadcast is sophomore guard Kevin Ware who suffered a gruesome leg injury against Duke. He only averaged 16 minutes and 4.5 points per game, but his loss takes away backcourt depth.
As a team, Louisville was the Big East’s top scoring offense, averaging 74.3 points per game, and the fourth best shooting team at 45.6 percent. But the Cardinals aren’t a great three-point shooting team, hitting at a 32.9 percent clip. Neither are they a great defensive rebounding team, ranking ninth in the Big East. That may be an area Michigan can exploit, much like it did in the first half against Syracuse.
With a national title on the line, both teams will give it their all. Neither team has anything left to play for so you can be assured that it will be a hard fought battle from the onset. But what does Michigan need to do in order to win? Let’s take a look.
1. Handle the pressure. Many wondered how the youngest team in this year’s tournament field would handle the big stage on Saturday night, but the Wolverines rose to the occasion. In fact, it was the freshmen that fueled the lead in the first half when the veterans were struggling. A similar response will be needed tonight in an even bigger game. And I’m not only talking about the pressure of the moment.
Louisville is known for its relentless defensive pressure which forced a Big East-leading 10.8 steals per game. Michigan has the best player in the nation, who just happens to be its point guard, to help break the pressure, but don’t be surprised to see a lot of Spike Albrecht once again. The freshman has shown great ball handling skills and decision making along with the ability to hit the big shot when needed.
Michigan was able to get out to a big first half lead against Syracuse because it took care of the basketball, took its time on offense, and didn’t force things. When the Orange applied pressure late in the game to try to complete its comeback, Michigan got a little sloppy with the ball. Fortunately, it didn’t cost them the game, but the Wolverines will need to show the poise it had in the first half of that game rather than down the stretch.
2. Don’t let up. This ties into the first point, but against Louisville no lead is safe. The Cardinals have come back to win six games from deficits of nine points or more this season, including on Saturday. The relentless pressure is able to create turnovers which lead to transition baskets and can swing the momentum in a hurry. If Michigan manages to get out to a sizable lead like it did on Saturday or like Wichita State did on Saturday, the Wolverines need to keep the foot on the gas pedal. Rather than playing not to lose, which it seemingly did down the stretch on Saturday, Michigan must keep attacking and hitting open shots.
3. Make free throws. Free throws down the stretch have been dicey all season for Michigan, most glaringly in a loss to Indiana in which both Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. missed the front end of one-and-ones that allowed the Hoosiers to steal a win. On Saturday night, Michigan fans across the globe were having flashbacks as Mitch McGary missed three straight and Burke and Jon Horford each hit just one of two. But this time it didn’t cost them the game. With a national title on the line, the nerves will be at an all-time high and the outcome of the game could very well come down to which team hits its free throws in the closing seconds.
Michigan’s only national title, in 1989, Rumeal Robinson hit a pair of free throws with three seconds left in overtime to give Michigan a 80-79 victory. That’s about as clutch as it gets. Will someone on this team be able to do the same if the situation presents itself?
The good news is Louisville isn’t a great free throw shooting team either, hitting just under 71 percent. Smith and Siva are both solid at 80.6 and 85.9 percent – although Smith struggled from the charity stripe on Saturday – but the rest of the Cardinals team is iffy. Hancock is the next best at 76.9 percent, but Behanan is the guy to foul if possible. He shoots just 54.1 percent and has attempted the second most on the team behind Smith.
Prediction: Michigan has been overlooked all tournament long, but will have every chance to win this one. The Wolverines have already taken down teams coached by Shaka Smart, Bill Self, Billy Donovan, and Jim Boeheim, so confidence isn’t lacking. Over the course of those games, John Beilein’s squad has seen nearly every kind of look possible and has risen to the occasion each time. Louisville will present a similar match up as VCU did in the second game, though the Cardinals will be bigger, longer, and more talented. That was a good matchup for Michigan and the Wolverines can exploit the pressure in this one as well. Virtually nobody thought it possible when the Wolverines limped into the tournament having lost six of 12, but with the way they have played over the last three weeks, all signs point to them being the team of destiny. Yes, Louisville has a great defense, but Michigan leads the nation in fewest turnovers and that will be the key to victory. Michigan wins a close one, 66-62, and puts to rest the demons that have haunted the program over the past 20 years.
|#10 Michigan (31-7)||36||25||61|
|#16 Syracuse (30-10)||25||31||56|
Syracuse had the mismatch at every position and would exploit Michigan’s smaller guards. Or so they said. Their 2-3 matchup zone would confuse Michigan’s young and inexperienced freshmen. Or so they said. They shut down Indiana in the Sweet 16, a team that beat Michigan twice, so they could easily do the same to Michigan. Or so they said.
Syracuse did all the talking leading up to Saturday’s Final Four matchup, but Michigan had most of the bite on the court, beating the Orange 61-56 to advance to Monday night’s championship game. But it wasn’t the way one would have expected Michigan to win.
The Wolverines’ top three scorers, Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Nik Stauskas, were held to a combined 20 points on 5-of-29 shooting. Normally, that kind of production from the big three would have doomed Michigan’s chances, especially in a game of this magnitude, but as has been the case throughout this tournament run, a team effort won out.
In the first half, the unlikely contributions came from the other freshmen, Caris LeVert and Spike Albrecht, who each hit a pair of big threes to help Michigan pull out to an 11-point halftime lead. The pair finished the game with a combined 14 points on 5-of-6 shooting.
Mitch McGary put together his third double-double in the last four games, finishing with 10 points and 12 rebounds, and also fueled the Wolverines with a team-high six assists and two blocks.
Burke was held to single digits for the second time in the tournament after scoring at least 15 in every single Big Ten game, but played the role of reliable playmaker against the harassing Syracuse guards. He didn’t try to do too much as he did in some of Michigan’s losses this season, instead making the extra pass to find the open man. He also made big plays on the defensive end, coming up with three steals, none bigger than a steal that resulted in a fast break assist to McGary for a dunk.
Hardaway made just four of his 16 shots from the field, including 3-of-10 from three-point range, but the shots he did make were timely. He scored Michigan’s first basket of the second half, a three that stopped a Syracuse run, and hit another three midway through the second half after the Orange had cut the Michigan lead to four. He also made two big free throws down the stretch, helping Michigan hold onto its lead.
From the start of the game, Michigan seemed ready to take on the zone unlike anything it had seen all season. The Wolverine offense was patient and took care of the ball. Thanks to the big shots hit by LeVert and Albrecht, combined with some good passing by McGary from the high post and a good offensive rebounding performance, Michigan controlled most of the first half. Michigan carried a 11-point lead into the locker room.
At the beginning of the second, Syracuse started slowly chipping away at the lead, cutting it to six by the under-12 timeout and three by the under-eight timeout. Michigan scored five straight to go back ahead by eight, but the Orange weren’t out of it yet. Two straight dunks cut it to four, and after the teams traded free throws, Syracuse forwards James Southerland hit a three to pull within one at 57-56.
Burke was sent to the free throw line where he made one of two, and with 19 seconds left Jordan Morgan stepped in front of Syracuse guard Brandon Triche to draw a charge. The foul took Triche out of the game, and Jon Horford went to the line where he made one of two. With 15 seconds remaining, Syracuse had one last chance, down by three, but Hardaway rebounded the missed shot and found Morgan for a breakaway dunk to seal the win.
Michigan shot 39.6 percent from the field and 33.3 percent from three-point range. While those numbers are lower than the Wolverines’ season and tournament averages, they’re much better than Montana, California, Indiana, and Marquette managed against the Orange in the first two weeks of the tournament.
The Wolverines will remain in Atlanta to face top-seeded Louisville on Monday night for the national championship. The Cardinals beat Wichita State 72-68 in the early game on Saturday.
|Final Game Stats|
|01||Glenn Robinson III*||5-7||0-1||0-0||5||1||6||0||10||0||3||0||0||35|
|10||Tim Hardaway Jr.*||4-16||3-10||2-2||2||4||6||3||13||5||1||0||0||39|
It wasn’t long ago that the Michigan basketball program seemed to be heading nowhere. Mired in the muck of years of sanctions, simply reaching the NCAA Tournament was a lofty goal. The once-proud program was reduced to a NIT regular. But this is a new era.
Tomorrow night, Michigan will take the court in the Final Four for the first time in 20 years. All eyes will be on the young Wolverines that have danced through the tournament with a lot of swagger and a little bit of luck. After opening the tournament as a trendy pick to be upset, Michigan beat South Dakota State and then ran VCU out of the gym. The luck came in the improbable comeback against Kansas in the Sweet 16, but the Wolverines carried that momentum into a dominating 20-point win over Florida. For the most part, Michigan has done it with its offense, looking nearly unstoppable.
Mighty Syracuse has its own plans of advancing to the title game and has also taken the tournament by storm, albeit in a different way. The Orange have won with defense, Jim Boeheim’s patented 2-3 zone that has stifled the likes of Indiana – who beat Michigan twice this season – and Marquette.
So what will give in this titanic battle of offense versus defense? Let’s take a look at the keys to victory for Michigan.
1. Handle the pressure. The pressure will be enormous for the team that starts three true freshmen alongside all-everything point guard Trey Burke and future NBA’er Tim Hardaway Jr. Even John Beilein, a veteran coach of nearly four decades, has never coached a game of this magnitude.
This week, the distractions and the attention paid to the team have been at an all-time high. It would be easy, especially for a kid who was probably on high school spring break this time a year ago to lose focus on the task at hand. Just look back to mid-season when Michigan reached No. 1 in the national rankings and then proceded to lose to Ohio State.
Perhaps the experience of feeling the pressure and not handling it well will pay off this time around. Beilein has shown he’s fully capable of keeping the team loose and confident, and now they Wolverines will have to play with the confidence they have shown in the last two weeks.
2. Score in transition. Syracuse’s zone has held opponents to just 29 percent shooting and 15 percent three-point shooting so far in the tournament. Michigan has caught fire in the tournament, especially against Florida on Sunday, but if the Wolverines have to completely rely on the outside shot to beat Syracuse, it won’t bode well. Pushing the tempo and getting out in transition will be important for Michigan which thrives on fast break baskets because it will keep Syracuse from being able to set up the half court defense that has given opponents fits. The more Michigan can score in transition, the better chance the Wolverines have of winning.
3. Make Syracuse work for its points. Michigan played good defense against Florida, but the Wolverines haven’t been a good defensive team for most of the season. Kansas was able to score basically at will in the Sweet 16 matchup, and Michigan can’t let Syracuse do the same. Since points will be hard to come by on the offensive end, Michigan must play tough defense and force Syracuse to make contested shots. The Orange are a good but not great offensive team, averaging 70.8 points per game. They finished eighth in the Big East in shooting (44 percent) and seventh in three-point shooting (33.7 percent), so keeping them from getting easy layups will make things easier on the other end of the court.
Overall, I think this game completely depends on how well Michigan’s freshmen handle the big stage. If Nik Stauskas is hitting his shots, Glenn Robinson III isn’t invisible, and Mitch McGary keeps from picking up early fouls, Michigan will have a great shot to win this game. If the shots aren’t falling and Burke has to revert to doing it all himself, it will be a long day for the Wolverines. I think the swagger will continue, Burke will once again steal the show, and Michigan will advance to Monday’s title game with a 74-68 win. Sam’s prediction: 69-62 Michigan.
Saturday’s Final Four matchup between the two remaining four-seeds in the this year’s tournament, Michigan and Syracuse, is being hyped up as a classic battle between the high-powered offense of the Wolverines and the stingy 2-3 patented zone defense of Jim Boeheim’s Orangemen. Michigan has scored more than 70 points in all four games thus far in the Big Dance while Syracuse has yet to give up more than 60 themselves.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Boeheim’s defense is that no one can seem to beat it despite it rarely changing. When a team faces Syracuse, they know what is coming. The challenge is in breaking it, which John Beilein is undoubtedly working his tail off in the film room to do. In his career, Beilein is 0-9 against Boeheim, and the last time these two faced off, back in 2010, then-No.10 Syracuse edged Michigan 53-50. Here is a quick preview of what makes the zone so good and how to attack it successfully.
Videos that visualize the zone and the basic principles:
How the Zone Beats You
1. Length and Athleticism: The one constant you will find among Jim Boeheim’s recruits is size, and this year’s Syracuse squad is no different. At the top of the 2-3 zone are 6’4″ senior Brandon Triche and 6’6″ sophomore Michael Carter-Williams, who reportedly boast 6’10″ and 7’0″ wingspans, respectively. Anchoring the zone are 6’8″ senior James Southerland, 6’7″ junior C.J. Fair, and 6’9″ sophomore Rakeem Christmas, with respective wingspans of 7’3″, 6’9″, and 7’3″.
Right off the bat, the length makes it almost impossible to get off uncontested shots from anywhere on the floor, and the fact that Syracuse has some of the best athletes left in the tournament doesn’t help. Any pass inside or around the perimeter will be challenged by this length, and lazy passes are bound to be intercepted. Inside the Orange send away a lethal 19 percent of their opponents’ shots, and teams struggle to score from anywhere on the floor, shooting just 43 percent from two and 28 percent from three on the year, defensive marks good for 20th and 3rd best in the country. Just when it seems there is an open lane or an easy layup, one of Syracuse’s guards is bound to cut it off, or a big man is right there to block it.
2. No Easy Shots: Watch any amount of Syracuse’s zone defense and one thing really stands out – rarely do they give up easy looks. Sure, there are holes in any zone, and teams will get open looks that most teams hate to surrender, but part of Boeheim’s genius is that he will give up a wide open 20- to 25-footer any day over a wide open layup or dunk. The Orange do a great job of making the tough shot look appealing and making the easy shots impossible to come by. Indiana, one of the best offensive teams in the country, was absolutely stifled by the zone last weekend and only managed to make one out of every three shots, and just three of their 15 from downtown. When Indiana wasn’t bricking contested shots or deep looks, they were getting rejected – in all, 34 percent of their shots met the out-stretched hands of Syracuse before coming close to going in.
3. Forcing Turnovers: The last thing Syracuse is phenomenal at is taking the ball away. The Orange have forced turnovers on 23.6 percent of their opponents’ possessions this season, good for 27th in Division I, and are the seventh-best team in the nation when it comes to steals, which lead directly to fast-breaks. Michigan obviously is tremendous at holding onto the ball and getting a shot up on more possessions than anyone else in the country, but the Wolverines have not seen a ton of zone all year, and that could be cause for concern. The Orange can really frustrate and wear teams down with their length and athleticism, and usually force their opponents to take a good 25-30 seconds off the shot clock each time down the court. The longer it takes to get a shot up, however, and the more perimeter passes thrown, the better the chance the possession will end with a turnover. Because it’s hard to penetrate and Syracuse’s defenders rarely tire because they don’t have to move as much, turning the ball over is always a potential problem.
How You Beat the Zone
1. Make Shots: It can’t get much easier than this point, but it can’t get much harder either. Make your shots against the zone and it suddenly becomes much simpler to beat it. Syracuse will give up open looks when one side of the court is over-loaded, and it will be Michigan’s job to make those open shots when they have them. Nik Stauskas has been excellent all year in knocking down threes with a hand in his face; if he is able to do more of that Saturday, Michigan should find itself in good shape. To get open looks, Michigan will have to move the ball quickly and efficiently. Look for a number of skip passes over the top of the zone for open threes as well as kick-outs from penetration and from the high post, which is the soft spot in between the two lines of the 2-3. The man flashing to the elbow for Michigan will also have a number of open looks that Syracuse will happily give up. Mitch McGary and Tim Hardaway, Jr. need to take those open looks with confidence and knock them down to open up the floor.
2. Feed the High Post: Rarely will you have success against the zone by just passing the ball around the perimeter all possession long and then throwing up a long three. The key is to have smart flashes to the elbow/free throw line area, where opportunities abound, from McGary, Hardaway, and Glenn Robinson III. When the ball gets to the high post, there are a number of options. First, the quick turnaround jumper will often be open. Second, a pass to the high post can create a quick turnstile to rotate the ball to the opposite end of the floor for a corner three. Third, the high post man can draw the back line of the defense forward and look for the baseline cut for an easy layup. Lastly, the high post can get a nice drive to the basket if the baseline man comes up and sets a screen. Louisville had success with the third and fourth keys here in the second half of the Big East championship game, when they scored 56 points after only mustering 22 in the first half (whole game video below). As opposed to only having one high post man and one man on the baseline, however, the Cardinals mixed it up a little by bringing the baseline man up to the opposite elbow and running screens or cuts to the basket. The bottom line is ultimately that when the ball gets in the middle of the zone, good things usually happen for the offense.
3. Mix it Up: The last key to beating Syracuse’s zone in the half court set is simply to throw some different looks at it. Running the same action time and time again will likely produce the same poor result, and as soon as one play has success against the Orange, they will throw just a slight wrinkle in to stop it. Michigan loves to run ball screens, and while those don’t always work incredibly well against the zone, they should still use the screen often to open up the driving lanes and get Syracuse out of whack. Trey Burke is one of the best penetrators in the game, and if he is able to get past the first line of defense, Michigan should have success with numbers closer to the basket or open looks from outside.
4. Beat the Zone up the Court: Perhaps the most effective way of beating the zone, especially for a team like Michigan, is to beat Syracuse up the floor and prevent them from setting it up. The Maize and Blue are nearly unstoppable on the fast-break, and they should again be looking to attack whenever they create a turnover, grab a steal, or corral a long rebound. Syracuse will try to set up their 2-3 look in almost every situation, but if Michigan has the numbers advantage while running, one or two men for Syracuse can’t play a zone by themselves.
Other Videos of Syracuse’s zone in action:
|#10 Michigan (30-7)||47||32||79|
|#14 Florida (29-8)||30||29||59|
Two weeks ago, Michigan was left for dead. Limping into the NCAA Tournament with a 6-6 record over the previous 12 games, the Wolverines were the sexy pick to be upset in the first round by South Dakota State. Now, John Belien’s squad is one of only four teams still standing and is headed to Atlanta next weekend for the Final Four.
Ask any Michigan fan before the season started what result they would be happy with and Sweet 16 would probably be just fine. Even two weeks ago, simply reaching the Sweet 16 seemed a lofty goal. But now, the Wolverines may be playing better than any team in the tournament with two 20-plus-point victories in four games.
After a gritty and heroic comeback on Friday night, Michigan carried its momentum into Sunday’s matchup with SEC regular season champion Florida. The Maize and Blue raced out to a 13-0 lead before the Gators could even blink. When Florida finally did get on the board, Michigan answered with a Trey Burke three. The onslaught continued as Michigan held a 25-8 lead 10 minutes in.
Despite a three-minute cold spell by Michigan, Florida was unable to capitalize, scoring just two baskets of their own during the span. By the under-four timeout, Michigan had grabbed its largest lead of the game at 41-17 thanks to Nik Stauskas’ five first half three-pointers. Florida was able to close the half on a 13-6 run to narrow Michigan’s halftime lead to 47-30.
In the second, Florida threatened to make a game of it, scoring the first six points of the stanza and pulling within 11. But after nearly four scoreless minutes, it was Stauskas once again drained a three to get Michigan back in business. Florida would never seriously challenge again and Michigan kept the foot on the gas pedal for the remaining 16 minutes to win convincingly, 79-59.
Stauskas led all scorers with 22 points, connecting on all six three-point attempts. Burke scored 15 and dished out seven assits, while Mitch McGary continued his impressive tournament play, scoring 11 points and grabbing nine rebounds, narrowly missing a third straight double-double. The performances by both Stauskas and McGary were good enough to earn them a spot on the all-region team for the South Regional, which was headlined by most outstanding player, Burke.
As a team, Michigan shot a blistering 51.4 percent in the first half to race out to the big lead, and while it cooled down in the second, the Wolverines still finished the game with a 46.2 clip – well above what Florida’s defense has allowed all season. Michigan also hit 10-of-19 three-pointers.
Michigan now has a few days off before facing 4-seed Syracuse for a spot in the national championship game. Saturday night’s game will be the Wolverines’ first Final Four since the days of the Fab 5 in 1993.
|Final Game Stats|
|01||Glenn Robinson III*||3-7||0-1||0-0||1||1||2||1||6||0||1||2||1||34|
|10||Tim Hardaway Jr.*||3-13||1-5||2-3||0||4||4||1||9||5||2||0||0||35|
Call them the comeback kids, call them what you will, but the Michigan Wolverines, by far the youngest team in the tournament from the very beginning, simply will not give up. Two nights ago, the Maize and Blue found themselves trailing by 14 points to Kansas with fewer than 10 minutes to go and by double digits within the final three minutes. Computer predictors were giving Michigan a slightly-less-than 2 percent chance of winning the game before Trey Burke and Glenn Robinson III willed the game into overtime where the Wolverines seemed just a bit hungrier than the Jayhawks.
Today, at 2:20pm on CBS, Michigan takes on a Florida team that has just missed out on the Final Four two seasons in a row, and with five upperclassmen starting, the Gators are certainly not going to roll over and die.
Two weeks ago, Michigan wasn’t supposed to make it out of the first weekend, and even today, fans still cannot believe where the team has made it. But here they are, battling for a spot in the Final Four for the first time in nearly two decades. Let’s take a quick look at three keys if Michigan should advance:
1. Contain Erik Murphy: Billy Donovan’s squad is loaded with talent across the board, and all five of his starters can score the ball – each averages at least 9.3 points per game and four score in double digits. Erik Murphy, the Gators’ 6’10″, 238-pound stretch-four senior, however, is the best of the bunch in my opinion. The South Kingstown, Rhode Island native takes just over half of his shots from behind the three-point line and makes 45.9 percent of them. Inside the arc he is just as deadly, making 63 percnet of his looks from lay-ups to mid-rangers. If Murphy were four inches shorter, he would be a great player, but nothing unheard of. Unfortunately for Michigan, he’s not. Glenn Robinson III will be tasked with guarding Murphy from the beginning and needs to make sure he is constantly hounding him around the court.
Murphy is such a good shooter that Robinson needs to always be aware of his position on the floor and never help off. Obviously Michigan has some depth in the big man department, but Jon Horford and Jordan Morgan are much more accustomed to defending the classic post position, not a guy who is running around more like Nik Stauskas than Mitch McGary. Murphy’s 12.6 points per game and 5.5 rebounds per game don’t wow, but this is the type of matchup that he will be looking to exploit. If Michigan is able to limit Murphy like they did with Jeff Withey in the second half, they should feel very confident about their chances.
2. Defend the perimeter: Michigan needs to primarily be concerned with keeping Murphy in check, but he is far from the only Gator capable of filling it up from deep. As a team, Florida takes about 40 percent of their shots from distance and makes them at a very good 38.1 percent clip. The Gators three starting guards, Kenny Boynton, Scottie Wilbekin, and Mike Rosario, all love the long ball, and all three can get hot at any particular time. Boynton’s shooting numbers are down from the past two seasons, and while he takes more than six threes a game, accounting for 60.6 percent of his shots, he has made just 32 percent of them on the year.
Wilbekin and Rosario, on the other hand, are a little more capable of penetrating and take just under half their attempts from downtown, but make 37 percent of their three-point looks. Michael Frazier, a talented 6’4″ freshman, will come off the bench primarily looking to snipe as well, and he has hit a team-high 46.8% of his threes, which account for a whopping 80.4 percent of his shots.
Michigan needs to know the scouting report front and back and close out hard on all these shooters that Billy Donovan will throw out on the court. Going over screens will probably be a good idea when the pick involves one of the five Gators that has attempted more than 100 threes this season. Michigan’s help defense has been pretty shoddy all year long, but they cannot afford to go under screens like they were against Kansas. Do that against Murphy, Rosario, and Frazier, and chances are the Wolverines would get torched. What makes knowing the number on the front of the jersey from the scouting report even more important is the fact that the three remaining Florida players that will see on-court action rarely look to shoot from deep. Casey Prather, a one-time Michigan recruit, Patric Young, and Will Yeguete have combined to attempt only 11 threes all year long, and they’ve made only three of them. Michigan must be able to differentiate between the five guys that will shoot when open and the three that wouldn’t throw a bomb if they were fighting in a war.
3. Keep it Close: Florida was the king of the weak SEC this season, and their efficiency numbers are off the charts due in large part to a lack of strong competition throughout the year. Looking through their statistical profile and game log, one thing will jump out – if the Gators are not winning big, they are not winning at all. All 29 of Florida’s wins, including their three tournament victories, have come by double digits. Their seven losses, however, were by an average of 5.7 points. Certainly this is more likely to be more coincidental than anything else, and I’m not trying to say that Florida is simply not able to win games that come down to the wire, but there is something to be said when not one win has come by single digits and all but one loss has been by six or fewer points.
It’s pretty clear that teams that give themselves a chance and stick in it until the end have fared well against Florida so far. That’s good news for Michigan, a team that has found itself trailing by double digits on multiple occasions before coming back and at least making a game out of it. Perhaps the Gators will collapse under pressure if Michigan controls the game throughout, but at the very least, the Maize and Blue will look to keep the Gators within striking distance. In the end, the chance will be there.
Prediction: I have a confession to make. In my master bracket this year, I correctly picked Michigan and Florida to both make it to this point (which isn’t to say that the rest of my bracket is still intact…anything but), but when it came time to pick the best of the best, the elite of the Elite, I went with the computers and my head and picked the Gators to advance out of the South. Opinions change over the course of the Tournament, however, and the grit, toughness, heart, and team play of Michigan have won me over. Trey Burke simply does not want his career to end before reaching Atlanta, and Mitch McGary looks like he had a switch turned on in his closet that turns him into an animal starting with the first game of the Big Dance. Throw in a little Stauskas, a lot of Tim Hardaway, Jr., and a defensive effort from Glenn Robinson III and I think Michigan will find itself headed to Atlanta later this week after beating Florida, 67-63.