Fluke? Luck? Fate? Karma? Call it what you will, but the Michigan Wolverines are moving on to the Elite 8 for the first time since 1994. So where do we start with a breakdown of one of the craziest games in this year’s tourney? Let’s start with the obvious.
Trey Burke. ‘Nuff said. Though he went scoreless in the first half, Trey managed to put up 23 points in the second half and overtime – none more important than the 3 he earned from 28 feet out to tie the game with less than five seconds left. After that he made the first 5 points in overtime, and was instrumental on both sides of the ball. He came down and hit the shots that needed to be made, as well as added ten dimes in this POY performance. Thursday night LaQuinton Ross was clutch, but last night Trey Burke was cold blooded. This game was lost by Kansas more than it was won by Michigan, but Trey pulled a (LINK GREG JENNINGS), and put the team on his back when the door was opened, and ultimately led his team to an 87-85 Sweet 16 win over the 1 seeded Kansas Jayhawks. Trey was not going to be denied
Now that Trey’s late game heroics have been addressed, let’s get into the meat of a game that wasn’t as pretty as the highlights may suggest. If I were to describe the first half in one word it would be FRUSTERATING! This team, when clicking, can be one of the most dangerous squads in the nation. Yet they never really seem to want “it” early on. Defense was the main issue, primarily interior defense. If I’m not mistaken, every basket in the first half came from the paint aside from a pair of McLemore 3’s. The wing defenders were having trouble keeping guys like McLemore and Releford out of the lane, and Kevin Young was pushing Nik around in the paint all half. Just like in last night’s game, expect to see Caris LeVert play over Nik when we need a defensive stop. Nik continues to show that he is a major liability both against the perimeter shot, as well as in the paint when in man-to-man.
While the guards were partially to blame for the lackluster D, it’s hard not to fault the big men also. Mitch McGary had a career game with 25 points and 14 boards, but he was often out of place on defense in the first half. Mitch needed to get in position to help faster, and showed room for improvement when guarding Jeff Withey one on one. Simply enough, weak play from all areas on the defense had a negative effect on all other areas (Duh!). The guards did a poor job of keeping their cutters out of the lane; the big men didn’t protect the paint like they should, and that lead to openings on the perimeter that McLemore could not pass up.
The other glaring weakness? Rebounds! It probably sounded like I was having an X-rated party in my apartment from all the times I yelled “PUT A BODY ON HIM!” Rebounding has been an issue all season and the first half was no different. Being a good rebounder isn’t extremely difficult, it just takes good discipline. Every player should be accounted for on every shot, every time. Too often were guys like McLemore and Young cutting to the basket for a rebound and went untouched. Once again, for some crazy unknown reason, this was another first half where Michigan didn’t want it. Luckily they were somehow able to go into the half only down 40-34, and were still very much in the game as long as they made a change.
Offensive issues weren’t as numerous as the problems with the defense, since they still did manage to put up 34 points, but it still wasn’t pretty. Trey wasn’t as aggressive as he should have been, and the team in general was settling for long shots too easily. Add in some ugly finishes around the rim and a handful of boneheaded turnovers and you have yourself an idealistic halftime position by only being down 6.
Most of the second half didn’t go much better than the first. In the first fifteen minutes of the second half, Michigan seemed to at least partially address their earlier woes. The defense tightened up a bit, Trey was dictating the offense more forcefully, and Michigan was hitting enough shots to keep them lurking in the shadows. One of the biggest improvements I noticed was Trey’s aggressiveness. He did what he should be doing all the time, having the offense run through him. Because he is so versatile, he is a nightmare to guard. As this game, and many before it have shown, Trey has range. It’s not uncommon for him to pull up from 30 feet out, and it’s never too surprising when it goes in. Whoever is guarding Trey has to be ready for him to pull up at anytime. In addition to his range, Trey is a quick and powerful driver, and has the decision making to really hurt teams. In the second half Trey was attacking more, and when Withey would step up, Mitch was there for 2. You really have to feel for Withey in this game, because much like Michigan in the first half, his guards could not keep Michigan’s (mainly Trey) out of the lane. Still when he or Mitch didn’t have a good look, he was able to find shooters such as Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III on the wings. Trey is dangerous with the ball in his hands, and most offensive possessions should run through him.
Even though they looked better in the second half, they found their 6-point halftime deficit slip to 14 with only 7 minutes left. Kansas was hitting shots all night, and ended the game at almost 55% from the field. With less than five minutes to go they were still down by double digits and looked like a team on the way out.
As many greats will tell you, it’s how a team closes that really matters, and that’s what Michigan did. Michigan was able to turn a few sloppy Kansas plays into buckets; next thing you know, Michigan was right back in it. In those final few minutes and overtime, there was a completely different team wearing the maize uniforms. The team as a whole, especially GR3 played defense more on their toes, and was able to force turnovers in the backcourt. On rebounds, almost everyone in maize was around the rim and securing virtually every defensive rebound, as well as a few on offense. The momentum was on their side, and for the first time all night it looked like Michigan really wanted it.
The final 8 minutes in this game could very well be the way that Trey Burke is most remembered. In my (slightly biased) opinion, his performance in that time should be more than enough to secure his Naismith Award. Victor Oladipo is a tremendous player (and one of my hopefuls for the Pistons’ lottery pick), but IU would be in much better shape without him than Michigan would be without Trey. His play makes everyone around him better, and to think that Mitch would have even sniffed 20+ without Trey is a joke. I apologize for my TB3 ramblings, but the Michigan faithful should really cherish the little remaining time they have with him. Even if he leaves after this year, Trey Burke will go down as one of the greatest to ever play the game in a Michigan uniform, and I would not be upset at all to see his jersey in the rafters if he wins a National Championship. Enjoy it while it lasts.
Other Player Notes:
Glenn Robinson played a solid game with 13 points and 8 rebounds on 5/11 shooting. Much like Trey, Glenn made some big plays down the stretch that made this legendary comeback possible. Look for him to have the ball much more in his hands without Trey on the team (probable). He was a 5-star talent out of high school, and I think we have just begun to see what he is capable of.
Nik Stauskas had a decent night offensively with 11 points and 4/7 from the field. There are still major defensive worries that will really define his progressions throughout his college career. He has had some good shooting games, but has been absent at times on the big stage. Nik uncharacteristically missed two free throws and a couple of wide-open threes. He is a great shooter outside of games, but if he can improve on hitting those open three’s that he’s missed plenty of, the sky is the limit.
Tim Hardaway Jr. didn’t have the best game of his life, but still did his part to help in the win. At this point we know what to expect out of THJ, and hopefully he decides to stick around another year to add to a wing group that should be stronger than ever.
Mitch McGary has the potential to really be something special. His progressions since the beginning of the year are off the charts, and he doesn’t look to be slowing down. The biggest factors that he brings to the table are his work ethic and energy, intangibles that have really made a difference for this young Michigan team. I could go on about his abilities, but in general he is a great finisher and very fast for his size. How good he becomes at Michigan will depend on how his offensive post game develops, as well as his on ball defense.
Trey Burke has been covered endlessly on this article, but his NBA Draft chances have not. In my mind, Trey is gone. I will keep telling myself this until I know for sure, because any other mindset will probably lead to false hope. The only way I see him staying is if Michigan gets a taste of a NC, but loses in dramatic fashion. Being that close to winning it all might be enough for him to stay an extra year, but don’t count on it.
Elijah Johnson had a dong punch on Mitch McGary in the first half that came around to bite him in the end. It’s already been beaten to death by the media, so I really didn’t want to focus on that or the whole karma aspect of the game. Basically Elijah Johnson had a low blow on Mitch, and because of that (supposedly), played terrible at the end and ultimately cost his team the game. He is a senior who will probably never see the end of the game, so this is how he will be remembered. Good.
Jeff Withey had a solid game shooting 6/11 (12 pts), as well as rebounding with 8. He had the most difficult defensive task on his team, being the help when Trey drives as well as guarding Mitch, and didn’t fare too well. Blame that more on Trey being great than Jeff being a bad defender. He is a good scorer and a great defender. He can finish plays, as well as create his own shot with his back to the basket. I haven’t really followed his Draft stock, but expect to see him playing at the next level.
Ben McLemore is the real deal. He was absent in their first two tournament games, but showed last night why he has been getting #1 pick love. His game is well rounded, especially for his age, and displays the type of athleticism that you would expect out of a number 1 pick. With 4 starting seniors leaving the Jayhawks, I don’t see much of a reason for Ben to stick around either.
You (hopefully) got to witness one of the most memorable games in Michigan history. This is the kind of game you will tell your grandchildren about, especially if it is on route to a NC. I am truly blessed to root for a team like Michigan, on and off of the court. Here’s to beating Florida tomorrow! Go Blue!
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