Michigan is in the Final Four for the first time since 1993. Back then it was the Fab Five leading the way, but a lot has changed for the Wolverines since then. Let’s take a closer look at this year’s Michigan team that’s hoping to win a national championship, something the Fab Five failed to do 20 years ago.
How they got here:
The Wolverines raced out to a 20-1 start, including wins over NCAA Tournament teams Pittsburgh, Kansas State, N.C. State, and Minnesota. But after that a tough Big 10 schedule started to catch up with them, and the Wolverines finished 6-6 down the stretch, including an embarrassing lost to Penn State. However, once the NCAA Tournament started, the Wolverines got back to on track, having no trouble with a tough South Dakota State team in the first round and blowing out VCU and their “havoc” defense in the second round.
The Wolverines were dangerously close to elimination in the Sweet 16, but Trey Burke led them on a furious comeback in the closing minutes to force overtime against Kansas and pull off one of the tournament’s most improbable wins. Surprisingly, things got easier in the Elite Eight as the Wolverines trampled Florida in a game that was never in doubt, as they dominated the Gators from start to finish to earn their trip to Atlanta.
Trey Burke is the engine that makes Michigan go, and he’s been arguably the best point guard and best player in the country this season. He scores 19 points per game, shoots 38% from the perimeter, and also dishes out seven assists per game. As he goes, so do the Wolverines. Nik Stauskas is the best three-point shooter on a perimeter-oriented team that’s full of shooters. He’s Michigan’s third-leading scorer, but is capable of being their top scorer in any given game, as he shoots 45% from beyond the three-point line. Freshmen Mitch McGary has come on strong at the end of the season and given Michigan an inside presence that they didn’t have earlier in the season. Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III, both sons of former NBA players, are also important players that the Wolverines rely on to be productive.
As good as McGary has been late in the season, Michigan does not have a lot of size or scoring inside. Unless it comes off of penetration from Burke the Wolverines don’t do too much scoring in the paint, and don’t have a go-to guy that can score in the post. Another concern for Michigan is their youth and inexperience. They are freshmen and sophomore dominated, and in addition to the program not reaching this level in two decades, most of these players have never been on a stage nearly as big as the Final Four stage, and that could be an issue for them in Atlanta.
John Beilein has done a great job reviving the Michigan program, and he’s probably one of the more under-rated coaches in the country. He’s been around a long time, but this will be his first time taking a team to the Final Four. Beilein hadn’t even been to the second weekend of the tournament since 2006 when he was coaching West Virginia, so he’s definitely in uncharted territory, and on top of that he’s doing so with a relatively young team. There’s also the matter of Beilein being 0-9 in his career against his national semi-final counterpart Jim Boeheim. As impressive as Beilein’s resume is and as good of a coaching job he’s done this year, in a Final Four with Boeheim and Rick Pitino, he’s a distant third in the pecking order of head coaches left in the tournament.
They will win the title because:
Nothing wins in March (and the early part of April) better than great guard play, which is something Michigan has with Burke. He proved against Kansas that he’s capable of some incredible things and that he will carry his team on his back for as long as possible. He’ll be challenged with tough defenses, but there may be no defense in the country that Burke can’t dissect. With shooters like Stauskas and Hardaway Jr. around him, Burke and the Wolverines can light up the scoreboard and if the Final Four turns into a track meet, there may be no catching up to Michigan with Burke leading the way.