As was virtually certain since the moment Trey Burke didn't enter last year's NBA draft, Trey Burke has entered the 2013 NBA draft.
There was exactly one thing left for Burke to do in college—win the national title—after he collected every player of the year award available and hit an audacious 30-footer to tie Kansas. This is like Woodson's departure save for the outcome o the last game: we wish you'd stay, kid, but we know you should go.
Michigan now turns to Spike Albrecht and incoming top-50 recruit Derrick Walton at the point; they're waiting on NBA decisions from Tim Hardaway Jr., Mitch McGary, and Glenn Robinson III. Those have to be made by the 28th.
I haven't had the chance to go through the full tape yet, but here are a few of the more memorable moments (from a Michigan standpoint) from Monday's title game. Above, obviously, is Spike Albrecht Bonanza. Hit the jump for a couple of high-flying Wolverines and some great shots from the CBS intro.
Look at it.
No, just look. In the image above, there is no whistle. There is just Trey Burke, consensus national player of the year, making another magnificent, awe-inspiring play—and in a season when he's done that time and again, I don't recall #3 blocking a shot quite like that. Stripped of the context of the game, it's simply 60 more frames of Burke's greatness.
We all witnessed a basketball classic last night, no "college" qualifier necessary. Michigan and Louisville put on a showcase of everything that is great about the sport—no two other teams in the country could've combined, on that stage, to showcase such a sublime combination of talent, skill, coaching, and the free-flowing style that makes for the most entertaining of games.
The exception was the officiating, and it's not like the Wolverines bore the brunt of that incompetence alone. Louisville's run to close out the first half could've swung the game even more had the refs not whistled phantom fouls on, if memory serves, both Peyton Siva and Russ Smith as they were in the midst of picking Wolverines clean and heading the other way for a layup. Look closely enough and you'll never fail to find points left on the table.
I watched the game last night at my apartment, with my brother and roommate, just as I had the first five games of the tourney—same people, same seats. After the final buzzer, we sat in silence for a few moments, collecting our scattered feelings. My roommate, normally the one who lets his emotions get the best of him, was the first to break the silence. Let's have a drink, go outside, get some air.
We stood on the back patio, and over a backdrop of hovering helicopters and wailing sirens we talked about the game, this team, the tourney run. The specifics of the conversation are lost to a long night and a few beverages, but I remember the smiles that crept over all of our faces as we recounted our favorite moments from an unforgettable season. Back inside, we flipped on a rerun of Arrested Development on the DVR, laughing with the Bluths like it was any other April night.
Today, I woke up a little late, and yes, with a little bit of a headache. This was what I saw when I turned on my laptop:
Michigan may have lost, but Spike Albrecht is still doing his thing, and I'm not one to count him out these days. After all, he was the Most Eligible Bachelor even before he had one of the most unlikely performances in championship history.
It's always disappointing when your team comes up just short, not because you're disappointed in them, but for them; there's no coach more deserving of a title than John Beilein, no player who's earned a crowning achievement more than Burke, and for a moment after the game I ached for them. But someone always has to ache, and who's to say who's more deserving? You know Kevin Ware; now read about Luke Hancock having the game of his life while his ailing father watched from the stands, or the incredible story of a 13-year-old Peyton Siva talking his father out of suicide, and there's no anger to be felt as Louisville celebrates. They have lives and stories just like our guys, we're just not as familiar with them.
And today, Spike Albrecht—Spike Albrecht!—is the talk of the nation, as is Burke's incredible block and that game, man, that game. Regardless of departures, and there will be departures, this program is in better shape than it was 24 hours ago. The whole country knows what we've known this whole year about Michigan basketball: they've arrived, they aren't going anywhere, and they're damn fun to watch. For 14 minutes, Spike Albrecht made everyone forget about Trey Burke, and we're not even sure he's going to start next year.
Look at it, one more time. It's still beautiful, and forever will be.
We're past the point of coherent thought. Let's watch some pictures move instead.
[Hit THE JUMP for the best gifs from the Syracuse game, including a complete Oliver Stone-style breakdown of Otto The Orange's tragic demise.]
According to all of Twitter, Trey Burke just finished his clean sweep of the national player of the year awards, adding the Naismith and NABC player of the year honors to a trophy case that already included the Wooden and Robertson awards. For a point guard, this is not a common occurrence:
The sweep of the major awards is only the third since 1977 for a point guard, joining Jameer Nelson and Jay Williams.
— Michael Rothstein (@mikerothstein) April 7, 2013
All that and we get to watch him play for Michigan one more time. Not bad.
Image via UMHoops
"Bright youth passes swiftly as a thought." — Theognis
Mitch McGary scored in double figures twice in his first 21 games for Michigan. Before last night, he had 18 assists... all season.
Nik Stauskas had made just two of his previous 16 three-point attempts when he took the floor against Florida.
Prior to the NCAA Tournament, Glenn Robinson III's season high in offensive rebounds was four.
Caris LeVert, expected to take a redshirt year, didn't play in Michigan's first six games. He'd scored a grand total of zero NCAA Tournament points heading into Saturday night.
Going into the last two games, Spike Albrecht had scored 54 points this season, 627 fewer than the man he backed up, Trey Burke.
Before the season began, I wrote about the lofty expectations for this team, and how much they had to rely on a talented but enigmatic group of incoming freshmen:
While the hype may be slightly overblown, anything less than the program's first Sweet Sixteen appearance since 1994 would be considered a disappointment.
How the team reaches that point is still very much in question. Hardaway, plagued by a balky jumper, ceded the role of lead dog to Burke as the season wore on in 2011-12; if he regains his stroke, he could emerge as the top scoring option. The presence of Jordan Morgan, McGary, and a healthy Jon Horford up front gives Beilein new-found depth and versatility with his lineup—Beilein spoke at media day of an offseason spent studying NBA film to see how the pros utilize two post players, a luxury he hasn't been afforded during his time in Ann Arbor. For their part, McGary and Robinson must live up to sky-high recruiting hype if this team hopes to deliver on their potential.
The extent to which the Wolverines miss Zack Novak, Stu Douglass, and Evan Smotrycz depends largely on another freshman, Nik Stauskas, and his ability to connect from the outside. Yet another freshman, Spike Albrecht, will be called upon to replace "timeout" as Burke's backup. One more first-year guard, Caris LeVert, has earned rave reviews in practice and could provide scoring punch off the bench.
When the season began, Stauskas and Robinson managed to make an immediate impact. McGary, however, was simultaneously playing his way into shape and learning how to play his game without bashing into everyone and everything (including, very nearly, the Governor). Albrecht was largely a non-factor all the way through Big Ten season, called upon to keep the ship afloat—and no more than that—when the National Player of the Year needed a quick breather. LeVert appeared at least a year away from being a major contributor, showing flashes of sky-high potential but shooting under 30% on the season.
Heading into the tournament, Michigan was regarded, well, maybe not as a one-man show, but to keep it in-state let's say they were the White Stripes and Trey Burke was Jack White—take him away and you're left with a bunch of unmelodious noise that often strays off-beat. When Burke scored six points on 2/12 shooting in the opening game against South Dakota State, it was a clear case of fortunate timing, the only remaining game in which he could perform below his standard and see the Wolverines advance. That opinion did not change when Burke posted 18 and 7 against the vaunted VCU press, and was cemented during the final minutes of the Kansas game—despite his scoreless first half, and McGary's inspired play keeping the Wolverines within striking distance.
Then came the Florida game. McGary continued his transformation into Evolutionary Tim Duncan, posting 11 points, nine rebounds, and five(!) steals in just 21 minutes. Robinson, who'd struggled all season defensively, held Patric Young to eight points and a lone offensive board. Albrecht scored seven off the bench, broke a press with an absurd baseball pass to Jon Horford, and his three steals included this playground special. And Stauskas, of course, bombed the Gators out of the building with a perfect six-for-six performance from beyond the arc. Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. combined to shoot 8-for-29. The Wolverines won by 20.
Last night, it was McGary—not Burke—facilitating Michigan's most effective offensive possessions, dishing out six assists (including a no-looker to GRIII) and devastating Syracuse's 2-3 zone from the high post. For the second time in the tournament, Robinson recorded five offensive rebounds. Albrecht only played four minutes, but hit two huge threes—including a Burke-esque 30-footer—and helped handle the rock late when Syracuse turned up the pressure. With a migraine-limited Stauskas unable to score, LeVert stepped onto the big stage and immediately connected on a pair of game-changing triples—he played his usual solid defense and recorded four rebounds for good measure. Burke scored seven points, just one more than Albrecht*. Hardaway was 4/16 from the field. Despite a late Syracuse push, Michigan won with relative comfort.
Above all else, this has been the revelation of the NCAA Tournament. It's impossible to understate the importance of Trey Burke, and how his masterpiece of a season got Michigan here. The contributions of Hardaway, Jon Horford, and the Jordan Morgan Redemption Tour have been invaluable all year, including the postseason. The emergence of the Fresh Five—all of them—however, is the biggest reason the Wolverines are playing for a national title on Monday.
John Beilein deserves much of the credit here, of course—not just for an exquisite eye for recruiting talent (usually before anyone else), but for masterfully managing their roles, minutes, and psyche. Before the tournament, there was no doubt that Michigan could pull themselves together and contend for a title if they played up to their potential. At this point, though, they're not just in position for this year—they're set up to reach the same heights on a regular basis. This is from the same article I wrote before the season:
Despite the inexperience and uncertainty, this team represents Beilein's surest bet to take this program to the next level, and could very well be his best shot for a long time. That may sound rash, but the Wolverines have been close to the leap before, only to fall back: the Amaker tenure crumbled despite early promise, the 2009-10 squad faltered despite making the tournament with the same nucleus the year before, and even last year's team tripped up against 13-seed Ohio in the Big Dance. Trey Burke probably isn't walking through that door next year. There's no guarantee Tim Hardaway Jr. will, either. For that matter, Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III have one-and-done potential if all goes well (too well, perhaps).
On Monday, we'll watch this team play together for the last time. We know this. They know this. Despite a rotation lacking a single senior, a large part of the team's core won't be back next year, and for damn good reason.
That no longer concerns me. John Beilein will find a way, replacing his bright youth with brighter youth, just as he has during his entire Michigan tenure.
*Though, for anyone who thinks Burke had an awful game, please refer to Michael Carter-Williams' final stat line.