Brightest Youth

Submitted by Ace on April 7th, 2013 at 3:35 PM


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.

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*Though, for anyone who thinks Burke had an awful game, please refer to Michael Carter-Williams' final stat line.

Comments

Ty Butterfield

April 7th, 2013 at 3:52 PM ^

This team has really come together in the tournament. You could certainly see the potential during the season but there was also some frustrating games as well. I want to see this team finish and win the title SO bad. They really seem like a great group of kids that understands the concept of playing for each other. I think Beilein has a got this program turned around and the furture should be bright. HOWEVA, the tournament is such a crap shoot you never know when Michigan will make it back to the title game again. Go out and make us proud tomorrow guys! GO BLUE!

tjhubbar

April 7th, 2013 at 3:56 PM ^

Think McGary sticks to his word and doesn't go pro after this season, despite his incredible run?  What about GRIII?

 

Great writing, as always, Ace!

StellaBlue

April 7th, 2013 at 3:58 PM ^

Great to see the bench come in and perform.  What a TEAM!!

McGary owning it.  GRIII stepping up (light is ALMOST ON!)  Man, he hesitated a few too many times when he should have taken a shot or blasted it to the hole, but he is coming around and tomorrow I think the light is fully on.

SO MUCH FUN!

Go Blue!

sdogg1m

April 7th, 2013 at 3:59 PM ^

I know he has put up decent points but I wouldn't say he has had a good tournament. Last night, he nearly lost the game by himself. He did not hit his shots despite being upon numerous times. The man Tim guarded (Fair) repeatedly hit shots and becamse the go to guy for Syracuse. I hope he has a complete game on Monday. It is one thing to score 10+ points in a game but it would be better if he did it with a decent shooting percentage.

To Tim's credit he did hit two clutch free throws but I hope he has a much better game on Monday.

champswest

April 7th, 2013 at 4:27 PM ^

at the end of the game.  Tim hasn't had a great scoring series, but he isn't letting it affect the rest of his play.  He appears to me to be playing with a desperate urgency.  He understands that you need to sieze the moment.

Autostocks

April 7th, 2013 at 5:20 PM ^

Burke of course seems a lock to leave early, but honestly I wouldn't be surprised if he's the only one.  Hardaway would be the next most likely, but I haven't heard any analyst say he'd be a high draft pick, and although I wouldn't underestimate his contributions during the tournament, he hasn't exactly distinguished himself as a future pro either.  I think THJ has the luxury of taking his time developing his game further if he wants to.  McGary and GRIII both seem to need more time at this level, and I believe that McGary has even said as much in the last couple of days, despite the breakout tournament performance.

SHub'68

April 7th, 2013 at 6:20 PM ^

more work in the weight room.  I'd like to see them get that at Michigan for one more season.  McGary has been all beast-mode in the tournament, that's true.  I would wonder if he's ready for a gruelling NBA season stamina-wise.  A lot of that is playing to it, yes, but an additional year in the Michigan weight room and an entire season as the number one starter would certainly make the transition to pro a lot easier.  The big men in the NBA are, well, big men.

Robinson needs additional strength more than McGary in my mind.  He is a smaller package to begin with and still would have to do battle with some pretty beastly characters in the NBA.  He also has a tendency to be tentative and to back off from the grind.  He needs to be a lot more of a "killer."

I don't think Hardaway is going to gain much from another year.  Burke neither.  The two of them should go if the prospects are good.  Much as I'd love another year of all of them!

Bottom line for me is that I just hate to see guys go too early and be invisible in the NBA.  It seems such a waste.

gwkrlghl

April 7th, 2013 at 6:57 PM ^

The only other sure-fire guy for the draft seems to McGary now and he's said he's 100% back.  If THJ was having a killer tournament (or maybe just a killer title game) I could see him going but since he's been ice cold in the big time, I doubt his draft stock is doing well at the moment

GRIII could go too, but I think he stays. He's not quite ready yet. This will be a fantastic team next year if Burke is the only loss. Preseason #1 or 2 I'd say

SHub'68

April 7th, 2013 at 6:27 PM ^

will be in pretty good shape with Spike at the helm next year?  HE may not be the slasher that Trey is, but he has shown some brilliance - starting with the Ohio State game where he seemed to have been the catalyst to getting the team settled back down after a bad start.  It'll be a different look, but I'm not so sure it'll be as much as a drop off as I might have thought a couple month ago.

Or maybe I'm still in shock over that deeeeep three he nailed last night.

borninAnnArbor

April 7th, 2013 at 5:53 PM ^

 

Knowing this was going to be the last hurrah for some of the Michigan players, I wanted them to do well. 

Before the tournament started I wanted them to win just one game to erase the sting from last year.  They did and I was satisfied. 

When they played VCU, I figured at that point, they were playing with house money.  They dominated, and with their play told the talking heads to shut up.  They made it to the sweet 16, I thought it was a successful year.  I was happy. 

Then the improbable comeback happened, and I watched the ending five times, shaking my head with marvel.  I was joyous.

They played Florida, and I spent Easter with my family.  My DVR gave a higher priority to Mickey Mouse.  My kids were happy and I watched every Gif and highlight I could.  I was disappointed I missed the game but elated.

Last night, I watched as the back up players who cheered so eagerly and enthusiastically for those who had more playing time return the favor with great plays and clutch shots of their own.  I was ecstatic.

 

Now, on the eve of the national championship game, all I can think about is how I do not want the mantra to include references to the fab five, and how they could not get it done.  I am nervous, but hopeful.

 

Go Blue

SHub'68

April 7th, 2013 at 6:30 PM ^

I added the extra 30 minutes when I set it up to record the game last night.  Unfortunately, the game started more than 45 after the set up.  The recording stopped just before McGary got his second try due to the lane violation and I didn't notice it.  I watched in real time, but I was counting on keeping these recordings for posterity.  Bit Torrent here I come...

panderberg

April 7th, 2013 at 6:16 PM ^

Q. Why did the Orangemen look so inept on offense?

 

A. Because our super-duper star was totally shutting down the much-heralded Syracuse PG who is VITAL to them in making their offense work.

 

Without Trey's stellar defensive efforts, no way do we win that game. In fact, when Trey blocked Carter-Williams shot in the 1st minute, I "knew" the game was in the bag - not remembering our big issue with clutch free throw shooting...

AtkinsDiet

April 7th, 2013 at 8:24 PM ^

All the sophs will be back. Burke and THJ ride off into the sunset after Monday, hopefully with a NC.

Of course, those two would insinuate a "large core" but is Ace insinuating more? I don't see it.

 

 

M-Wolverine

April 7th, 2013 at 8:54 PM ^

You aren't going through the Tourney without either a great big man or a number of good ones. He's been great, and putting him in the starting line up has been the difference. Beilein couldn't have done it any sooner, because Mitch wasn't ready yet. But we finally got the talented size we needed. Now we just have to keep him long enough to find a replacement.

Todd92

April 7th, 2013 at 9:33 PM ^

Was I the only one that noticed that they left those postgame interview floodlights on behind the goal we were warming up on? They were giving me a headhache and I kept wondering when one of the players or coaches would yell at someone to turn the damn things off. Things like that can trigger migranes in those that are susceptible.

voraciousness

April 7th, 2013 at 10:59 PM ^

Amazing article, Ace. You put what a lot of us are thinking into words. Tomorrow night WILL be the final time these guys are all on the same team. We only have one more game to see them make history. What happens tomorrow will be talked about for years and years to come. Lets all enjoy this moment right now.

Go Blue!