College Basketball Nation: Glenn Robinson III

INDIANAPOLIS -- Tennessee made a remarkable run to the Sweet 16 after beginning its journey beginning in the First Four. The Volunteers topped Iowa, UMass and Mercer to reach the Sweet 16, but Michigan was just too much in a 73-71 victory on Friday night.

Here are five observations from that Sweet 16 game:

What a comeback: The Vols didn’t give up. With 4:10 to play, they were down 67-60 after being down by as many as 15 points. They were down just 70-64 with 2:21 to go. Tennessee continued to attack the floor and get to the rim. With less than two minutes to play, Tennessee and Michigan were separated by only five points. The Vols continued to whittle away, drawing within three with 23 seconds left and moving to within one when Jordan McRae scored with 10.8 seconds left. Caris LeVert then stepped out of bounds with 9.6 seconds to play, making things real at Lucas Oil Stadium. Tennessee, despite struggling from 3-point range, was in position to win. But Jarnell Stokes drew a late charge against Jordan Morgan with six seconds left that essentially ended the game for the Vols despite a great comeback effort.

Michigan nearly flawless in first half: In some of the great upsets in past NCAA tournaments, the underdogs succeeded because they got off to fast starts. That didn’t happen with Tennessee. The Vols needed an impressive 11-3 run after going down 15-7 early. But the first half from there was all Michigan. The Wolverines dissected the Vols from that point forward. Cuonzo Martin’s squad couldn’t handle John Beilein’s collection of 6-foot-6-ish wings -- is there a factory in Ann Arbor, Mich., that we don’t know about? -- who just kept punishing Tennessee inside and outside. Michigan went 7-for-9 from the 3-point line, a 78 percent clip. This isn’t some Tennessee team that got lucky on its way to the Sweet 16. The Vols had defeated its three previous opponents in the NCAA tournament by nearly 20 points per game. But the Wolverines were just too much. Per ESPN Stats & Info, Michigan is 18-for-30 from the 3-point line in the first halves of its NCAA tourney games. The Wolverines don't wait. They just go.

LeVert … the future: Nik Stauskas (14 points) has no reason to stay in school beyond this season. That much was clear in Friday’s game. He’s a big guard with range and solid ballhandling ability. Glenn Robinson III (13 points) could leave, too, but the program will still be in good hands if LeVert (10 points) returns. The 6-6 sophomore has made dramatic improvements this season. He’s been a 41 percent shooter from the 3-point line, but the most impressive element of his game on Friday, something I didn’t see until I watched him live, was his quick first step and ability to create his own shot. He is thin, and a summer in the weight room would really enhance his game, but he’s a special talent who might be the next Michigan superstar. His late error doesn't define his season or his potential.

Size doesn’t always help: When Tennessee walked to the podium for its pregame media session on Thursday, it looked like a college football team. Jeronne Maymon and Stokes are large individuals, with size that Michigan lacks, and, on paper, that appeared to be a potential issue for the Wolverines. How would they deal with a team that had big wings and strong post players such as Stokes and Maymon? Well, that wasn’t the real question. The real question became, "How can Tennessee stay in front of the Wolverines?" It couldn’t in the first half. Martin had Maymon on Robinson early, which didn’t last long, as Robinson kept beating Maymon off the dribble. He had to insert Derek Reese, a 6-8 wing, to guard him. Early in the game, Tennessee wasn’t even using Stokes and Maymon together. Maymon’s early foul trouble might have contributed to that, but the Vols were better with the one-big system. That’s how you know Michigan is a really good team, as Tennessee had to adjust its entire scheme in the first five minutes to deal with it. But the one-big system also helped the Vols climb back into the game.

Beilein deserves credit for developing players: Yes, Beilein doesn’t exactly draw kids from the prep market’s scrap heap, but he’s also not signing a bunch of one-and-dones, either. Look at Stauskas, Robinson and LeVert, along with Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton Jr. Check out the game that Morgan (15 points, seven rebounds) had. They’ve all developed at a respectable pace. Stauskas will be a millionaire lottery pick if he decides to turn pro. Robinson could be a first-round pick, too. LeVert could be a top-15 selection in 2015 if he doesn’t leave this year. Walton looks comfortable. Irvin is next. And we haven't even mentioned Mitch McGary, who was the team's top pro prospect entering the season before a back injury ended his year. He was just a solid freshman, but by the end of last year's tourney, he was a lottery pick. Sure, the Wolverines can shoot, but the perennial progression of Beilein’s rosters is worth noting. His players have made some tremendous strides.
MILWAUKEE -- Both Michigan and Wisconsin had their share of defensive doubters entering the NCAA tournament. The two Big Ten representatives silenced them, at least for a day, by effectively making one of the baskets disappear at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.

[+] EnlargeTony Wroblicky
Benny Sieu/USA TODAY SportsWisconsin easily bottled up American's offense but will have more difficulty with up-tempo Oregon.
But the skeptics will stir again as Saturday's tipoffs approach. And they should. The Wolverines and Badgers still must validate themselves on the defensive end against No. 7 seeds -- Oregon and Texas -- that will stretch them to the max.

"Our defense," Michigan forward Glenn Robinson III said, "is going to make us or break us."

Defense pushed Robinson and his teammates into the round of 32 after their normally fluid offense zigged and zagged against Wofford. The Wolverines made just one-third of their field goal attempts in the second half but allowed just 20 points, the same total they allowed in the first 20 minutes.

Wisconsin, a program famous for stifling defense -- but one that hasn't always delivered it this season -- was even better at keeping American off the scoreboard. The Badgers allowed only 13 points in the second half -- the fewest in a half for a Badgers opponent in any modern-era NCAA tournament game -- and just 18 points in the final 29 minutes, 17 seconds.

"Obviously, we were very good," Badgers assistant Greg Gard said, "but it will be a totally different challenge [Saturday]. It goes from a test of your discipline and your focus for 30 seconds, to the shot clock might not even get to 30 at times for Oregon."

Dana Altman might not be college basketball's Chip Kelly, but his team, unlike American, is all about pushing the tempo. Oregon led the Pac-12 and ranked 11th nationally in scoring offense, reaching 90 points in nine games and 100 points in four. Offensive threats are everywhere, from the starters to the bench, which needs 18 more points to reach 1,000 for the season.

The Ducks showcased their scoring speed and prowess Thursday against BYU, tallying 87 points on 50 percent shooting. Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan wondered aloud whether any tournament team will face a bigger contrast in opponents than his Badgers.

"It's crazy," said junior guard Josh Gasser, Wisconsin's top defender. "They are just completely opposite. Their philosophies, what they're trying to do, even their personnel. But we've played teams that like to slow it down, we've played teams that like to push it in transition.

"We're pretty much used to anything by now."

The Badgers have seen shades of Oregon in Big Ten foes like Iowa and Michigan State. Their defense hasn't been bad -- 63.7 points per game allowed, 42.9 percent opponent shooting percentage -- but it hasn't always met the Ryan standard, in part because of a stronger, quicker offense and a new-look front line.

Oregon is mostly perimeter-oriented but could target the post more with veteran Mike Moser and Elgin Cook, who had a career-high 23 points against BYU in his Milwaukee homecoming.

"We're attacking from every direction," Ducks point guard Johnathan Loyd said. "Anybody can go get 20 on any given night. It's just tough to defend. ... [Opponents] kind of start bickering with each other, like, 'Hey, you should have been there! Nah, I had this guy!'

"That's when you know our offense is really clicking."

Michigan faces much bigger post problems with Texas. Longhorns center Cameron Ridley and forward Jonathan Holmes combined for 483 rebounds during the regular season, including 187 offensive boards.

[+] EnlargeCameron Ridley
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesCameron Ridley's size in the low post could cause problems for Michigan's defense.
Texas' final four baskets Thursday against Arizona State came on second chances, as Ridley and Holmes cleaned up down low.

"We're a good rebounding team," Michigan coach John Beilein said. "They're a great rebounding team."

Texas isn't Wofford, which started no players taller than 6-foot-7 and went 1-for-19 from 3-point range.

"I don't think that's going to happen again," Michigan forward Jon Horford said, "so we have to be realistic about defensive expectations but still bring that emphasis into every game."

Longhorns players liken Michigan's perimeter-oriented style to Iowa State, a team it split with during the regular season.

"I look to attack more," Ridley said. "This is an opportunity for me and Jon, Prince [Ibeh] and Connor [Lammert] to show how good we are and exploit the advantage we might have."

Michigan is one of the more efficient offensive teams in the country, but its defense has slipped at times, including late in the regular season. Beilein unveiled some 2-3 zone during the Big Ten tournament as a changeup from the team's standard man-to-man or 1-3-1 zone looks.

The Wolverines geared their defense against Wofford toward stopping guard Karl Cochran, the team's offensive catalyst. Texas, meanwhile, has four players who average in double figures and six who reached the mark against BYU.

"We have to vary our defensive coverages," Michigan assistant Bacari Alexander said, "whether that be man-to-man or trapping or zones, and see if we can get them off rhythm."

Even if the Wolverines succeed at forcing missed shots, Texas could still make them pay.

"Any time you can get offensive rebounds, it breaks their back," Holmes said. "Another 35 seconds of defense is never fun."

Michigan and Wisconsin had plenty of fun on defense Thursday. Both teams must dig in to keep the good times going.

Saturday by the numbers

March, 9, 2014

Saturday, the last full day of regular-season college hoops, was a grand affair. We had overtime and history-making matchups and buzzer-beaters and memorable Senior Nights.

And the NCAA tournament hasn’t even started.

It’s probably best to recap this day according to its most significant numbers:

3,000: Bill Walton won two national championships with UCLA. Lew Alcindor won three national titles for the Bruins. J.J. Redick shattered records at Duke during his time there. Ralph Sampson won three consecutive Naismith player of the year awards at Virginia. Sampson, Alcindor and Walton are three of the greatest athletes who ever played at the collegiate level. But none of the aforementioned four players scored 3,000 points in their respective careers. Now, it’s only fair to note that eligibility limits blocked freshmen from competing with the varsity squads then and the 3-point line wasn’t available, either.

[+] EnlargeDoug McDermott
AP Photo/Nati HarnikCreighton's Doug McDermott because just the eighth player to score more than 3,000 career points.
None of that diminishes what Doug McDermott has accomplished, however, as the senior forward became just the eighth player in NCAA history to score 3,000 career points. He reached that historic tally on a 3-pointer with 11:27 to play in Creighton’s 88-73 win over Providence on Saturday. He finished with 45 points total and 3,011 for his career to date.

4: Iowa State and Oklahoma State have had two battles this season. And after Saturday’s thriller, the Cyclones can claim both victories over the Pokes, but they needed four overtimes to get there. The first game, a 98-97 win for Iowa State, demanded triple overtime in Stillwater. Naz Long hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to drag Saturday’s game into the extra period in Ames, where Iowa State secured the 85-81 victory in the rematch.

41: Remember that stuff about Andrew Wiggins not being aggressive enough? Well, that’s so 2013. The freshman, a finalist for the Wooden Award, has been one of America’s best players in recent months. Proof? He dropped a career-high 41 points in Kansas’ 92-86 loss at West Virginia. At one point in the game, the Mountaineers had a 64-39 lead. But the Jayhawks, who were missing Joel Embiid, had a chance in the end. Yes, Kansas suffered a loss, which doesn’t help its argument for a top seed. But Wiggins produced the second-highest point total for a freshman in Big 12 history, per ESPN Stats & Information. That’s impressive.

18-0: Kentucky made things interesting for a moment. But the Wildcats couldn’t handle Florida’s full onslaught in the Gators’ 84-65 victory in Gainesville, a win that gave Florida a perfect 18-0 record in conference play. The Gators are the first team in SEC history to finish a year with 18 wins, per ESPN Stats & Information. The win also extended Florida’s winning streak to 23 games.

13: In the final home game of his career at Louisville, Russ “Russdiculous” Smith decided to let his teammates shine. He dished out a career-high 13 assists during an 81-48 Senior Night win over UConn.

1: With Cincinnati topping Rutgers and Louisville beating UConn, the American Athletic Conference had a problem. The Bearcats and Cardinals split the league title so the conference used a coin flip to finalize the top seed in next week’s AAC tourney. The winner? Cincinnati. "I requested that Coach Pitino and I play one game of liar's poker," Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin joked to reporters after the game. “We used to do that all the time -- for fun, obviously.”

7 minutes, 32 seconds: That’s how long Arizona went without a field goal in the second half of a 64-57 road loss to Oregon, which snapped the Wildcats' five-game winning streak. That drought helped the Ducks seize a commanding lead via their 17-5 run.

73 seconds: That’s how much time remained in the game when Glenn Robinson III hit a go-ahead 3-pointer in Michigan's 84-80 win over Indiana.

33: Wins for undefeated Wichita State after Saturday’s 67-42 victory over Missouri State in the Missouri Valley Conference tourney semifinals. The Shockers are just the third team in Division I history to achieve a 33-0 mark, per ESPN Stats & Information.

30: Jabari Parker's career high in a 93-81 win over North Carolina at Cameron Indoor (most points by a Duke freshman in a matchup against North Carolina, according to ESPN Stats & Information), which gave Duke 33 consecutive home wins -- a Division I-high that the Blue Devils currently share with Stephen F. Austin.

2007: Eastern Kentucky upset top-seeded Belmont, 79-73, in the Ohio Valley tourney title game. The Colonels became the second team to punch their ticket to the NCAA tournament this season. And they’ll be dancing for the first time since 2007.

Video: Capital One Impact nominees

March, 2, 2014
The nominees for the Capital One Cup Impact Performance of the Week include North Carolina's Marcus Paige, Tennessee's Jordan McRae, Michigan's Glenn Robinson III and Indiana's Will Sheehey.

Robinson's shot a sign of growth

February, 26, 2014

Even if Wednesday’s venue weren’t his father’s old palace, Glenn Robinson III's game-winning shot in No. 16 Michigan’s 77-76 overtime win at Purdue -- a victory that helped the Wolverines maintain control of the Big Ten title race -- would have meant something.

No player on the Michigan roster has faced more pressure than Robinson following last season’s Final Four. Trey Burke’s departure, it seemed, meant that Michigan would be Robinson’s World in 2013-14.

He’d return to a more natural small forward slot after competing at the four-spot last season alongside Tim Hardaway Jr. on the wing. John Beilein would run his best stuff through the promising sophomore, who had a chance to make a lot of money last summer before choosing to return to Ann Arbor with his buddy Mitch McGary.

All seemed right for Michigan -- until it all went wrong.

[+] EnlargeRobinson III
Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsGlenn Robinson III's game-winning buzzer-beater not only kept Michigan in first place in the Big Ten, but crushed his famous father's alma mater.
McGary’s season-ending back injury only complicated the program’s transition to life without Burke. Plus, Nik Stauskas' emergence as top dog and Caris LeVert's growth pushed Robinson to the background. And he didn’t seem prepared to handle it all.

There were times when he forced everything (see his 4-for-14 effort in a November loss to Iowa State). In other moments, he just disappeared (eight single-digit scoring outputs this season). But he’s also looked like a star in multiple outings.

Consistently being a star has been the unattainable feat thus far.

It has been much easier to note his shortcomings than his strengths. He’s ranked 15th in the Big Ten in Ken Pomeroy’s individual offensive efficiency ratings. He boasts a stat pool (12.9 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 49 percent from the field) that would be an overachievement for many. But his numbers are down compared to last season.

Therefore, he has been clothed in scrutiny.

Where has he been in late-game situations? Why isn’t he more aggressive? Why the here today, gone tomorrow pattern?

All of those are honest questions.

But they fail to capture the reality that Robinson is a sophomore who is still figuring things out. If his father weren’t a former No. 1 pick, if there wasn’t NBA chatter hovering over his season and a national title game appearance inked onto his resume, it’d be easier to acknowledge that his struggles are the norm for most underclassmen.

That’s not an excuse; just the truth.

He was on the drums last season, but everyone expected him to play lead guitar this one. Sure, he can do it. But that’s a tremendous chasm for any young player to navigate.

As the season comes to close though, Robinson is reminding all of us that his potential never changed. He just needed more time to get there.

With Michigan down one point Wednesday, Beilein drew up an intricate scheme with 2.9 seconds left that had LeVert toss a pass to Robinson on the right side of the floor. He’d found some room by rushing toward LeVert before curling off Spike Albrecht’s screen and reversing to his original spot, a sequence that momentarily perplexed Purdue. But when Robinson caught the high pass, he was trapped. He split a pair of Purdue defenders and scored on a buzzer-beating layup off the glass, a shot that took its time before finally dropping, and crushed a Boilermakers squad that had a 19-point lead in the first half.

On the same floor 20 years ago, Glenn “Big Dog” Robinson averaged 30.3 PPG for a Purdue team that he ultimately carried to the Elite Eight. So there’s certainly a poetic element to what Robinson did on his father’s court in those closing seconds on Wednesday.

But that’s not the full story.

Robinson finished with 15 points in a Sunday win against rival Michigan State. On Wednesday, he added 17 points, eight rebounds and three assists.

That Beilein would put the ball in Robinson’s hands on the final possession showcased the trust he has in the talented sophomore.

Michigan has a deep roster again and is capable of a return to the Final Four. Its versatility has been a thorn in the side of the (arguably) nation’s best conference for months.

And now the youngster who was supposed to lead this potential charge toward Arlington, Texas, before the year began has mustered up the mojo that’s most desirable as the postseason approaches.

Robinson didn’t answer everything with one shot on Wednesday. But there should be fewer questions now about the second-year man who’s growing at a respectable pace.

Assertive Marble good for Hawkeyes

February, 8, 2014
During Roy Devyn Marble’s “He Got Game” moment Saturday, ESPN’s cameras caught him yelling something as his teammates surrounded him following another 3-pointer -- he hit 50 of them, it seemed -- in the middle of No. 17 Iowa’s 85-67 victory over No. 10 Michigan in Iowa City.

It was something about Carver-Hawkeye Arena. There was a word that began with the letter ‘F’ and a mention of a house. The audio was off so viewers had to lip-read.

“This is my frigid house!” Maybe. It is cold this time of year in Iowa City. And four of Michigan’s starters, not named Caris LeVert (6-for-12, 22 points), shot a combined 5 for 19 from the field. Maybe that’s what he was referring to.

Or maybe Marble (22 of 26 points, six 3-pointers in the first half) said, “This is my fortified house!” That would make sense. Carver-Hawkeye has undergone some impressive renovations in recent years.

[+] EnlargeDevyn Marble
Steven Branscombe/USA TODAY SportsIowa guard Roy Devyn Marble scored 26 points on 17 shots in the win over Michigan.
Whatever he said, it was clear that Marble owned the place. Former Big Ten leader Michigan -- the Wolverines are now a half-game behind Michigan State, which will play at Wisconsin on Sunday -- entered halftime down 43-29. Had Saturday’s contest been a UFC fight, Michigan would have tapped and ended the punishment.

The Hawkeyes should celebrate the win. They’d lost three of their last five prior to Saturday, including home losses to Michigan State and Ohio State. They were losing grip on their dreams of making a late run at the Big Ten title and earning a high seed in the Big Dance.

Iowa halted its slide with a fantastic effort. Marble was the catalyst. Everything flows well when he’s in a rhythm.

Melsahn Basabe gets dirty buckets and rebounds (eight points, 10 rebounds, two assists). The floor opens up for Mike Gesell (10 points, eight assists, one turnover, three steals). Aaron White can just be Aaron White (11 points, eight rebounds, two steals and one block). Iowa’s bench (24 points total; nine points, four rebounds, three blocks for Gabriel Olaseni) blossoms, too.

The Hawkeyes benefited from their relaxed demeanor. That’s always more prominent when you’re up by double digits. But it was also the byproduct of Marble’s early success.

Soon, however, coach Fran McCaffery will remind his team that this thing is not finished. Not even close.

Four of Iowa’s final seven Big Ten games are road games. The Hawkeyes will see Wisconsin in Iowa City and Michigan State in East Lansing. They understand the stakes. They've had their hearts broken and broken those of their supporters many times under McCaffery.

But this season should be different. Right now, the NCAA tournament shouldn't be the only prize for the Hawkeyes. Sure, it would be a notable achievement for a program that hasn't participated in March Madness since 2006. Iowa hasn't won an NCAA tourney game since 2001. So a bid would be commendable, considering the history. That shouldn't be the only goal, though. The Hawkeyes can compete with the best teams in America and do more than just smile on Selection Sunday.

They can survive and advance -- if Marble is the assertive, efficient playmaker he was against Michigan.

On Tuesday, Iowa suffered a 76-69 home loss to Ohio State, the same Ohio State team that had lost five of its last seven entering that matchup. Marble went 4-for-11 in that game. He missed his three 3-point attempts. He committed four turnovers and three fouls. On Jan. 22, Michigan secured a 75-67 victory over Iowa in Ann Arbor. Marble recorded 13 points (3-for-9), four turnovers and four fouls.

The same Iowa team that registered just 1.02 points per possession in the first meeting with Michigan recorded 1.32 PPP in the second matchup with the Wolverines. The Hawkeyes made 52.2 percent of its shots outside the paint and outscored the Wolverines 22-8 in transition, according to ESPN Stats & Info. Michigan's Nik Stauskas, a Big Ten player of the year contender, and Glenn Robinson III scored 12 points combined.

So Marble can’t take full credit for Iowa’s win. He had help. A lot of it.

But he can accept the responsibility that the Hawkeyes need him to play with the confidence and aggression he displayed Saturday. That’s the only way that they’ll go as far as they’re capable of going. That’s the only way that they’ll stay in the Big Ten race. That’s the only way that they’ll thrive in the NCAA tournament.

Yes, Carver-Hawkeye -- albeit, right now -- might be Marble’s house. But Iowa is his team. And with that declaration comes the expectation that Saturday’s effort will be closer to the norm than an anomaly throughout the rest of the season.

MINNEAPOLIS -- If he builds it, will players come?

Richard Pitino’s field of dreams is housed in a place that was built more than a decade before World War II. The Barn, completed in the 1920s, is the nostalgic home of Minnesota men’s basketball, a program Pitino agreed to lead last spring.

It’s also a team with a past that is scarred by scandal. The academic mess in the 1990s that erased a Final Four appearance and a Big Ten title from the record books. A rape investigation in the 1980s. Dozens of NCAA violations in the 1970s.

Minnesota won its first NCAA tournament game in more than a decade in March 2013. It hasn’t won a Big Ten championship -- an official conference title, at least -- since 1982.

There’s smeared ink on the Book of Minnesota. Missing chapters, too.

And the only way for Pitino -- and every coach trying to rebuild a Division I program -- to change things is by luring better players to Minneapolis. It’s that easy and that complicated.

Minnesota's 63-60 loss to Michigan on Thursday could have been a positive step for Pitino and his program.

The Gophers outplayed an incomplete Michigan squad for a chunk of the night. Preseason All-American Mitch McGary didn’t play. And sophomore NBA prospect Glenn Robinson III missed most of the second half with an ankle injury.

But that’s when John Beilein turned to Nik Stauskas (14 points, seven assists), Zak Irvin (15 points, 5-for-8 from the 3-point line) and Jon Horford (14 points, nine rebounds). That resilience was a sign of Michigan’s depth and overall quality.

It wasn’t always this way, though.

So Beilein understands Pitino’s position.

Before he had a national title contender and a Wooden Award winner named Trey Burke, he had a team that hadn’t reached the NCAA tournament since 1998. In 2007, Beilein left West Virginia and accepted the charge of reinvigorating a program that had consistently failed to equal the success attained by the Fab Five. Much like Minnesota, Beilein had an old arena and no practice facility. And his chief rival Tom Izzo -- the equivalent of Bo Ryan to Minnesota -- had the edge on local talent.

In his sixth season, however, Beilein guided Michigan to the national championship game with an elite crew. And he boosted his team’s recruiting pipeline, ensuring a bright outlook for the squad.

[+] EnlargeRichard Pitino
AP Photo/Jim MoneMinnesota coach Richard Pitino gestures during the loss to Michigan.
Pitino’s roster lacks the NBA-level athletes and top recruits who anchor Beilein’s roster. That gap was evident in Thursday’s matchup.

When his two NBA prospects, McGary and Robinson, were unavailable against the Gophers, a pair of former top-100 recruits helped the Wolverines thrive.

Although he struggled from the field (1-of-4), freshman Derrick Walton Jr. (30th in the 2013 class, per RecruitingNation) was out there, too.

Only a healthy program can win a Big Ten road game with its two best players sidelined by injuries.

“You don’t think about what you don’t have,” Beilein said.

It helps when the next guy in line is a former McDonald’s All-American nominee (Irvin).

Beilein has two four-star recruits, Kameron Chatman and Ricky Doyle, in his 2014 class, which should allow Beilein to sustain this level of success.

That’s what Pitino wants.

“I think it’s all about patience, to be honest,” Pitino said. “And I know that’s a bad word in sports. I understand that. I think it’s all about recruiting and each class has got to get better than the next. And every player that you bring in, you’ve gotta bring in with great potential. You’ve just gotta stay positive. … We understand that it’s all about recruiting. It really is. All about building that culture.”

Added Beilein: “I think he’s well on his way.”

That’s what separates the best from the rest in this game. Everything starts with talent. It’s natural to talk schemes and coaching and experience when assessing teams and their potential. But it’s more relevant to discuss the role that personnel plays in building a program.

If Pitino doesn’t sign young stars, he won’t transform Minnesota into a Big Ten title contender.

The end.

Beilein faced the same predicament and external hopes when he arrived.

But he had some assistance. Michigan has completed both a renovation of Crisler Arena and the construction of a new practice facility in recent years.

“We recruited pretty good players with pictures,” Beilein said. “It’s the efficiency with which we can operate. We can have guys shoot-around at all times. We’re not juggling with the women’s team. We’re not juggling with other sports. It’s huge that we can just be efficient with our practice times and really get the most of it. … Obviously, it helps in recruiting. It certainly would hurt in recruiting if you don’t have it because everybody else in this league has it. So that’s a big thing.”

Facilities alone don’t guarantee an influx of talent. But they certainly matter.

“You know they’re committed to you,” Stauskas said. “You know with the practice facility they built, it just shows they’re willing to do whatever it takes to help us win. And last year with us going all the way to the national title game, it obviously shows that their investment is starting to pay off.”

There are no shovels in the ground on the Minnesota campus. No bulldozers moving dirt.

The practice facility is only a pipe dream that lacks the funding to become anything more than a fantasy.

The Barn should be torn down and replaced or renovated into a modern facility that is appealing to a new era of recruits that appreciate shiny things. Many supporters, however, view that as a blasphemous idea.

So the Gophers are, in many ways, stuck.

No new facilities. No sizable investment in basketball. Yet, miraculous results will be expected from the team’s backers in the coming years, even if things don’t change for Pitino the way they did for Beilein.

But Pitino doesn’t complain about his circumstances. He doesn’t have to.

Thursday’s Big Ten opener for Michigan and Minnesota told the story of two programs in separate realms.

One team is obviously equipped for the present and prepared for the future.

The other might need some more help just to get off the ground.
On Holiday is College Basketball Nation's daily rundown of the holiday tournaments, complete with previews, recaps, and links to all of the early-season tournament info you'll need in the weeks to come.

PUERTO RICO TIP-OFF (Bayamon, Puerto Rico)
Charlotte vs. Kansas State, 10:30 a.m. ET (ESPNU)
Northeastern vs. Georgetown, approx. 12:30 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
Long Beach State vs. Michigan, 5 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Florida State vs. VCU, 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPNU)

[+] EnlargeRoosevelt Jones
AP Photo/Steve HelberThe rules have tightened, but VCU's "Havoc" is still living up to its name early in the 2013-14 season.
Need to know: Traditionally, few would confuse the Puerto Rico Tip-Off for the Maui Invitational -- or, more recently, the Battle 4 Atlantis -- for overall strength of field. That's true again this season, but not nearly as much as usual. ... VCU looks like a bona fide Final Four-level team, and is still forcing turnovers at a massive rate (29 percent) despite the NCAA's new hand-checking rules. It should be said that frequent grumbles from opposing coaches suggested that the Rams' press works only because it's so physically aggressive. Maybe not so much?

Michigan is still getting forward Mitch McGary's back healthy after last weekend's tough loss at Iowa State. But a bigger concern might be the play of wingman Glenn Robinson III, who is scoring more frequently but less efficiently this season, particularly in the half court, where he's shooting just 36 percent.

Kansas State is defending and rebounding, which is hardly a surprise, but the Wildcats still need to get their offense on track.

Oh, and save the irrepressible freshmen, Georgetown's Joshua Smith was the story of college basketball's opening weekend. Smith's ongoing weight issues at UCLA left many thinking he was a lost cause, but his 25-point, 10-for-13 performance in Seoul showcased a player who might yet succeed in spite of his size.

Game of the day: Florida State vs. VCU. The previous time these two teams met, Florida State was the Sweet 16 victim in VCU's program-defining First Four-to-Final Four run in 2011. Bradford Burgess' layup with seven seconds left, and Rob Brandenburg's last-second block, gave VCU the win — and resulted in one of the greatest and most delirious radio calls of all-time. Florida State's odds on revenge seem slim.

Connecticut vs. Boston College, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Indiana vs. Washington, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN2)

Need to know: Connecticut point guard Shabazz Napier appears to have finally found his sweet spot, posting a 135.5 offensive rating thus far. It's still early, of course, but that's a 20-point increase from last season's efficiency metric, despite Napier using almost exactly the same number of possessions in 2013-14 (24.4) as in 2012-13 (24.3).

The difference? Fewer shots. Napier is hoisting just 17.9 percent of available attempts this year, down from 24.0 last season, and his assist rate has leapt from 27.9 to 36.3. He's shot just seven 3s; he's made six. This is all small-sample-size disclaimer stuff, but it is worth noting: Napier is keeping UConn's top-10-level offense humming less through scoring than everything else. Against Boston College -- a slightly disappointing 1-3 team with an efficient offense and a downright brutal (ranked 294th in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency-level brutal) defense -- Napier's smooth command should be on full display.

The Huskies likely will face Indiana, but that's only if the Hoosiers can avoid an upset at the hands of Lorenzo Romar's rebuilding Washington Huskies. Indiana is a very different team from the No. 1-seeded group that sent two players (Cody Zeller, Victor Oladipo) to the top five of the 2013 NBA draft. This is evident in both good and bad ways. On the positive side, freshman Noah Vonleh has been an immediate interior beast, grabbing 31.0 percent of Indiana's available defensive rebounds and blocking one shot every 20 possessions.

On the down side, Indiana's 3-point shooting has plummeted from 40.4 percent last season to 30.3 percent; stellar sophomore point guard Yogi Ferrell is the only player shooting it consistently. That has allowed smart defenses (see: LIU Brooklyn) to sink and prevent driving lanes, stagnating IU's attack, making life more difficult for Ferrell, and making IU look -- for perhaps the first time in Tom Crean's tenure -- better at defense than offense. Strange times.

Game of the day: Indiana vs. Washington. Boston College doesn't look likely to stop Napier, Ryan Boatright, and the rest of UConn's impressive backcourt. But if Indiana's young group stutters under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden, C.J. Wilcox and the Huskies might just have an unpleasant surprise in store.

The state of the Big Ten

November, 5, 2013

In recent years, the Big Ten has boasted an assembly of athletes who have boosted the league to the top of college basketball’s conference rankings.

Players who could’ve turned pro returned and granted the league a lineup of experienced players who carried their respective squads for multiple seasons. Evan Turner, Trey Burke, Cody Zeller, Draymond Green, Deshaun Thomas, Jared Sullinger, JaJuan Johnson, Tim Hardaway Jr. and others had opportunities to sign NBA contracts a year or two earlier than they did. Instead, they stayed and strengthened their teams and subsequently, the entire conference.

Prior to changes at Minnesota and Northwestern this past offseason, only four of the 12 Big Ten schools (Iowa, Nebraska, Illinois, Penn State) had changed head coaches in the previous five seasons. That continuity has fueled immense success for a league that has earned 20 total bids in the last three NCAA tournaments.

There are, however, more questions now.

Other than Michigan State, the Big Ten’s membership enters the season possessing promise but also dealing with a rare uncertainty. Michigan and Ohio State return elite talent, but you can’t ignore what both lost from last season. Indiana could blossom behind some youngsters, but how many teams improve after a pair of top-five picks turn pro? A fleet of seniors have left Madison. Iowa is still a “maybe” to many.

Illinois and Purdue? They’ll either surprise or spend the year at the bottom of the league.

Even with four teams cracking the Associated Press’ Top 25 preseason poll, the Big Ten is somewhat of a mystery as this weekend’s tipoff to the 2013-14 season approaches. Still, there’s plenty of hope for many squads in this league.

There’s just a lot we don’t know (yet) about the Big Ten.

The Contenders

[+] EnlargeTom Izzo
AP Photo/Andy ManisTom Izzo has a Michigan State team with enough talent to return to the Final Four.
Michigan State: Tom Izzo has another capable crew in East Lansing this season. Adreian Payne and Keith Appling anchor the Big Ten favorite and national title contender. Gary Harris is a future lottery pick who could campaign for All-American honors. Whenever Izzo has this much talent and experience, his teams usually reach the Final Four.

Michigan: The answer is no. No, the Wolverines won’t replace Wooden Award winner Burke no matter how productive Derrick Walton Jr. is in his freshman season. But John Beilein’s pillars -- Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary -- and his stellar recruits should give Michigan a serious shot at the Big Ten crown.

Ohio State: Somehow, Aaron Craft is still eligible and available to squash the dreams of perimeter players throughout the country. Without Deshaun Thomas, the Buckeyes will probably spread the ball around more than they did last season. But LaQuinton Ross -- assuming we see the same player who lit up the Big Dance a few months ago -- might be the star Thad Matta needs to make a postseason run and snatch another Big Ten crown.

The (Possible) Contenders

Indiana: If exhibitions are to be believed, then Yogi Ferrell has become a more dangerous threat from the field since registering a 45.4 effective field goal percentage last season. That matters, but not as much as the maturation of the rest of the roster does (will). How much production will Noah Vonleh and a bunch of inexperienced youngsters give Tom Crean? We’ll find out soon.

Wisconsin: Say it with me three times: “I will not doubt Wisconsin, I will not doubt Wisconsin, I will not doubt Wisconsin.” Once again, however, there are a few reasons to doubt the Badgers, simply because they’re entering the season without a trio of seniors (Mike Bruesewitz, Ryan Evans and Jared Berggren) who made a major difference last season, and they’re depending on a point guard who's returning from a serious knee injury (Josh Gasser). Sam Dekker and Co. will probably maintain Bo Ryan’s streak of 20-win seasons (10 in a row) and top-four finishes in the Big Ten.

Iowa: The rebuilding phase is over, folks. The Hawkeyes return every meaningful player from a team that won 25 games and finished 9-9 in conference play during the 2012-13 season. It’s time for Iowa to finally make some noise in the Big Ten race and get back to the NCAA tourney. Fran McCaffery has the pieces to achieve both.

The Questionable

Purdue: The last thing Matt Painter needed was a bout of early drama involving young star A.J. Hammons. But that’s exactly what he’s facing after Hammons was recently suspended for three games after violating team rules. If Hammons gets his act together -- it’s always if with him -- the Boilermakers could sneak into the at-large mix.

Illinois: Same for John Groce’s squad. Groce adds eight new faces to the program. This is a much different team compared to the one that reached the NCAA tournament last year. But if Groce can help transfer Rayvonte Rice become the star he was at Drake two seasons ago, Illinois might make a case for another berth.

The Bottom

Minnesota: Richard Pitino has his father’s last name and hair, but nothing resembling the players Rick Pitino used to win the national title with Louisville in April.

Northwestern: Chris Collins is already making strides in recruiting, but he doesn’t have the beef inside to compete in the Big Ten yet.

Nebraska: The Cornhuskers have a new arena, but Tim Miles’ squad has the same problems.

Penn State: Tim Frazier will have to carry a very heavy load. Again.
Editor's Note: Over two days, we're releasing the brackets/matchups for 11 of the top early-season events. Starting Wednesday at 10 a.m. ET, we'll unveil the final six: Charleston, 2K Sports, Diamond Head, CBE, Wooden and Maui. A thread of previews and info for all 11 tourneys can be found here.

Tournament bracket for the Puerto Rico Tip-Off (Editor's Note: An earlier version of this bracket had a pair of incorrect matchups. We apologize for the mix-up.)

When and where: Nov. 21-22, 24 in San Juan, Puerto Rico

Initial thoughts: The bracket seems to grant Georgetown an easy path to the title game. Northeastern lost its top two scorers -- Joel Smith and Jonathan Lee -- from last season (29.9 PPG combined). And Kansas State is recovering from a tumultuous offseason that included the loss of Angel Rodriguez and Rodney McGruder. Georgetown’s opening-round opponent, Charlotte, had offensive issues last year (187th in adjusted offensive efficiency, per Ken Pomeroy) and now top scorer Chris Braswell is gone.

A title, however, is not a guarantee. The Hoyas will probably travel to San Juan without Greg Whittington, who recently tore his ACL. And the other side of the bracket is much tougher, even though Long Beach State is depleted after multiple offseason dismissals. Florida State struggled last season but the Seminoles were young so most of their roster returns, although they’ll miss Michael Snaer. Michigan is the obvious favorite. The Wolverines will be led by Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III, a pair of players who would have been first-round draft picks last month had they decided to leave school after their team’s national title game loss to Louisville in April. Freshman Derrick Walton will probably follow Trey Burke as the team’s new point guard. He’ll be surrounded by a strong crew. VCU will be tough, too. The HAVOC defense helped VCU acquire the nation’s highest turnover rate last season. The Rams, however, lost point guard Darius Theus and Troy Daniels. Still, they haven’t lost much steam with a solid recruiting class and Florida State transfer Terrance Shannon in the mix now.

Things could get interesting on Friday in this tournament.

Matchup I can’t wait to see: Florida State has a lot to prove. Last season was a mess for Leonard Hamilton, who recently received a contract extension. His program has a chance, however, to make an early statement in the 2013-14 season with a win over a VCU squad that will be a Top 25 program entering the season. But Shaka Smart has some new faces, and his squad must identify a new leader now that Theus is gone.

[+] EnlargeMcGary/Robinson
Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY SportsMitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III could have been first-round NBA draft picks following Michigan's run to the national title game.
Potential matchup I can’t wait to see: Can you say rematch? The last time Michigan and VCU met, the Wolverines pummeled the Rams in the third round of the NCAA tournament. That 25-point victory was an embarrassment for a VCU squad that was completely out of rhythm from tipoff. But the Rams are deep again. And the Wolverines have a couple of potential lottery picks running the operation again. I’d love to see these two squads face off again in the semis.

Five players to watch:

Treveon Graham, VCU: The Rams are often praised for their defensive strengths. Last season, however, VCU proved its worth on offense, too -- averaging 78.0 points (11th in the nation). Graham, the team’s top scorer, was a catalyst. He averaged 15.1 PPG and 5.8 RPG. He also hit 36.6 percent of his 3-pointers. Graham doesn’t waste minutes, either. He had the Atlantic 10’s top offensive rating (118.1 per, among players who used at least 24 percent of their team’s possessions). Last season was a breakout campaign for this guy. If VCU reaches its ceiling, the 6-foot-5 guard/forward could earn All-American consideration.

Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III, Michigan: After the Wolverines rumbled to the national championship game in Atlanta, many expected McGary and Robinson to take their talents to the NBA. The two youngsters had a chance to turn pro and make millions. But their decision to return means that the Wolverines will enter the season as Big Ten contenders again. There’s a huge gap at PG, a spot that was occupied by Wooden Award winner Trey Burke last season. With McGary and Robinson back, John Beilein has one of America’s top centers and one of the nation’s most versatile wings. This tournament will be an early opportunity for the duo to prove that Michigan is still potent without Burke.

Okaro White, Florida State: There’s a lot of pressure on White right now. Florida State will enter 2013-14 without top scorer and veteran Michael Snaer. Terrance Shannon transferred. And Leonard Hamilton will be forced to rely on some young players again in a league (ACC) that could be the nation’s best conference with the arrival of Pitt, Notre Dame and Syracuse. But White made major strides in his junior campaign. The 6-8 forward averaged 12.4 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.0 steals and 1.1 blocks. He hit 81.5 percent of his free throws, and he was 10th in the ACC with a 4.13 block percentage ( But can he lead this group? We’ll find out in Puerto Rico.

Markel Starks, Georgetown: Greg Whittington’s torn ACL jeopardizes his entire season and it also jeopardizes the Hoyas’ season. Three other starters from last season return. But it was much easier to view Georgetown as a threat to win the inaugural title in the new Big East when Whittington was healthy. To maintain that hope -- if Whittington can’t return -- Starks has to guide a team that still has some talented pieces from last season and will add UCLA transfer Josh Smith after the first semester. Starks did it all for Georgetown last year (12.8 points, 3.0 assists, 1.3 steals, 41.7 percent from the 3-point line). But the Hoyas might need him to do even more in 2013-14.

Title-game prediction: VCU over Georgetown.

The Hoyas should reach the title game, but I think they’ll face a VCU squad that’s equipped with a multitude of talent and depth. Smart has a rotation that could be 10-11 players deep. And even though he has lost a few veterans, he will gain the services of former top recruits Mo Alie-Cox and Jordan Burgess, two players who were academically ineligible for competition last season. And Shannon, the Florida State transfer, will be available, too. Smart’s HAVOC attack demands talent and depth, and he has both. This is the most skilled squad that he has had at VCU. That’s just too much for Georgetown to overcome, especially with VCU’s interior advantage (see Shannon and 6-9 forward Juvonte Reddic). These Rams will be dangerous. They’ll prove it in San Juan.

Who others are picking:

Eamonn Brennan: VCU over Georgetown
Jeff Goodman: VCU over Northeastern
Seth Greenberg: Michigan over Georgetown
Andy Katz: Michigan over Georgetown
Jason King: VCU over Kansas State
Dana O'Neil: VCU over Kansas State
Glen RobinsonStreeter Lecka/Getty ImagesMichigan will lean on Glenn Robinson III to get the program back to the tournament.
Editor’s Note: This month, ESPN Insider’s college basketball and recruiting experts are teaming up to examine how 15 of the nation’s best recruiting classes will fit in with their teams in the 2013-14 season. Today's featured program: Michigan Insider. Check out the Nation blog each morning for a corresponding post on the key returnee for each of the 15 teams.

Glenn Robinson Jr. was a star for the Milwaukee Bucks in the 1990s. My hometown squad picked Robinson in the 1994 NBA draft with the No. 1 pick. He did not look like a stud. He didn’t have an imposing physique, he always seemed sleepy, and he wasn’t very explosive. But he’d torch you.

Robinson was an All-American at Purdue. His son, Glenn Robinson III, has the same potential. But he’s a different player.

He’s flashier. He doesn’t have his father’s jump shot (yet), but his father didn’t have his athleticism, either. Still, he did enough in his first season at Michigan to encourage lottery chatter with regard to his draft stock. But he came back.

Mitch McGary, another kid who passed on millions of dollars for another shot at the national title, will return too. Incoming freshmen Zak Irvin, Mark Donnal and Derrick Walton are all top-100 prospects per RecruitingNation.

The Wolverines have the talent to win a Big Ten title and make a run in the NCAA tournament again. For that to materialize, however, Robinson -- the most important returning player on the roster -- must don a cape and play a starring role for the Wolverines.

Robinson’s captivating debut featured the following stat line: 11.0 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 1.0 SPG and 57 percent shooting from the field. His offensive rating of 128.4 was ranked 10th nationally per (regardless of possessions used).

What more could John Beilein have wanted from a first-year player?

But Robinson will be asked to lead the program now. While he is an elite talent, he also benefited from a system that featured many weapons most teams could not defend.

Trey Burke, the reigning Wooden Award winner, was the best player in America. By the end of the season, McGary was one of the nation’s top bigs. Tim Hardaway Jr. was worth 14.5 PPG and a 38 percent clip from the 3-point line.

Meanwhile, Robinson blossomed as a run-the-floor-and-score forward. He had so many pockets to impact the game because Michigan was a matchup nightmare for most teams. Plus, the Wolverines made nearly 40 percent of their 3-point attempts. Pick your poison.

Only one squad found a way to silence Michigan in the NCAA tournament: Louisville. In the national championship game.

The particulars in Ann Arbor will change next season, though. With a move to his natural small forward position, Robinson could put up tantalizing numbers. He’ll have the ball more often, which will position the sophomore to control each offensive possession. He’ll be the center of Michigan’s offensive attack and he’ll put in a lot of work off ball screens, too. Overall, Robinson should be a more unpredictable threat next season.

But offense is just one aspect of his transition.

Although Beilein is recognized for his 1-3-1 zone, his team played the bulk of its possessions in man-to-man last season. As a power forward, Robinson was often forced to defend bigger, stronger players throughout the season. His length and athleticism will be helpful as he’s assigned to smaller, quicker athletes at his new position.

He says he is ready for the challenges. Robinson recently told "I feel like I really haven't showed everybody what I can really do on a basketball court. Hopefully I can come back and shock some people. And maybe make some people think about what I can do."

You have to admire the confidence, but he’ll have to adapt next season. Burke won’t save the day anymore. That will be Robinson’s job and that’s not an easy adjustment for any player.

Sometimes, it’s an impossible transition for an underclassman, but it’s also intriguing. If Robinson averaged double figures despite playing an unnatural position, then what will he do when he’s more comfortable and frequently handling the ball?

The answer to that question could dictate the final destination of Michigan basketball in 2013-14.

Video: Michigan freshmen will return

April, 18, 2013

Forward Glenn Robinson III and center Mitch McGary both have decided to return for their sophomore seasons at Michigan.

King: Very early Top 25 for 2013-14

April, 9, 2013

ATLANTA -- Shortly after the final horn sounded in Louisville's NCAA title game victory over Michigan on Monday, the question became obvious.

Can the Cardinals do it again next season?

A repeat championship hardly seems far-fetched for Rick Pitino's squad, which could return most of the key pieces from a team that ended the year on a 16-game winning streak.

For Michigan, the road back to the Final Four could be lined with potholes. Wooden Award winner Trey Burke will likely leave school two years early and enter the NBA draft, and no one would be surprised if teammates such as Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III follow suit.

Click here for the rest of Jason King's story.

ATLANTA -- Michigan hasn’t been to the NCAA title game in two decades. And Saturday, it didn’t allow a 2-3 zone -- no matter how lengthy or athletic or frustrating -- to keep it from returning.

Led by Tim Hardaway Jr., Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III -- and helped by the fact that Syracuse’s James Southerland and Michael Carter-Williams, who average double digits, combined for only seven points -- the Wolverines survived a last-minute push from their fellow fourth seed to win 61-56 in the national semifinals of the NCAA tournament and advance.

A quick look at the game:

Turning point: Trailing 17-15 with 10:14 left in the first half, Michigan outscored Syracuse 21-8 before halftime, shooting over Syracuse’s defense (including two 3-pointers from freshman Spike Albrecht and a loooong one from Trey Burke) when it wasn’t beating it down the floor. The Wolverines led 36-25 at halftime -- and 43-32 with 15:08 left, before the Orange painstakingly patched together a 13-5 comeback that cut their deficit to 48-45 with 7:41 left.

But it didn’t get interesting again until the final minutes, when Southerland -- scoreless to that point -- dunked with 1:58 remaining to cut his team’s deficit to four and then hit a 3-pointer with 48 seconds left to cut it to 57-56.

Michigan’s Burke and Jon Horford bookended a Brandon Triche offensive foul with a free throw apiece. And after Trevor Cooney missed for Syracuse (30-10), Jordan Morgan sealed it with a breakaway dunk for Michigan.

Key player: McGary finished with 10 points, 12 rebounds and a career-high six assists.

Key stat: Southerland and Carter-Williams -- who had been averaging 10 and 13 points, respectively, during the NCAA tournament -- were a combined 3-for-15 from the field.

Up next: Michigan (31-7) advances to play top-seeded Louisville in Monday night’s championship game. The Wolverines last reached the title game in 1993 (although that season record was vacated because of NCAA sanctions).

ATLANTA -- The evolution happened.

No one knows exactly when, but at some point last season and into the summer, the shift had gone to Trey Burke.

He would take over Michigan. The ball would be in his hands often. The shots would be dictated, in some respect, by him. He would create the break, find Tim Hardaway Jr. and Nik Stauskas on the wing, Glenn Robinson III in transition and Mitch McGary on a dump-down pass inside.

He would read the passing lanes to jump-start the defense, as he did in plucking two steals to seal a crucial victory over Michigan State.

Not every shot went down. He couldn't finish off Indiana by himself. He couldn't convert at Ohio State.

But he came up with the shot of the NCAA tournament so far: a step-back 3-pointer to send the regional semifinal game against Kansas into overtime, where Michigan eventually won.

The Wolverines are here in the Final Four, and will get a chance to play for the title for the first time since 1993 if they can beat Syracuse on Saturday night. The only way the Wolverines get past the Orange and their mesmerizing, suffocating zone is if Burke solves it.

Burke won three national player of the year awards Friday -- the Wooden, Associated Press and Oscar Robertson -- all because of his ability to elevate this team and take over games when it matters most.

The trust Burke has gained from Michigan coach John Beilein happened without much hesitation. Darius Morris' abrupt departure meant that Burke, then a freshman, had to play more than expected last season.

"I think in the first couple of months, he was reading me, he was putting deposits in my trust bank more and more every time," said Beilein. "That's really important. The more deposits he made, the more I knew I could trust him."

Beilein said Burke has done things that many before him hadn't.

"Now I've seen him do it in practice and I said then, 'I'm fine with that.' So there's been this mutual respect for each other and I mean it," Beilein said. "I've never had him one time show any frustration in practice with a coach. I've probably at times coached him in practice ways. At the same time, I've seen great growth by showing a lot of patience and trust."

That trust had to be there for his players. They had to defer. And they did.

"Last year, the ball was in his hands so much," Hardaway said of Burke. "He does a great job of pushing the ball. He does a great job of getting the ball to the outlets. He can push the break. He can push the tempo. It comes down to making big shots. We would prefer the ball in his hands."

Hardaway had no issue allowing Burke to take over the lead role. He had the name. But Burke had the better, all-around game.

Yet he didn't have any of the ego.

[+] EnlargeTrey Burke, John Beilein
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsCoach John Beilein, right, spoke of Trey Burke making "deposits in my trust bank" and how those have beeng crucial for both men in Michigan's success.
"That's the beauty of it," Stauskas said. "Trey is the most talented player in the country and he shows up and keeps working hard -- and at the end of the day, he just wants to win a national championship. He would take that over any award. We're happy for him, but we understand that there's another goal and he's really pushing us for it."

McGary has become a major piece for the Wolverines. He has made 33 of 45 field goals in the NCAA tournament. The freshman has shed weight, run the floor more effectively, worked on his shot (he apparently is nimble enough to be quite an accomplished unicyclist) and become a tough matchup for opposing teams.

But he said he wouldn't be where he is now if it weren't for Burke.

"He does it all for this team," McGary said. "He's such a good leader. He's a good friend off the court. He sees a lot of things guards don't see. He knows time and score. He knows when to pass it and find the easy drop-off passes. [My development] is based off his play and getting the easy drop-offs. All I have to do is put the ball in the basket. He's doing all the work, penetrating in the lane and kicking it to me."

Burke is averaging 20.2 points in the past 12 games, including 15.5 points and 7.8 assists in the four NCAA tournament games.

"He's very aggressive both offensively and defensively," Syracuse senior guard Brandon Triche said. "He's able to get to the basket, but he also makes his teammates better. The one thing we need to do is stop him from either scoring points or getting assists. When he's getting assists, his team is a whole lot better."

Burke credited his teammates for putting him in position to win the national awards. And that tag as the national player of the year carries with it a target.

"He's a great player and the player of the year is well deserved," Syracuse sophomore guard Michael Carter-Williams said. "I'm just looking forward to it. It's going to be a great challenge for me. There's no pressure on me. You know, he's got a lot of pressure on him to come off player of the year and hold up expectations and such. I have no pressure, so I'm just going out there, playing freely and enjoying myself."

Carter-Williams is right -- the onus on getting into the Orange zone will be on Burke. Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said Michigan can get shots against the zone, but whether the Wolverines (30-7) make them is another question. Most teams have struggled against the zone, questioning their offensive sets deep into the possession, using most of the shot clock. Triche doesn't think that will happen with Michigan, since the Wolverines will want to push tempo and take shots more quickly.

Carter-Williams said he fully expects that, as always, the Orange (30-9) will be able to lock in on defense in those final 10-12 seconds when they know a team has to shoot.

"It will be very critical for us to take care of the ball," Burke said. "They excel in turnovers and are very good in transition, especially with their length. They may be able to get a steal, take two dribbles and it is either a layup or a dunk. It is my job to set the tone for the team, my job to make sure we are making the right pass. We just want to find ways to exploit the defense early on. I think we definitely will be able to."
Trey BurkeAP Photo/David J. PhillipMultiple player-of-the-year awards only add to a load Trey Burke has shouldered ably thus far.