College Basketball Nation: Trey Burke

MILWAUKEE -- When the graphic of Michigan's 79-65 win against Texas flashed on the big screen in the Wolverines' locker room, Derrick Walton Jr. recoiled in amazement.

"Eight assists!" Walton told fellow guard Caris LeVert.

Nik Stauskas, who gained national recognition this season for what he does with the ball in his hands, propelled Michigan in the NCAA tournament because of what he did when he gave it up. His eight assists tied a career high.

"I know he can pass," Walton said. "I didn't know he had that many."

Stauskas' precision passing adds to Michigan's arsenal. So does Jordan Morgan's relentless post play against the Texas big men he heard would dominate him. So does the poise displayed by Walton and LeVert, a freshman and a sophomore who combined for 22 points, five assists and, most important, zero turnovers against the Longhorns. So does Glenn Robinson III's willingness to take control, as he did with a five-point burst after the Longhorns had closed to within six points with eight minutes to play.

This is a different Michigan team, one with different stars and strengths from the one that played Louisville for the 2013 national title. But it's a Wolverines team that could be headed for the same destination as its predecessor.

"We really want to make another run," LeVert said. "We're playing really good basketball."

[+] EnlargeNik Stauskas
AP Photo/Jeffrey PhelpsNik Stauskas hit 4 of 9 3-point attempts while dishing out 8 assists in Michigan's win over Texas.
Assistant coach Bacari Alexander printed out an image of a brain and showed it to players before Saturday's game. For all the talk of Texas' brawn -- especially 6-foot-9, 285-pound center Cameron Ridley -- Michigan's coaches emphasized winning the game from the neck up. The response: no fouls in the first 15:48 and only four turnovers. Although Texas grabbed 21 offensive rebounds, it shot just 37.1 percent.

Wolverines players said they focused almost solely on defense before the game. They then proceeded to put on an offense extravaganza in the first half: 53.6 percent shooting, 10 assists on 15 field goals, eight 3-pointers and a points-per-possession average worth framing (1.483).

"We expect our guys to make shots," assistant coach LaVall Jordan said. "Coach [John] Beilein does a great job putting them in position. They're confident kids, we try to keep them confident. I don't know if we're ever surprised.

"That's their job, to make plays for each other."

No player made more than Stauskas, who, after sinking three quick 3-pointers, fed Morgan for a dunk and Robinson for a thunderous alley-oop.

"When he's passing the ball, we're a dangerous team," LeVert said.

The same holds true when Morgan is doing damage down low. He's not Mitch McGary, who spurred Michigan's Final Four run last year, but he's making it easier to forget what the Wolverines are missing for this year's tournament charge.

The fifth-year senior recorded his second double-double (15 points, 10 rebounds) in as many tournament games and helped limit Ridley to six points.

"Everybody was like, 'He's only 6-8, 240. How's he gonna hold his own in there?'" Morgan said. "I ain't got a lot of body fat on me. I'm not about to just roll over. That's the fun part, showing everybody's wrong."

Added Alexander: "It was extremely personal."

Michigan's young backcourt also silenced skepticism with its play in a tournament that belongs to the guards. How the Wolverines would replace Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. was the looming question entering the season.

LeVert and Walton displayed the right mix of aggression and poise, even after Texas switched to a matchup zone in the second half that slowed Michigan's scoring pace.

"Extremely proud of them," Jordan said. "They embrace the responsibility, and they want more."

Michigan wants another trip to the Final Four. Beilein, who recorded his 700th coaching win Saturday, wants 704 by the time the season ends.

The next trip takes the Wolverines to familiar surroundings in Indiana, where six players, including Robinson and Spike Albrecht, call home.

"Our goal," Walton said, "is to win it all."
It was easy to be cynical about the Fab Five at the Final Four.

[+] EnlargeJimmy King, Juwan Howard, Chris Webber, Jalen Rose and Ray Jackson
AP PhotoMichigan players were cynical about the presence of The Fab Five in the locker room at the Final Four in April, but what Juwan Howard said helped change their perspective.
From the outside, former Wolverines star (and ESPN analyst) Jalen Rose's public pressure on Chris Webber to attend the 2013 national title game, and all the fanfare that accompanied it -- a close-up of Webber arriving at the arena, constant shots of the Fab Five in the crowd -- seemed to be calculated, a way to reflect some of the overwhelming national attention being paid to the Wolverines' rebirth back onto a group that, save Webber, has never been shy about touting its complicated legacy. With John Beilein's career 30 years in the making, and Trey Burke's player of the year bona fides up against the best defense in the country, the visibility allocated to a team that played in the early 90s felt at best like a bunch of old guys working out their demons and at worst like a public relations stunt. Maybe both.

That might not have been the motive at all. But that's how it looked, at least from outside the Michigan locker room -- especially when the Fab Five crammed into said locker room after a devastating title game loss. There is never a more sensitive time to be with a team, and it was easy to picture Michigan's players' puffy eyes staring blankly ahead, if only to keep them from rolling.

Turns out, some of Michigan's players might have been just as unconvinced of the Fab Five's motivations as I was. UM Hoops asked former reserve Josh Bartelstein -- one of the best, and most honest, quotes in the sport last season -- about the whole Fab Five thing, and his response was both polite and illuminating. There were raised eyebrows, maybe a dash of resentment. And then Juwan Howard spoke.
"At first, it was a little like, 'What are these guys doing here, they haven’t been a part of this team or a part of this program for a really long time.' But then, once all the media cleared out they spoke. And I thought Juwan [Howard] really had a great message: They were here for us. They were here to link Michigan past and the present and the future together. And he said one of the greatest accomplishments this team will have is bringing Michigan basketball back. They weren’t there to talk to the media, they weren’t there for themselves. They were there to support us and Michigan basketball. They came around and gave everyone a hug, and they said that if any of us ever need anything from them they’ll be here, whether it’s advice about basketball or life; they’re here for us. I think after initially feeling like they were here for the media circus of it, they were here because they loved what we stood for and loved how we played. I think that meant a lot to us. Juwan did a great job with it."

For one, that pretty much lines up with everything NBA people say about Howard, who at 40 years old remained worth a roster spot in Miami the past two seasons even as a quasi-assistant coach/part-time motivational speaker. If you have the cachet to scream at the best player in the world during the Eastern Conference finals, you have officially mastered the art of locker room chemistry.

But the larger points are that A) even Michigan's players were skeptical, and understandably so; and B) Howard, and presumably the rest of his old-school cohort, got it. For whatever other baggage was bound to come along for the "Fab Five Takes Atlanta" routine, they were ultimately there for support, as fans and former players, as people who desperately want Michigan basketball to be elite again. They might even have been grateful: It took a long time for the Wolverines to recover from the Ed Martin scandal, but after a few years of rebuilding, Beilein and a bunch of kids too young to remember the glory days finally got it done.

For the first time in 15 years, the future of Wolverines basketball seems as bright as it did in the halcyon days of the early 90s. The through line has been drawn. The outside noise was deafening, sure, but maybe the Fab Five needed to be in that locker room after all.

Michigan PG has inspiration already

July, 2, 2013

Michigan Wolverines point guard Derrick Walton Jr. reminds some of his predecessor, Trey Burke. But as the incoming freshman arrives in Ann Arbor, another player is on his mind -- and has been for several years now. Here's an except from Michael Rothstein's story:
HARPER WOODS, Mich. -- On his phone and on a piece of lined paper tacked onto his wall, Derrick Walton Jr. has a list. He has done this yearly, listing goals he wants to accomplish in basketball and school.

It worked in high school at Chandler Park Academy, where he hit every goal he set last season except two: Winning a state championship and Mr. Basketball -- the latter of which he had little control over.

The lists will continue in college as he enters Michigan with one of the toughest jobs in basketball, replacing point guard Trey Burke, the No. 9 pick in the NBA draft and the consensus national player of the year last season.

The Detroit native has heard the same tropes for months now. How will he replace Burke? Can he lead Michigan to another Final Four? Is he as good as his predecessor?

Read more from Rothstein.

Video: Trey Burke entering NBA draft

April, 13, 2013

WolverineNation's Michael Rothstein on Michigan sophomore guard Trey Burke's decision to declare for the NBA draft.

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.
HancockRobert Deutsch/USA TODAY SportsLuke Hancock is the first bench player to be the Final Four's most outstanding player.

ATLANTA -- Beginning exactly one year ago today, we've known, or thought we've known, what Louisville was. Louisville was the best defensive team in the country.

That's usually as far as it went. The Cardinals dominated defensively in 2012, and after their hyper-stingy, brick-compensating defense carried them to an ugly-but-effective Final Four run and nearly every player of note returned for 2012-13, it was pretty easy to peg Rick Pitino's team.

Louisville would struggle to score. It would guard like crazy. Its fans would hope that was enough.

But a funny thing happened on the way to Atlanta: The Cardinals started scoring. And scoring. And scoring. By the time the confetti covered the Georgia Dome floor Monday night, by the time Peyton Siva and Russ Smith and the rest of the national champions finished their thrilling 82-76 victory over Michigan and their One Shining Moment, it was time to be real about a couple of things.

The first: That was a great basketball game.

The second: Louisville was a great offensive team, too.

"You know, a lot of times when you get to the Final Four, you get to a championship, the game's not always great, not always pretty," Pitino said Monday night. "This was a great college basketball game.

"They are a tremendous offensive team. Fortunately for us, when we started this tournament, and Luke [Hancock] started playing a lot more minutes, we became a great half-court offensive basketball team. And tonight was as good as it gets."

The man speaks the truth. In defiance of trends, easy characterizations and well-entrenched narrative, Louisville won the 2012-13 national title because its offense was good enough to best the best offensive team in the country. Here's how.

Two words: Luke Hancock. You don't have to dig too deep into the scouting reports to figure out why Hancock was named the 2013 NCAA tournament most outstanding player or why he was so crucial to Louisville's offense in its two Georgia Dome wins. In two Final Four games, Hancock shot 8-of-10 from 3-point range. On Monday night, he went a perfect 5-of-5, and if that wasn't already good enough, each shot carried with it the maximum possible impact. The first four came during the final minutes of the first half against Michigan, after Spike Albrecht had replaced unanimous national player of the year Trey Burke, who was saddled with his second foul at the 11-minute mark.

Instead of scraping by without its star, Michigan surged, because Albrecht had one of the most insane -- or at least one of the most unlikely -- halves in tournament history. He poured in 17 points in 16 minutes on 6-of-7 shooting, including 4-of-4 from 3. Albrecht's final bucket of the half, a layup with 3:55 remaining, gave the Wolverines a 33-21 lead. Michigan looked like it could get to the half with a double-digit lead despite having Burke for just six total minutes. Pitino took a timeout.

What happened in the next three minutes would define the rest of the game. At 3:33, Hancock made two free throws. At 2:59, he made a 3-pointer from the right wing. At 2:38, he made another, same spot. At 1:53, he made another. At 0:59, another. He had cut Michigan's Albrecht-infused lead to just 36-35. It was like Albrecht never happened.

Hancock's play in the second half was just as important. He made three assists in the middle of the half, he sank his fifth 3 to put Louisville up 10 with 3:27 left to play and his two free throws at the 29-second mark pushed the Cardinals' threatened lead back to six points, a deficit insurmountable even for Burke and the Wolverines.

Hancock was the hero in the final minutes of Saturday's shaky win over Wichita State, too, and so his final line for the Final Four weekend looked like this: 42 points in 62 minutes on 11-of-15 from the field, 12-of-17 from the free throw line, 8-of-10 from beyond the arc. You can empty the thesaurus of adjectives and not come close to describing how good, or how important, he was. And all off the bench.

Best of all, Hancock was able to post that performance for the ages in front of his ailing father, an emotional angle to the George Mason transfer's already remarkable story.

"It's been a long road," Hancock said. "There's really no way to describe how I feel that my dad was here."

On Monday night, after the Louisville players finished addressing the media, the NCAA moderator read off a remarkable stat: Hancock had become the first bench player in the history of the tournament to win most outstanding player. When he heard his name, he paused. As the moderator finished reading the stat, Hancock nodded nonchalantly -- as if to say: Yep, that sounds about right. It couldn't have been more fitting.

[+] EnlargePeyton Siva
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsPeyton Siva carved up Michigan's defense on his way to 18 points and five assists.
Thing is? Louisville's offense was already really good. Hancock's description-defying Final Four performance would boost any offense regardless of the context, but it also could serve to obscure the fact that the Cardinals had been great on the offensive end of the floor for much of the season and certainly throughout the NCAA tournament.

To wit: In their first three tournament games against North Carolina A&T, Colorado State and Oregon, the Cardinals posted 1.18 points per possession. Hancock scored just 17 of them, in 18, 19 and 22 minutes, respectively. And, as ESPN Insider John Gasaway wrote in advance of the title game Insider, those points came despite opponents turning it over on just 18 percent of their possessions. Those games weren't of the narrative-friendly, Louisville-forces-turnovers-and-that's-how-it-scores variety. They were just great offensive performances, pure and simple.

That said, that doesn't mean Louisville wasn't happy to force turnovers whenever possible; on Saturday night, after a near-flawless first 34 minutes, Wichita State's seven turnovers in the final six minutes were a huge factor in the Cards' eventual comeback win.

But Monday was a different story: Michigan, the least turnover-prone team in the country, turned it over at that pre-Final Four rate (18.5 percent) and scored 1.17 points per trip. Louisville scored 1.26. And there you have it.

Oh, and before we forget: Russ Smith was awesome. No doubt about it, Smith had one of his worst games of the season Monday night. He finished 3-of-16 from the field, including 1-of-6 from 3. He committed the usual handful of questionable and/or poorly timed fouls, and his turnovers, particularly one in crunch time, gave the impression that Bad Russ, the dark side of Russdiculous, was once more rearing his ugly head.

That would have been sad. Smith has had an immense individual season on both ends of the floor -- the rare star as good defensively as he was scoring. Smith averaged 18.9 points, 3.4 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 2.1 steals per game this season, and managed to post an offensive rating of 110.0 despite high usage (32.1) and shot (32.6) rates (which typically hurt players' efficiency). There were few sights in the game as fun as Smith tearing the ball away from an opponent, deciding in a split-second -- no matter what the defense -- that he was getting it to the rim and then doing exactly that, usually in mind-blowing fashion.

But Smith's Russ-iest moments came when the lights were brightest, none more so in the regular season than in South Bend, Ind., where the Cardinals lost in five overtimes. Smith's silly-play-to-crucial-moment ratio (which is a real stat I just made up) achieved previously unseen levels that night, when everyone tuned in to the featured prime-time game and learned all they thought they needed to know about Smith.

The Final Four was like that, too. Russdiculous didn't play well Saturday and was even worse Monday, and many casual fans might remember his season for that. But for most of the past five months, his breakneck genius was the main reason Louisville's offense worked so well. It would be a shame to forget that.

The Cardinals didn't win with defense. They didn't need to. There were many impressive things about this Louisville team: the way it rallied around injured guard Kevin Ware and won the national title without him, how quickly Gorgui Dieng turned from a raw shot-blocker into an all-around player, Siva's screen-exploiting ability to slice defenses in half, Chane Behanan's strongman work on the offensive boards, how rapidly it turned defense into offense, how casually it erased daunting deficits, how Pitino often seemed to move his matchup zone around like telekinetic putty, unleashing traps and shifts like a wild-eyed conductor.

But perhaps the most impressive thing of all is this: In 2012, Louisville finished the season ranked No. 1 in efficiency defense and No. 105 on offense. In 2013, it again wielded the nation's No. 1 defense.

This time, over 35 wins and five losses, the Cardinals' offense scored 1.18 points per trip -- good for fifth-best in the country. And on Monday night, good enough to beat the best at its own game.

Afterward, Pitino called his team's exhilarating victory the product of "two great offensive teams doing battle."

He was right. Lo and behold, for everything else Louisville was this season, it was that too -- a great offensive team. And now it's the national champion.

What a mighty difference 12 months can make.

In loss, Michigan departs with pride

April, 9, 2013
ATLANTA -- In the emotional locker-room moments Monday after his team lost 82-76 to Louisville in the national championship game, Michigan coach John Beilein had one message for his team: Do not hang your heads.

So the Wolverines held their chins up as they discussed their defeat -- only to show off red-rimmed eyes.

"We're so proud of what we accomplished,'' junior guard Tim Hardaway Jr. said. "But it hurts to come so close."

This young, fourth-seeded team -- whose players now admit they even doubted themselves at times when they finished 5-5 over the last 10 games of the regular season -- performed even better than when it held the No. 1 ranking earlier this season. Thanks to an inspired (and inspiring) effort by freshman reserve point guard Spike Albrecht (a career-high 17 points), the Wolverines held as much as a 12-point lead in the first half.

And even after Louisville rallied, Wooden Award-winning ballhandler Trey Burke, back in the game in the second half after early foul trouble, kept trying to push them into position to prevail.

To read the rest of this story from Robbi Pickeral, click here.

Video: Michigan's Trey Burke

April, 9, 2013

Jeannine Edwards interviews sophomore guard Trey Burke, who scored 24 points in Michigan's loss to Louisville in the national title game.

Louisville's victory by the numbers

April, 9, 2013
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesLouisville's ability to finish at the rim made a big difference at game's end.

Perfection was the story for a Louisville team that lived up to its No. 1 overall seeding in the NCAA tournament.

The Cardinals won their third national title (against no defeats), keyed by a perfect shooting performance from long range by an unlikely source.

Let’s run through some of the statistical highlights of the Cardinals' first NCAA tournament championship since 1986.

The history

Louisville ended the season on a 16-game winning streak. The Cardinals became the eighth school to win at least three national championships and the third overall No. 1 seed to win a national championship.

The Cardinals went 27 years between title victories, the second-longest drought by a team that has won multiple championships (Kansas went 36 seasons).

Rick Pitino became the first coach to win a Division I title with two schools (he won with Kentucky in 1996). This was Pitino’s 664th career win, tying legendary coach John Wooden for 25th all time.

Key to the game: Points in the paint

Louisville attempted 23 of its 35 second-half field goals in the paint, making 11 of those shots.

Peyton Siva and Chane Behanan combined to score 24 of Louisville’s 34 paint points, 18 of which came in the second half.

Siva’s 12 points in the paint were his second-most in any game in the last four NCAA tournaments (scored 14 in 2012 versus Davidson).

Also key: Louisville held Michigan to two second-chance points in the second half Monday after allowing 13 to the Wolverines in the first half.

Hancock’s perfection

Final Four Most Outstanding Player Luke Hancock finished with 22 points and was 5-for-5 from 3-point range.

That’s the most makes without a miss on 3-pointers in a Division I title game. The previous mark of three was shared by Taurean Green (2007 Florida) and Wayne Ellington (2009 North Carolina), each of whom won a national title that year.

Siva a difference-maker

Siva starred for Louisville, particularly in the second half.

His box score line put him in impressive championship company.

Siva finished with 18 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 steals, the first player to hit all of those benchmarks in a national championship game since steals became an official stat in 1986.

He's the first player with an 18-6-5 combo in a title game since Derrick Rose in 2008.

Burke, Michigan elite in defeat

Trey Burke became the third Wooden Award winner to lose in the national championship game. The other two players were Larry Bird and Elton Brand.

Michigan shot 52.1 percent from the field, the highest field goal percentage by a losing team in the national championship since Georgetown in 1985 (54.7 percent).

Early on, that was keyed by Spike Albrecht, who scored a career-high 17 points and went 4-for-5 from 3-point range. Albrecht went 9-for-10 from 3-point range in the tournament, just shy of matching Sam Cassell’s mark for most 3-pointers in a tournament without a miss (nine for Florida State in 1993).

Michigan fell to 1-5 all-time in national title games. The Wolverines' .167 winning percentage is the worst of any team with at least five championship game appearances. The five losses are third-most all time.
Luke Hancock's hot shooting night won him Most Outstanding Player honors.

ATLANTA -- The Louisville Cardinals are your 2013 national champions after beating Michigan 82-76.

Overview: It was everything a national title game should be. Great offense, great pace, great performances, great stories and, having withstood all of it, a great national champion: Louisville.

An amazing and surprising first half was followed by a more conventional, but no less entertaining, second. It was one that kept the intrigue bubbling right up to the final minute.

Luke Hancock finished with 22 points on 5-of-6 shooting, Peyton Siva added 18, Chane Behanan pushed in 15, and the Cardinals won their third national title, their first since 1986, and made coach Rick Pitino the only man in Division I NCAA hoops history to win a title at two schools.

The key sequence began with five minutes to play. Trey Burke's block on a Siva fast break at the 5:09 mark -- a clean play, and an incredible one -- was whistled a foul. Siva made both free throws, and then Gorgui Dieng finished a secondary post move on the next possession as the Cardinals pushed their lead to 71-64. Dieng hit another old-school hook shot at 4:13, and then Hancock made another 3-pointer -- his fifth of the game -- to make it 76-66 with 3:05 left to play.

But Michigan didn't go away. A bad Russ Smith shot and a turnover, coupled with some quick Wolverines free throws, brought the lead back down to 78-74 with 1:11 on the clock.

Michigan eventually fouled Hancock with 29.8 seconds left to play. He made two -- the biggest shots of the game were all Hancock's, these included -- and the Cardinals closed out the win in the final seconds.

The finish followed a first half that will last in college hoops lore. Burke, the unanimous national player of the year, picked up his second foul with 11:09 left in the half. He was replaced by Spike Albrecht, a 5-foot-11, largely unrecruited backup. Michigan coach John Beilein had to fight even his own staff members to get them to agree to take on Albrecht. He entered the game averaging 1.8 points in 7.6 minutes per game. In Burke's stead, Albrecht proceeded to have an absolutely legendary half: 17 points, 6-of-7 from the field (including 4-of-4 from 3-point territory) in 16 minutes. He had a mix of confident shooting and never-before-seen drives to the rim, all with the player of the year on the bench. Michigan shot 14-of-28 in the half and, with just 3:33 left, led 33-21.

That was roughly as mind-bending as what came next: four Hancock 3s on four straight possessions, all from the same spot at the right wing. Hancock was the hero of Louisville's national semifinal win over Wichita State on Saturday night, and he was here, too, bringing the staggered Cardinals back from the Albrecht-induced abyss.

Turning point: Albrecht's arrival in the game would be a good place to start, and Hancock's four straight 3s turned the game and saved Louisville from having to fight back from a devastating deficit with Burke itching to get off the bench. But the game was essentially level for most of the second half; it would need to be decided late.

After a back-and-forth sequence in the final minutes, Hancock's free throws truly sealed the game.

Key player: Hancock. Most of Hancock's production came during the first half, but you can't possibly overlook the importance of those four 3s. Without them, Louisville would have been facing a drastic deficit with Burke re-entering the game in the second 20. And Hancock's second-half additions -- a fifth 3 and those free throws -- were the most important shots of the second half.

Key stat: Louisville shot 8-of-16 from 3 and 18-of-23 from the free throw line. The former helped the Cards recover from an early deficit; the latter allowed them to finish the win late.
ATLANTA -- The possibility that became reality following Michigan's 61-56 win over Syracuse in the Final Four on Saturday night began to materialize weeks ago.

As the Wolverines stomped Jackrabbits (South Dakota State), corralled Rams (Virginia Commonwealth), caged Jayhawks (Kansas) and wrestled Gators (Florida) to pave their path toward the national semifinals, they awakened the way contenders must in March.

But every scenario that involved Michigan competing in its first national championship game in 20 years would demand another phenomenal effort by Trey Burke -- America's best player -- conventional wisdom suggested.

Those ideas did not include Mitch McGary (10 points, 12 rebounds, 6 assists) playing like a lottery pick. Again. Or Caris LeVert logging 21 minutes and going 3-for-4 in Atlanta. Spike Albrecht (2-for-2 from beyond the arc) wasn't even mentioned.

Jon Horford making the most important free throw of the game, while Burke struggled in a Michigan victory? Unimaginable … to everyone else.

"It's not a one-man team," said Tim Hardaway Jr. "Everybody in the media has been talking about it. That's why it's a team. It's a team win. That's what we focus on. We know Trey is our leader. He's not going to have a game like he's [usually had] the whole season. That's when our team steps up, just tries to picks him up. He really doesn't need it, but we try to pick it up anyway, try to go out there and do a great job of competing."

Prior to Saturday's win, the concept of Michigan reaching its first national championship matchup since the Fab Five wore maize and blue was nullified by one thought: What if Burke goes cold?

To read Myron Medcalf's full story, click here.

ATLANTA -- For almost all of the NCAA tournament, there is at least some extended time between when a team wins and moves on and when it learns its next-round opponent -- time to digest, time to analyze, time to project.

The Final Four doesn't roll like that. Within two hours, Saturday's early winner learns who it will be facing Monday night, and if you're eager like me, it doesn't take you all that long to want to turn away from the semifinals and take the first look at the season's final, and most important, matchup. Call it kid-on-Christmas-Eve syndrome.

Let's open that one present a little early and take that first look at Monday's national championship game -- a strength-on-strength matchup as good as any in recent memory. Here's what to look for:

The nation's best offense and the nation's best defense, together at last. If you are a fan of efficiency statistics -- and "fandom" doesn't really come into it, because that's like saying you're a "fan" of field goal percentage or Fahrenheit -- you are well aware what we've got on our hands Monday night. But if you don't know, now you know: When Michigan and Louisville square off in the cavernous Georgia Dome, we will get to watch the nation's best offense and the nation's best defense at the same time, on the same possessions, for all of 40 minutes. (In case you can't tell, I am excited. This is very exciting.)

Per Ken Pomeroy's adjusted efficiency rankings, the nation's most efficient defense is Louisville, which is allowing just .824 points per possession on the season after Saturday's victory over Wichita State. Michigan is the nation's No. 1-ranked offense, scoring 1.22 points per trip.

The Cardinals have been the nation's best defense the entire season. Michigan has frequently been among its best offenses, although it spent much of the season just behind Indiana, which usually held the offensive efficiency crown. But that has changed in March, and both Michigan and Louisville survived nervy challenges from Syracuse and Wichita State, respectively, Saturday night, and the end result is the best possible offense-defense matchup in all of college basketball in the national final. Yes please.

[+] EnlargeTrey Burke
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsAfter a bumpy night against Syracuse, Trey Burke leads Michigan against Louisville's top-rated D.
But wait -- there's more. The whole strength-on-strength bit doesn't stop at "offense" versus "defense;" that would be far too simple. No, no, we can be much more granular here.

See, the reason Louisville's defense is so good -- the reason Louisville is so good, period, actually -- is its ability to force turnovers. The Cardinals forced turnovers more frequently this season than any other team but VCU, whose defense was never as good (and nowhere near as complete) as Louisville. The Cardinals have forced opponents to cough it up on 27.3 percent of their possessions this season (and have averaged 47 deflections per game in the NCAA tournament), frequently on the press, where they create a high percentage of their points and, generally speaking, put even the best teams in the country in a blender. Five minutes (and sometimes 30 seconds) later, those teams look up at the scoreboard and wonder how it happened that the Cards built a 12-point lead so quickly. They're just ... brutal.

But here's the thing: There is no team in the country better suited to handle that deflection-creating chaos than the Michigan Wolverines. John Beilein's team turned it over less frequently -- on just 14.5 percent of its total possessions -- than any other team in the country this season. It happens to have this guy named Trey Burke, the newly crowned national player of the year, who is not only the best guard in the country but probably the savviest -- a guy you'd fully trust to navigate Louisville's press and get himself or his teammates a good shot on the other end.

So, which prevails: Michigan's Burke-led offense? Or Louisville's pressurized defense? From a strict basketball perspective, does it get any better than that?

Rick Pitino and John Beilein's vastly different coaching odysseys collide. Pitino began his head-coaching career in 1978. Beilein began his in 1975. Pitino's first job came at Boston University. Beilein's was as the head man at Newfane (N.Y) High School. In 1983, Pitino became an assistant for the New York Knicks; that was Beilein's first year at Le Moyne, following five years at Erie Community College and Nazareth. (Beilein, curiously enough, has never been an assistant coach.) Pitino would go on to coach Providence to the Final Four, become the Knicks' head coach and then, in 1989, begin perhaps his most famous coaching stint, at Kentucky. Beilein coached at Le Moyne until 1992, when he got the job at Canisius. In 1997, Pitino got the Boston Celtics job; in 1997, Beilein got the job at Richmond.

You get the point. Beilein is hardly anonymous these days, and he hasn't been for a while; his incredibly fun West Virginia stint made certain of that. He is widely respected as a sheer basketball tactician and has been for 15 years. But compared to Pitino, one of the most accomplished coaches in the sport, the guy with the perfectly cut suits and the Italian loafers, Beilein is practically John Doe.

Pitino is on the cusp of becoming the first man to win a national title at two schools and probably the first guy to win a national title two days after a horse he owned won the Santa Anita Derby. Beilein is trying to take Michigan back to the mountaintop after two decades spent in the hoops wilderness. He can surely identify.

Offense plagues Orange in loss

April, 7, 2013
ATLANTA -- It’s a moment, Syracuse guard Brandon Triche said, that might haunt him: looking for teammate James Southerland with 19.2 seconds left in the national semifinals of the NCAA tournament, finding him covered, opting to drive to the basket for a potentially game-tying layup instead ...

Only to be called for an offensive foul.

"That’s a moment you dream about -- those final seconds, the ball in your hands, trying to make the best play for your team," he said after Syracuse lost to Michigan 61-56 on Saturday. " ... We just needed another bucket."

That pretty much summed up Syracuse’s night.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Triche, Jordan Morgan
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesThis play, on which Brandon Triche was called for a charge against Jordan Morgan, "could have gone either way," Triche said.
For all the pregame talk of the Orange’s ferocious, suffocating, octopus-like 2-3 zone defense -- and whether Michigan could slice through and shoot over it -- it was Syracuse’s offense that failed it in the end.

Although forward C.J. Fair scored a game-high 22 points on 9-for-20 shooting, teammates Southerland (2-for-9) and Michael Carter-Williams (1-for-6), usually double-digit scorers, combined for seven points and made only 3 of their 15 shots.

"They started out strong, and we never really got anything going," Southerland said.

Syracuse shot 41.8 percent for the game -- including 3-for-14 on 3-pointers.

"I think they’re a good defensive team," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said of the Wolverines. "We have shot the ball well from 3 this year. We’re shooting about 20 percent from 3, in our nine losses. It hasn’t been something that we’ve been really good on. We try not to take a lot of 3s. But we had good looks. I mean, they were all good looks."

Southerland, who didn’t score his first field goal until the final two minutes of the game (on a dunk that cut Michigan’s lead to four), had a very good look with 41 seconds left, when he buried a 3 to cut a once-11-point deficit to 57-56.

But after Michigan’s Trey Burke made only one of two free throws, Jordan Morgan stepped in front of Triche to draw the charge, which Triche said "could have gone either way."

"I probably should have made a better decision," he said. "Probably should have pulled up ... for a jump shot instead of actually taking it all the way down there, because I did see him."

Although who’s to say, in this game, that a jumper would have gone in for Syracuse, either?

"It was tough because offensively, we never could get anything going," Triche said. "We couldn’t get multiple made shots in a row. We’d make one, and we probably didn’t make another shot for two minutes or something.

"We didn’t have much momentum offensively. Defensively, we started to pick it up, chip away, and that’s what we did -- we chipped away all the way to the last second of the game."

After the charge call, Jon Horford hit one of two free throws to push the Wolverines up by three. But with nine seconds left -- and with a chance to tie it -- Syracuse reserve Trevor Cooney took and missed a bad 2-point shot that ultimately resulted in a dunk for Morgan and Michigan on the other end.

In a game that saw Syracuse’s vaunted 2-3 zone hold the Wolverines to 33.3 percent shooting in the second half, it was a frustrating way to finish the game. And the season.

And the dream of winning a national title.

"Final Four, down two points, the opportunity to tie the game or take the lead -- but get a charge," said Triche, a senior. "That’s what I’ll probably remember the most."

Michigan's victory by the numbers

April, 7, 2013
It will be Michigan and Louisville playing for the national championship after the Wolverines edged Syracuse in Saturday’s second semifinal.

It wasn’t the prettiest of wins for Michigan, which shot 39.6 percent from the field (the lowest it has shot in an NCAA tournament game since a pair of games in 2009) and 55 percent from the free throw line.

The Wolverines are one of three teams to have both percentages that low in the same game this tournament. The other two (Memphis and Pacific) lost by 22 and 29 points, respectively.

This was a good time for Michigan's John Beilein to get his first win in 10 tries against Syracuse as a head coach. Let’s run through the statistical highlights.

The history
This was Michigan’s sixth straight win in a national semifinal game (though the wins in 1992 and 1993 were later vacated).

The Wolverines will try to win their first national title since 1989 and become the second No. 4 seed to win one, joining the 1997 Arizona team that beat Rick Pitino’s Kentucky team in the championship game.

Syracuse fell to 3-1 all time in national semifinals under Jim Boeheim. The Orange are 2-8 all time against the Big Ten in the NCAA tournament.

Another big game for McGary
Mitch McGary had 10 points and 12 rebounds, good for his third double-double of the tournament (he had one in the regular season and one in the Big Ten tournament), and also finished with six assists.

He became the first player with at least 10 points, 12 rebounds and six assists in a national semifinal win since Andre Miller for Utah in 1998.

The only two other players to do that in any Final Four game (regardless of win or loss) in the time since assists became official in 1984 were Grant Hill for Duke in 1994 and Erick Dampier for Mississippi State in 1996.

Michigan won despite McGary, Trey Burke, and Nik Stauskas combining to shoot 5-for-29 from the field.

Michigan assisted on 17 of 21 field goals, its highest assist percentage in a game this season.

The Wolverines are 22-0 this season when they assist on at least half of their field goals.

Rough day for Carter-Williams
Michael Carter-Williams was responsible for a season-low 10.7 percent of Syracuse's points (6 of 56), including only two of its 31 points in the second half.

Carter-Williams scored a season-low two points and had two assists that led to another four points.

His previous season low for points created was 17 (against South Florida), and his previous season low for percent of points created was 26 percent (versus DePaul).

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).