Amazing run to the NCAA tournament for maize and blue

  • Article by: AMELIA RAYNO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 20, 2014 - 1:52 PM

Despite losing two guards to the NBA and an All-America to injury, Michigan won the Big Ten and is looking for more.

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Michigan guard Nik Stauskas (11) reacts by holding up three fingers to celebrate his 3-pointer in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Michigan State at Crisler Center, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014, in Ann Arbor, Mich.. Michigan won 79-70. (AP Photo/Tony Ding) ORG XMIT: AAS114

The predetermined leader of the Michigan men’s basketball team watched as the confetti fell.

The final game of the regular season had just ended with another victory, and his Wolverines celebrated as champions.

Michigan finished alone atop the Big Ten standings for the first time since 1986. All was just as Mitch McGary had hoped for and dreamed of before the season began.

But McGary had nothing to do with it.

Instead, the player many hoped would lead Michigan to that pinnacle was engrossed in his new roles: acting as assistant “coach” and leader of the bench mob, and watching from the sideline as the Wolverines tossed aside early struggles to become one of this year’s biggest surprises in a league full of them.

Michigan finished with a 15-3 conference record, the league’s best offense and its Player of the Year in Nik Stauskas — a guard who transformed from scrappy, quick-shooting freshman to a dominant sophomore. The Wolverines won their final five regular-season games, then two more in the conference tournament before falling in the title game to Michigan State.

Now, somehow, coach John Beilein’s team could be an underdog once more in the NCAA tournament.

      Despite the Wolverines competing in the national title game a year ago and overcoming McGary’s injury to win the Big Ten by three games, Michigan heads into the Big Dance about as under the radar as a No. 2 seed can possibly be.

This year’s tournament field is as wide open as it has been in recent memory. Even so, Michigan’s doesn’t seem to come up in the broad discussion of potential champions.

Rather, it’s Florida, Kansas, Michigan State, Louisville, Wichita State, Arizona, Creighton and fellow No. 2 seed Wisconsin — which joins Michigan in first-weekend games in Milwaukee — that have been the subjects of the hype.

“I don’t think we’re going to look into too much how analysts or fans think we’re going to do, but this has been a really confident team all year,” Stauskas said. “People have doubted us all along. We realize as long as we stick to the game plan that Coach gives, really pay attention to what they’re saying and stick together as a group and just play Michigan basketball, I think we’ll be all right.”

Filling in the gaps

The Wolverines, who have blown past one team after another with sheer offense, lack interior size and have been inconsistent defensively and on the boards all season.

But Michigan already has surprised once. The Wolverines were ranked seventh and picked to finish second in the Big Ten before the season began, but that was under the belief that they would be led by McGary, a preseason All-America.

“It’s pretty amazing,” said the sophomore center, who went down to a back injury before the start of the Big Ten schedule. “I never thought they couldn’t achieve what they’ve achieved so far with or without me. The sky is the limit or whatever.

“But we have a mentality if someone goes down, we have a next-man-up mentality. I went down and the whole team stepped up. They came together and they’ve been like that ever since.”

Beilein lost Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. off last year’s team to the NBA, but he still had plenty of talent, bringing in six highly touted recruits to go along with a handful of returning players who appeared ready to take the next steps. McGary highlighted that bunch.

But four nonconference losses — including a head-scratching collapse to Charlotte — hinted at growing pains. And on Dec. 27 the team announced McGary, who had played in only eight games, needed back surgery.

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Tennessee 13 4th Qtr 2:00
Jacksonville 21
Philadelphia 12/20/14 3:30 PM
Washington
San Diego 12/20/14 7:25 PM
San Francisco
Minnesota 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Miami
Baltimore 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Houston
Detroit 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Chicago
Cleveland 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Carolina
Atlanta 12/21/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Green Bay 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Kansas City 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Pittsburgh
New England 12/21/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
NY Giants 12/21/14 3:05 PM
St. Louis
Buffalo 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Oakland
Indianapolis 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Dallas
Seattle 12/21/14 7:30 PM
Arizona
Denver 12/22/14 7:30 PM
Cincinnati
New York 97 FINAL
Chicago 103
New Orleans 99 FINAL
Houston 90
Milwaukee 57 3rd Qtr
Sacramento 54
Oklahoma City 40 1st Qtr 1:08
Golden State 27
Florida 2 FINAL(SO)
Philadelphia 1
Colorado 0 FINAL(OT)
Pittsburgh 1
Toronto 1 FINAL
Carolina 4
Washington 5 FINAL(OT)
Columbus 4
Anaheim 2 FINAL
Montreal 1
St. Louis 2 1st Prd 4:52
Los Angeles 0
Edmonton 1 2nd Prd
San Jose 0
St Thomas (TX) 61 FINAL
Rice 72
Stony Brook 59 FINAL
Canisius 60
Temple 82 FINAL
Delaware 62
FIU 58 FINAL
Long Island 69
Lehigh 65 FINAL
Quinnipiac 80
South Alabama 54 FINAL
Richmond 65
Seton Hall 89 FINAL
South Florida 69
Ga Southern 76 FINAL
Stetson 67
Yale 57 FINAL
Vermont 56
Cleveland State 54 FINAL
Virginia 70
Wright State 69 FINAL
Western Carolina 56
Nicholls 54 FINAL
Louisiana Tech 79
Morgan State 48 FINAL
Rider 62
Idaho State 72 FINAL
South Dakota St 75
Oakland City 52 FINAL
Austin Peay 76
Eureka 38 FINAL
Bradley 80
Appalachian St 65 FINAL
Charlotte 75
Connecticut 56 FINAL
Duke 66
Southern Miss 46 FINAL
Jackson State 66
Coastal Carolina 68 FINAL
Ole Miss 71
Montana State 53 FINAL
South Dakota 55
LSU 79 FINAL
UAB 70
Ohio 69 1st OT 2:09
Evansville 75
CS-Dominguez 17 2nd Half
Cal State Fullerton 30
Walla Walla 18 2nd Half
Idaho 49
DePaul 28 2nd Half
Oregon State 48
Nevada 19 2nd Half 18:40
Pacific 37
Portland State 22 2nd Half 15:40
San Francisco 52
CS-Bakersfield 18 2nd Half
Utah State 20
Nevada 12/20/14 10:00 AM
Louisiana
Utah State 12/20/14 1:20 PM
Texas-El Paso
(23) Utah 12/20/14 2:30 PM
Colorado State
Western Mich 12/20/14 4:45 PM
Air Force
South Alabama 12/20/14 8:15 PM
Bowling Green
BYU 12/22/14 1:00 PM
Memphis
Marshall 12/23/14 5:00 PM
Northern Ill
Navy 12/23/14 8:30 PM
San Diego St
Central Mich 12/24/14 11:00 AM
Western Ky
Fresno State 12/24/14 7:00 PM
Rice
Niagara 76 FINAL
Cleveland State 58
High Point 59 FINAL
VA Commonwealth 81
Towson 64 FINAL
Wake Forest 74
Presbyterian 50 FINAL
Charlotte 66
Chicago State 62 FINAL
Bradley 59
Northwestern Coll 58 FINAL
Drake 102
Vanderbilt 67 FINAL
Marquette 80
Temple 78 FINAL
Howard 48
Southern Miss 66 FINAL
Ole Miss 68
UMBC 55 FINAL
Rider 67
Miami-Florida 74 FINAL
UCLA 67
St Mary-KS 51 FINAL
South Dakota 115
William & Mary 71 FINAL
Wofford 51
Troy 82 FINAL
Evansville 94
Loyola Marymount 54 FINAL
USC 96
St Francis-PA 52 FINAL
Duquesne 92
Indiana-Southeast 45 FINAL
IUPUI 95
Delaware State 52 FINAL
Detroit 74
Tenn Temple 48 FINAL
Gardner-Webb 68
West Virginia St 58 FINAL
Radford 52
Fairfield 47 FINAL
Seton Hall 79
Dartmouth 44 FINAL
New Hampshire 60
Ball State 47 FINAL
Pittsburgh 59
Jacksonville 61 FINAL
Tennessee St 64
Trine 45 FINAL
Western Mich 81
Tenn Tech 53 FINAL
Lipscomb 72
Samford 56 FINAL
Tulane 57
New Orleans 55 FINAL
Tulsa 78
Incarnate Word 61 FINAL
TX-Pan American 65
Ark-Little Rock 42 FINAL
South Dakota St 67
CS-Northridge 77 FINAL
Northern Ariz 71
(19) Oklahoma St 55 FINAL
Weber State 49
Washington 69 FINAL
San Diego State 48
Cal Poly 68 FINAL
New Mexico 84
(10) Louisville 65 FINAL
Grand Canyon 51
Santa Clara 76 1st OT 0:02
Oregon 76

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