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.

hide

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.

  • related content

  • Rayno: Don't be upset if these NCAA upsets occur

    Wednesday March 19, 2014

    They happen every year: 12s over 5s, 10s over 7s. Last year, even a 15 over a 2. Oh, the...

  • NCAA men's tournament bracket

    Sunday March 16, 2014

  • The development of sophomores such as Nik Stauskas, top, and Caris LeVert helped Michigan claim the Big Ten crown.

  • Michigan Wolverines' Caris LeVert drives against the Nebraska Cornhuskers' during second-half action at Crisler Arena in Ann Arbor, Mich., on Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014. (Kirthmon F. Dozier/Detroit Free Press/MCT) ORG XMIT: 1148772

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

New England 21 4th Qtr 3:25
Seattle 24
Miami 83 FINAL
Boston 75
LA Lakers 80 FINAL
New York 92
Arizona 3 FINAL
Montreal 2
St. Louis 4 FINAL
Washington 3
Nashville 4 FINAL
Pittsburgh 0
Minnesota 4 FINAL
Vancouver 2
Miami-Florida 54 FINAL
Florida State 55
Oakland 96 FINAL
Youngstown St 80
Cincinnati 46 FINAL
East Carolina 50
Michigan 66 FINAL
Michigan State 76
Marist 75 FINAL
Canisius 67
Fordham 77 FINAL
Dayton 101
Manhattan 87 FINAL
Monmouth 76
Quinnipiac 100 FINAL
Niagara 105
Utah 67 FINAL
USC 39
Connecticut 68 FINAL
Houston 70
California 90 FINAL
Washington 88
North Dakota St 64 FINAL
Western Ill 62
Penn State 65 FINAL
(22) Rutgers 76
(14) Texas 59 FINAL
TCU 64
Coll of Charleston 49 FINAL
Towson 71
Cornell 53 FINAL
Yale 60
Xavier 68 FINAL
Providence 57
Drexel 61 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 44
Stony Brook 60 FINAL
New Hampshire 52
Maine 52 FINAL
Albany 44
Miami-Florida 66 FINAL
Pittsburgh 81
(21) Georgia 72 FINAL
(10) Kentucky 80
Arizona 69 FINAL
Colorado 81
Wake Forest 63 FINAL
(4) Notre Dame 92
Loyola-Chicago 56 FINAL
Illinois State 72
(24) Oklahoma 69 FINAL
West Virginia 78
St Johns 73 FINAL
Seton Hall 78
Delaware 73 FINAL
Hofstra 62
Binghamton 49 FINAL
UMass Lowell 66
Vermont 49 FINAL
Hartford 60
William & Mary 72 FINAL
Northeastern 66
Boston College 60 FINAL
(16) North Carolina 72
Virginia 77 FINAL
Clemson 72
(2) Connecticut 83 FINAL
Temple 49
Arkansas 53 FINAL
Alabama 42
Virginia Tech 71 FINAL
Georgia Tech 79
Kansas 58 FINAL
(3) Baylor 66
Canisius 51 FINAL
Rider 52
Monmouth 52 FINAL
Fairfield 54
Quinnipiac 81 FINAL
Saint Peters 50
Butler 55 FINAL
Creighton 62
Wichita State 61 FINAL
Drake 64
Evansville 52 FINAL
Indiana State 67
(18) Miss State 67 FINAL
(6) Tennessee 79
Villanova 47 FINAL
DePaul 49
Georgetown 73 FINAL
Marquette 80
North Texas 55 FINAL
Rice 58
Auburn 45 FINAL
(12) Texas A&M 78
(11) Arizona State 58 FINAL
Utah 48
Missouri State 56 FINAL
Northern Iowa 64
Michigan 60 FINAL
(15) Nebraska 75
Minnesota 49 FINAL
Northwestern 70
Wisconsin 73 FINAL
Illinois 62
Bradley 59 FINAL
Southern Ill 76
Florida 67 FINAL
Vanderbilt 58
(20) Iowa 88 FINAL
(5) Maryland 93
(1) South Carolina 77 FINAL
Ole Miss 59

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Who wins the Super Bowl?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close