Michigan coach John Beilein has been through his fair share of tournament runs throughout his career. What’s the biggest difference between past runs and now? Well, there are a few -- and he’s hoping the Wolverines just embrace it. And, Trey Burke is SI's National Player of the Year.
John Beilein is no spring chicken. His face will still light up with pride at every mention of the word ‘swag’ that these young players like to exemplify in today’s world of college basketball -- though he still may not understand exactly what it means.
Having been a college basketball coach for far more than half of his life, Beilein does bring an added dimension of knowledge and experience and knows there’s a fine line between a long, plentiful, fulfilling NCAA tournament run and a short lived high as you’re sent home packing just like the Wolverines were last year after a loss to Ohio in the second (first game) round.
The college game has evolved and Michigan is adjusting just like everyone else.
“I think when we first went to 64 teams a lot of people were staying for three or four years and a lot of juniors or seniors were playing for those top seeds,” said Beilein. “It’s not like that anymore. You have juniors and seniors at the mid-majors playing against freshman and sophomores at the high-majors. That’s pretty even.”
Set to square off with a South Dakota State (22-9, 13-3 in Summit) team with just one underclassman, freshman guard Jake Bittle, in their seven-man rotation, the Jackrabbits fit the mold of the new age of college basketball, one that mandates and encourages top talent to play one season before moving onto the NBA.
Lead by senior point guard and 2013 Bob Cousy Collegiate Point Guard of the Year finalist, Nate Wolters, South Dakota State will be no pushover for Michigan. Wolters will come into Thursday’s contest averaging 22.7 points per game and 5.8 assists per game as part of a starting five with four averaging in double figures and none averaging less than 3.7 rebounds a game.
But John Beilein isn’t sweating the Jackrabbits. In fact, he’s embracing them.
In 2005 while Beilein was still the head coach at West Virginia, the Moutaineers advanced all the way to the elite eight prior to being knocked out by Louisville in overtime. In the three games leading up to the loss to the Cardinals, West Virginia’s margin of victory was a combined 13 points.
“The one year we went to the elite eight we won at the buzzer, double overtime, at the buzzer,” said Beilein. “And those could have been loss, loss, loss, and you’re messed up.
“If you watch the NCAA tournament and the way it’s evolved over time, every team needs a break or two in those first two rounds to advance and then they might get going. If you look at national champions, sometimes their hardest games are the first or second and if they don’t get through them, it’s done. That’s the way the tournament is now.”
Should Michigan slow down the Jackrabbits attack Thursday, the road wouldn’t get any easier with a potential match-up with No. 5 seed Virginia Commonwealth Saturday. The Wolverines aren’t getting ahead of themselves though, and that’s the message the coaching staff hopes seeps into their minds.
“It’s all year long that we’re doing different things to make sure that they put things into perspective but they also know the relevance of this, how important it is, how well they’ve done that they’ve gotten to this point -- now let’s seize the day. Let’s go after it with everything we can.”
Burke national player of the year
Word came down Tuesday afternoon that Michigan sophomore point guard Trey Burke, the 2012-2013 Big Ten player of the year, was selected by Sports Illustrated as the national player of the year and a first team All-American performer.
Beilein couldn’t be more proud of his second year star.
“You know what I marvel at?” said Beilein. “How well he’s handled it. There isn’t one bit of -- he’s so modest about these things and so humble about all of these things, especially with his teammates. It’s always been about winning in so many ways and I know that this tournament is important for him as well -- to win.
“And I know that he will be an active voice, ever since our Big Ten season ended, to make sure our kids understand that this is the real deal now. This is the one thing we’ve got to go after and this is what we’ve been working for all year long.”
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