Friday, March 29, 2013

Trey Burke’s Late-Second Heroics Served Up Michigan’s Epic Classic

The folks witnessed a wave of excitement and felt a shiver on Friday night, a tingling sensation vibrating throughout their bodies. The folks went berserk in the building, the Michigan fans screamed and the jitters vanished fast, sending a crowd clad in U of M blue into a state of delirium. The star guard, Trey Burke, the Big Ten player of the year, rescued Michigan in a late comeback, one of the virtuoso classics of March and in this tourney alone.

The Wolverines and No. 1 Kansas played a basketball game that was an epic and thrilling finish — 87-85 win for Michigan in the South Regional semifinals. There’s nothing like the drama of a clutch three-pointer that sent a game into overtime, extending what was incredibly an electrifying ending to probably the greatest last-second shot in NCAA tournament history. Burke is building a legend, in just his sophomore season, his first Elite Eight appearance with Michigan. When he finally heated up, he changed the nature of the game, by hitting jump shots and by scoring on a layup to pull within three.

He has to be Michigan’s hero for his last-second heroics, although, with his first-half struggles and poor shooting, he was not playing virtually like a hero but a wannabe Harlem Globetrotter with funny tricks, lack of discipline and commitment. What this game meant for Burke was to pull off an incredible comeback and climb to elite status. The talk of the college basketball world, of course, is Michigan and Burke’s magnificent shot, turning out to be a dangerous scorer when he’s on the court and pulling through when much is at stake.

More remarkably, Burke poured in 23 points in the second half and overtime, pulling up from far out and burying the game-tying three-pointer with 4.2 seconds left, a shot that forced overtime and saved Michigan’s feel-good season. It happened after Kansas’ Elijah Johnson missed a free throw and Michigan grabbed the rebound. Playing with vehemence and ferocity, Michigan rallied from a 14-point deficit in seven minutes, having a better all-around performance in the final 20 minutes to oust Kansas, who was believed to be en route to the next round and then Atlanta for the Final Four.

There had been moments when Michigan blew opportunities to cut the deficit, but then Burke, who is probably the best point guard in the nation, couldn’t miss a shot after starting the game 3-of-11 while trailing by double digits. With 35 seconds left, Tim Hardaway Jr. missed a 3-pointer in the final moments, but while down by five, Glenn Robinson III stole a Kansas pass and scored a reverse layup. After over two hours of craziness and after freshman center Mitch McGary hit a jumper to give Michigan an 83-82 lead, all part of an awesome game with five lead changes in overtime — the first OT game of the tournament — it’s simply fine to believe in the Wolverines.

The emergence of McGary just clearly means Michigan likely can win it all — or at least scare its next opponent in the South Regional Finals. It appears he’s a scorer, leading Michigan with 25 points and 14 rebounds, although his counterpart, Burke, is getting all the recognition for that one shinning moment. Now, to be logical, McGary still is growing as a player and he’s not a star at the very moment, but he’s quickly bursting into view. The basketball program basically has been retransformed into a national power of the Big Ten, bigger than its little brother, Michigan State, a team that could meet No. 1 overall seed Louisville in the Midwest Regional Finals.

But, in the meantime, Michigan is buoyed by Burke, a vocal leader of this team, and more notably, a factor on offense. He’s having as much fun as ever, and he has encouraged fans to serenade the Wolverines with “Go Blue!” chants, especially when Michigan perpetuated an unimaginable run. All along, Burke’s coach, John Beilein had confidence that he could produce in big moments, and surely, he managed the mental state and tension of an important game nicely.

The fun will continue for Burke and the rest of his teammates when Michigan, a heavy-favored team to make the Final Four, will have a chance to make noise and counter the defensive-minded Gators or Florida Gulf Coast, the darlings of this year’s NCAA tournament. And, more generally, Michigan finished by making the boldest and loudest statement and by getting national regards, advancing deeper into a compelling NCAA tournament. The man of the night was Burke, despite that he was scoreless and struggling in the first half. He’s a Columbus native who grew up a Buckeyes fan, but was not recruited by Ohio State and blossomed into a star at Michigan, becoming the ultimate centerpiece.

All around him are players, contributing and playing collectively, but obviously, from the progress Burke has made this season alone, Beilein gave the reins to his sophomore. That’s what happens when a team’s star player evaporates and plays with confidence after maturing and staying poised and patient, which usually convinces the coach that a player is capable of taking charge. He’s now a floor general, a focal point for Michigan, leading the team the deepest it has been in ages, and with his second half performance, he strengthened his credentials. If he’s aiming to forgo his junior season for the pros, then he may have even enhanced his NBA draft stock, which seems to be the least on his mind — focused on winning the school’s first national since 1989.

This year, Michigan looks like the menace of March, with one of the most prolific backcourts in college basketball. It’s exactly the kind of basketball fans have been craving and there’s a good chance Michigan will be cutting down a net, making it to the Elite Eight for the first time since 1994. If the Wolverines walk over the Cinderellas of the tournament or even beat No. 3 Florida on Easter Sunday, a game projected to be just as spectacular as what we’ve witnessed, then Michigan will advance to the Final Four and could cut down the nets in Atlanta, Ga. In a year that anyone can win it all, given the parity and talent of the remaining teams, No. 4 Michigan might just be the team to make it happen.

It’s now time for Dick Vitale to gush over Michigan, then Louisville, then Ohio State, then Wichita State, then maybe Duke.

There will always be surprises, of course, and Michigan happens to be one of those surprises in the 2013 NCAA tournament, refreshing our memories of the Fab Five era, whether the players were scintillating or infamous.

One day, we will look back at Trey Burke.

One day, we will remember Trey Burke. And they will talk about him for many years.