During the lead-up to Thursday’s game between Michigan and South Dakota State at the Palace of Auburn Hills, the two players who have commanded the most attention are also the two players who command each team’s offense: Trey Burke and Nate Wolters.
Both teams rely on their star point guards for most of their offense, both Burke and Wolters have usage rates around 30 percent, and while they finish quite a few possessions, they start nearly all of them.
Wolters said he was aware of Trey Burke, but the challenge for South Dakota State would be in stopping Michigan as a team.
“He’s a great player. Probably the National Player of the Year,” Wolters said during the Jackrabbits’ press conference on Wednesday. “They’re a really talented team. They were ranked No. 1 earlier in the season. So, I mean, it will be a good challenge for us and we’re looking forward to it.”
For his part, Burke said he has been trying to avoid the hype surrounding his individual match-up with Wolters and focus on how he can help Michigan play good defense as a team.
“A lot has been made of it. I know that’s something I’m trying not to focus on as far as a one-on-one match-up,” Burke said. “I obviously know he’s a really good player. I think 30 percent of their offense runs through him. It’s just my job to try to slow things down and make things tough for him.”
The challenge for both teams will be stopping the opposition’s best player but it won’t be easy for either team.
“They’re like an amoeba with their offense. They can do so many different things without — that you can’t really organize for,” John Beilein explained. “And then with the point guard, he just finds people that are open. I mean, you can’t really set down things with them … There’s a time to run a play and there’s a time to be a player. They do that mix really well.”
Wolters also recognizes the challenge of stopping Burke, and a potentially lethal Wolverine offense.
“They have a great point guard who makes a ton of plays and we’ll have to try to keep him in check, but I mean it’s going to be a tough task,” Wolters said. “We probably haven’t played an offensive team as good as they are.”
Freshmen still getting acclimated NCAA tournament
For Glenn Robinson III, the fact that he’d be playing in his first NCAA tournament in his freshman year in college hit him on Selection Sunday.
“I was kind of sitting there, watching the games, and all of a sudden you see ‘Michigan’ up there,” Robinson said. “I’ve watched a lot of Selection Sundays in my life. Looking up there and seeing our name on that board, it’s definitely exciting to get a chance to play in the tournament. I know a lot of teams didn’t have this opportunity, so we’re just thankful that we get to keep playing.”
Excitement, reasonably is a common theme when assessing the mindset of Michigan’s freshmen going into their round of 64 matchup with South Dakota State. You get the feeling that they were ready to play Sunday night.
For Caris LeVert, he said it will really hit him when Michigan tips off against the Jackrabbits on Thursday.
“I think it’ll really hit me tomorrow, once the game starts. It’s amazing, just being here, especially with it being sort of a home game for us and all our fans being here.”
Michigan will obviously be relying on its freshmen for solid production, as it has all season. On Thursday, their chance to shine in March will finally be here. Mitch McGary, who will likely be playing significant minutes, is as excited as his first-year cohorts.
“When we got seeded on Selection Sunday a couple days ago, I just realized, alright, now my dreams came true. I’ve dreamed about playing in the NCAA tournament, March Madness. It’s pretty cool. It was surreal at first, a bit of a shock, but it’s going to be a good tournament.”
Robinson, Burke talk NBA
While the focus of the day was on the beginning of the NCAA Tournament, the open locker room also gave media a chance to talk with Michigan’s two highest-profile NBA prospects — Glenn Robinson III and Trey Burke — about the chances of their being Wolverines next year.
Unsurprisingly, neither Robinson nor Burke had much of note to say about it.
“It’s kind of hard at times to ignore [the NBA] and all the talk around it. Everybody’s going to be talking about that,” Robinson said. “I’m just going to continue out this year and then after this we’ll see what happens.”
Both Robinson and Burke continue to move up mock draft boards. Burke is on Chad Ford’s “One Foot In” list and Robinson is listed as “50-50.” In Jeff Goodman’s mock draft, Burke is up to the No. 6 pick and Robinson is at No. 22.
Burke said his decision will wait until the end of the season.
“It’s probably going to be a ‘we’ll see, I don’t know yet,'” Burke said. “How this season ends, that will go into my decision.”
Note: MLive’s Kyle Meinke reported that John Beilein was non-committal when asked whether or not Jordan Morgan will start. “We’ll see,” Beilein said when asked about the starting lineup. Morgan has been struggling over the past few games to convert even simple lay-ups, and it’s reasonable to expect Michigan’s coach to at least have a quick hook should Morgan appear out of sorts.