The Michigan Wolverines dismantled the 10th ranked Memphis Tigers on Monday and opened a lot of eyes in the process. Some folks started to see what Joe and I have been talking about regarding this team and what makes them a special bunch. Things that we already knew about this team, but jumped out to others in the Memphis win:
Tim Hardaway Jr. is really good.
Trey Burke is poised beyond his freshman status.
Zack Novak brings more intangibles to the table than any other player in College Basketball.
John Beilein is a masterful coach.
Some of the comments I picked up from around the internet
Jeff Goodman CBS: Michigan freshman Trey Burke extremely poised. The Wolverines picking apart Memphis’ defense early in Maui.
Jeff Goodman: Everyone knew that when Beilein got “his guys”, Michigan would be dangerous. Displaying that w/ this win over far-more-talented Memphis club
Chad Ford ESPN: Really nice game from Tim Hardaway Jr. Lots of scouts here impressed with him both in game an in practice. Possible 1st rd pick?
Rob Dauster NBC: It appears that not only will Burke be the answer at the point for Michigan this season, he’ll be a very good player before his days in Ann Arbor are over. That, above anything, was the biggest concern for the Wolverines coming into the season.
Chad Ford: At halftime of Michigan-Memphis at the Maui Classic. Trey Burke has been best player on the floor. Great poise for a freshman.
Memphis Head Coach Josh Pastner: “I know they lost a really good player in Darius Morris, who is a pro, but they didn’t have too much drop off with Burke. He’s really good and only a freshman.
The win over Memphis sets up a rematch with Duke, the team that ended Michigan’s season last year in the third round of the NCAA Tournament. The 6th ranked Blue Devils lost a lot from that team, Kyle Singler, Nolan Smith, and Kyrie Irving. They are still loaded and brought in mega-recruit, Austin Rivers. Michigan of course lost Darius Morris from their team. The difference is the Wolverines are going through a much smoother transition than the Blue Devils are.
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The process of integrating Rivers has been a bumpy one for Duke. Meanwhile, Michigan has seamlessly transitioned to Trey Burke running the point. Burke was poised and under control against the frenetic Memphis defense. Perhaps they thought they’d be able to rattle the freshman, if they did think that they were wrong.
Michigan had a real team defining moment at the end of the first half. It started when Burke blocked a shot by Memphis’ Joe Jackson to end the opening stanza. An obviously frustrated Tigers team reacted when Will Barton shoved Evan Smotrycz from behind. Enter Zack Novak, the fearless leader of this Michigan team. He immediately jumped in to defend his teammate and stood toe-to-toe with Jackson and let him know they weren’t backing down from anybody.
That sequence may seem insignificant to some, but it’s not. At that moment, Trey Burke confirmed that he could ball with anybody in the country and Novak sent a message that Michigan was not going to back down from Memphis, Duke or any other team they take the court with. This team believes in themselves and has 100% trust in their coaches.
Which brings us back to Duke. Michigan nearly upset the top-seeded Blue Devils and advanced to the Sweet 16 last year. When Joe and I sat down with Stu Douglass in July he shared this story with us. “It was funny, Coach K, I saw him in the hallway and he stopped me after the Duke game in the tournament and he said, you guys are probably the closest team I’ve seen,” Douglass explained. “He could just tell that from playing against us. As far as college teams go, I think we’re as close as it gets.”
Coach K, who is widely regarded as one of the greatest college basketball coaches of all-time, saw something different in Michigan that day. I’m sure he’d rather not have to face a team as well-coached, as precise in their execution, and as tight knit as any team he has ever seen, this early in the season. Not when he is still finding a rhythm for his own team.
Predictions: As soon as the Memphis game tipped, Joe and I both instantly regretted picking against Michigan. You could see that this wasn’t going to be the same Wolverines team that plodded through their first 3 games.
Michigan has the big guys, Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford, to bang with Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly. If Memphis’ helter-skelter style of play couldn’t rattle Trey Burke neither will Duke. Tim Hardaway Jr. has been outstanding this season and he tends to rise to the occasion in these big games. The biggest key for U-M is in the immeasurable, the leadership of Zack Novak and Stu Douglass is simply tremendous.
Joe picks Michigan 70-66
I’m also picking Michigan 72-64
You can follow me on Twitter @isportsRob