For the first time since 1994, Michigan will be heading to the Elite 8, and they have NBCSports.com National Player of the Year Trey Burke to thank.
It didn’t look that way for the first 20 minutes, as Burke headed into halftime scoreless on 0-4 shooting. But after the break is when Burke took over. He finished with 23 points and 10 assists as No. 4 Michigan erased a 14 point second half deficit to knock off No. 1 Kansas 87-85 in the first semifinal of the South Regional.
With 1:16 left, Michigan was still down 74-66. Burke hit a three to cut the lead to five, and followed that up with a long jumper two possessions later to cut the lead to three. After Elijah Johnson missed the front end of a one-and-one with 12.6 seconds left, Burke hit a three from about 30 feet to tie the game. When a three from Naadir Tharpe bounced harmlessly off the front of the rim, the game was headed to overtime.
In the extra frame, Burke opened the scoring with another three and then a driving layup. A pair of buckets from Mitch McGary, who finished with 25 points and 14 boards, put the Wolverines up five, and they were able to survive after Kansas was only able to get a runner from 23 feet from Tharpe.
Do the match, and Burke scored 13 points in the final 1:16 of regulation and the first 1:37 of overtime.
And it’s the reason Burke was our National Player of the Year. He’s the first player to go for 20 points and 10 assists in the Sweet 16 since Billy Donovan in 1987.
This is what he’s done. When Michigan is playing their best, it’s not necessarily Burke that’s scoring all the points. He creates for the rest of his team. He sets up McGary around the rim or his shooters on the perimeter or the athletes on his team in transition. He runs the Michigan offense and looks to get everyone else involved, especially when he has two and three defenders running at him.
But when the game’s on the line?
When it’s ‘winning time’?
Burke is the one with the ball in his hands and he’s the one making the plays. And as he’s proven time and time again that he can make those plays.
It’s enough that it’s carried the Wolverines to the brink of the Final Four, where they will play the winner of Florida and Florida Gulf Coast on Sunday.
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.