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April 5, 2013

The Week That Was: Michigan advances to Final Four

Michigan's Final Four-bound basketball team of course dominated the conversation this week, but there was also big news on the football field, news emanating from Yost Ice Arena, and for good measure, at Canham Natatorium where the men's swimming and diving team won a national title.

Michigan meets Syracuse in the Final Four

The Wolverines punched their ticket to the program's first NCAA semifinals appearance since 1993 with a dominating 79-59 victory over Florida in a South Regional final. Michigan heads to Atlanta a two-point favorite over the Orange, who are also streaking, besting Indiana 61-50 and Marquette 55-39 in Sweet 16 and Elite Eight matchups to earn its date with the Maize and Blue.

What They're Saying

SI.com's Andy Glockner writes that freshman power forward/center Mitch McGary could be the key to a Michigan victory over Syracuse: "If Michigan can get the ball into the heart of the Orange zone, or get good looks from the perimeter, McGary should be well positioned to receive drop-off passes on the baseline or get his own buckets off the offensive glass.

"Earlier this month, it would have seemed crazy to be talking about McGary as one of the major keys in a national semifinal, but here he is, in shape and playing his best basketball as a collegian. And despite how much of a revelation he looks like, this doesn't seem to surprise his teammates that much at all."

While Louisville is the odds-on favorite to win the whole thing, most are picking the Wolverines to advance and play for the title, including CBSSports.com Matt Norlander, who says: "Louisville is the best defensive team in college basketball, and Michigan's the best on offense. It would be only fitting if these two were to meet in the national title game. And that is what I think happens. This team's too fun, too efficient, too good at what it does to get topped by a Syracuse club with a great zone D but that lacks in overall ability with the ball.

"So I like Michigan in the title game, but I'll stop there. Unless Burke goes Burke again."

My Take: I'm also taking Michigan to beat Syracuse and move on to meet Louisville, but I think the Wolverines get it done and win the whole thing. Call me a biased homered but after Trey Burke lifted the Wolverines to their improbable win over Kansas, this team just has found its championship swagger. The Cardinals are playing for teammate Kevin Ware after his tragic leg injury last week, but at some point actually playing without Ware will catch up to them, and that happens Monday night in the championship.

Trey Burke named Player of the Year

There is still one big award to be decided - the Naismith Player of the Year - but Burke seems likely to scoop it up, just as he has earned the Oscar Robertson Trophy as the U.S. Basketball Writers Association's Player of the Year, the Wooden Award and the Associated Press Player of the Year. Burke is just the second Wolverine in school history, joining Cazzie Russell in 1966, to receive the AP nod, and he is U-M's fifth consensus first-team All-American.

What They're Saying

MLive.com's Nick Baumgardner is paying tribute to Burke's incredible season by ranking the seven-best individual performances by the sophomore point guard, including The Shot at No. 1: "Rumeal Robinson's free throws in the 1989 national title game might have been bigger shots, but only because they directly resulted in a ring. But Burke's 35-foot heave against Kansas at the end of regulation was truly something to behold. The sophomore point guard helped the Wolverines climb back from a 10-point deficit in the final three minutes to push on to the Elite Eight.

"Burke scored all 23 points after halftime, and served up a huge order of onions with a long-range bomb just before the regulation horn. It'll be a shot that gets replayed for years around Ann Arbor, and probably across the country, too."

My Take: This is the fun part for fans - reveling in the accomplishments of their favorite players - but Burke is eyeing a far bigger prize than the hardware he can put on his mantle. Sure, winning Player of the Year is nice, and doing so will cement his place not only among Michigan's all-time greats, but among college basketball's best players, but leading a team to a national title is the ultimate achievement and separates the greats from the all-time greats. Just ask Desmond Howard and Charles Woodson.

Backup QB Russell Bellomy suffers an ACL tear and will miss the 2013 season

TheWolverine.com broke the news Monday that Bellomy had suffered a torn ACL and would be most likely lost for his entire sophomore campaign. He is the second Wolverine this spring to tear an ACL (Jake Ryan), and in his absence, the Maize and Blue have just one scholarship QB on the roster this spring (Devin Gardner).

What They're Saying

While redshirt freshman Brian Cleary's name has made the rounds this week as U-M waits for the arrival of Shane Morris, ESPN.com Big Ten beat writer Brian Bennett addresses the likelihood of adding another QB to the roster in time for the fall: "While coach Brady Hoke would probably love to have another quarterback on the roster, I don't think we'll see a graduate transfer a la Wisconsin in 2011 and 2012. In those cases, the Badgers had no clear starting QB when Russell Wilson and Danny O'Brien came in, respectively. Gardner has a stranglehold on the position and has another year of eligibility; most players who transfer don't do so just to serve as a backup. I don't think that's Michigan's style, anyway."

Morris can't get here soon enough but the four-star left-hander faces an unfortunate predicament now that Bellomy is out - he can't redshirt MLive.com's Kyle Meinke points out: "Morris is a big-armed prospect out of Warren De La Salle who, as one of the five best quarterbacks in the country, seemingly has a promising future. Michigan likely would prefer to redshirt him, so he can have a season to acclimate to the system, then have one year behind Gardner. If he's forced to play right away, he could be a backup for half his career."

My Take: Make no mistake, Michigan is worse off today than it was a week ago. The loss of Bellomy doesn't hurt as much as losing Jake Ryan, but it still hurts because as I wrote on Tuesday, backup QBs averaged 78 pass attempts in 2012 and there's a decent chance, especially with Devin Gardner's dual-threat style, that U-M will need its backup to play a few snaps here and there. Having to go to Morris is not ideal because true freshmen are rarely ready to lead a team, especially one with championship aspirations.

Yes, there are examples in recent history of first-year QBs excelling, but those quarterbacks - like Michigan's own Tate Forcier -- were getting first-team reps in fall camp and during normal game weeks. Most backups are not afforded the same luxury but because they have years of experience (or at least one) they're more prepared to step in temporarily for a starter. A rookie like Morris won't have the history and would likely spell trouble for the Wolverines.

Meinke makes another great point too - without redshirting, Morris will essentially be Gardner's backup for two seasons, burning two years of eligibility. While some have long argued Morris was never slated to redshirt, the opportunity to do so would have created a possible scenario in which he could have been a three-year starter. Now that seems impossible.

Jacob Trouba leaves school

Michigan expected junior defenseman Jon Merrill to go pro (and he did) but there was good reason to believe that Trouba would return for his sophomore season. Instead, that momentum shifted the other way and the 6-2, 195-pounder signed with Winnipeg earlier this week, leaving a chasm on the U-M blue line.

What They're Saying

The Winnipeg Free Press had a nice article on Trouba earlier this week, talking to both the kid and the franchise's power-brokers about what to expect.

Meanwhile, Michigan coach Red Berenson told TheWolverine.com on Wednesday that 'I can't second-guess the kid. I told Winnipeg he's the real deal and he won't be out of place.'

My Take: Even though Michigan missed out on the NCAA Tournament, the way the Wolverines finished gave rise to renewed optimism for next season and for the program's future. That excitement has all but dissipated in the past week as U-M has lost two of its three best defensemen to the NHL and three of its top four overall (with the graduation of Lee Moffie). Suddenly a team with very real national championship aspirations has serious concerns about its defensive corps.

All hope is not lost with three talented rookie blue liners set to arrive and five returning defensemen, but netminder Steve Racine will likely have to steal a few more games next season, as he did late in the year, while the coaches develop Michigan's blue line. There is good news up front too with forwards that will be talented and deep. However, Trouba's loss will temper expectations considerably.

Michigan wins a national title in swimming and diving

On the strength of Connor Jaeger's two individual NCAA titles and a team victory in the 200-yard medley relay, the Maize and Blue bested runner-up California by 73.5 points to capture the program's first national championship since 1995 and the athletic department's first since 2010 (men's gymnastics).

What They're Saying

MGoBlue.com has everything you want to know about the victory in its extensive recap. Meanwhile, Indystar.com has a great photo of Jaeger after a win.

My Take: Michigan's Olympic sports don't get enough pub (and we're to blame for that also), seemingly only coming into the spotlight when they achieve at the highest level (and even then, there were barely any stories), but the Wolverines' athletes - and really all collegiate athletes - should be applauded for their effort, dedication and excellence.

The men's swimming team has been one of U-M's most accomplished for decades, building a reputation as one of the premier Summer Olympic training grounds in the country. Coach Mike Bottom is, perhaps, the preeminent collegiate coach in the sport and Jaeger is a stud.

Kudos to the Maize and Blue. Certainly during a football game next year they will be introduced either beforehand or during a stoppage in play, and they deserve a standing ovation from 110,000.



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