S. Dakota St.-Michigan Preview
By NOAH TRISTER
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) Trey Burke versus Nate Wolters is the matchup everyone is waiting to see.
Turns out Michigan and South Dakota State have more in common than just their star point guards.
"They don't turn over a lot, we don't turn over a lot," Jackrabbits coach Scott Nagy said. "They don't foul, we don't foul. There are a lot of similarities, so I think it will be interesting."
The fourth-seeded Wolverines take on their mirror image from the Summit League on Thursday night when they face 13th-seeded South Dakota State in the NCAA tournament. Michigan is the clear favorite, especially since the game is about 50 miles from the school's Ann Arbor campus, but both teams play a similar style, relying on sharp shooting from the perimeter by guards who don't make many mistakes.
It should make for an entertaining, free-flowing matchup in the South Regional.
"I think what both teams have is terrific point guards, and you get the ball into those two young men's hands and anything can happen. The way the game is played now, there are things happening in transition that it's just hard to practice for," Michigan coach John Beilein said. "In order to run, people have got to make stops. We have to make stops. They have to make stops. But when both teams are running, they're really good."
Burke is a national player of the year candidate. The 6-foot leader of Michigan's efficient offense can shoot from outside and drive past defenders into the lane. He averages 19.2 points per game while the 6-foot-4 Wolters averages 22.7. Wolters scored 53 points against IPFW in February, the most by anyone in Division I this season.
"We'll put Nate on Trey," Nagy said. "Nate is a tremendous defender, but we've relied on him so much to play 40 minutes and to handle a basketball that I think sometimes people don't get to see how good a defender he is."
Both teams surround their playmaking point guards with other terrific shooters. Michigan freshman Nik Stauskas shoots 45 percent from 3-point range, and Tim Hardaway Jr. is at 37 percent. Chad White and Jordan Dykstra are both at 43 percent for the Jackrabbits.
Michigan (26-7) allows opponents to shoot 13 free throws per game, the fewest in the nation. South Dakota State is next on that list at 13.4. Michigan turns the ball over only 9.2 times per game, also the lowest figure in the country. South Dakota State is sixth at 10.4.
"They're like an amoeba with their offense. They do so many different things that you can't really organize for," Beilein said. "They are in motion, and then they're hitting with these quick striking things which we're saying, `They can't have planned that.'"
South Dakota State (25-9) made the NCAA tournament last year for the first time as a Division I team, losing by eight to Baylor.
"Last year was a first time for all of us. We'd just experienced the NCAA tournament by watching on TV - then last year, it was our first year," forward Tony Fiegen said. "Kind of the bright lights, the big stage, it was kind of new for all of us."
That won't be the case for the Jackrabbits this time.
The Wolverines are approaching this tournament with some urgency. Michigan was a No. 4 seed last year too, and the Wolverines lost their tournament opener to Ohio.
Michigan was ranked No. 1 in the nation earlier this season, but struggled a bit down the stretch against a rugged Big Ten schedule. Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary are all contributing as freshmen, but the Wolverines could lose Burke to the NBA - a move he considered making last year.
Expectations are higher at Michigan than they've been in a while, which means there's pressure to make a longer postseason run in 2013 - especially with the team playing so close to home.
"No room in the margin this late in the season," Burke said. "(Thursday) could be our last game if we don't come out and execute the way we know we can."
Updated March 20, 2013