Young Michigan team has mental toughness to back up talent
ATLANTA — Virginia Commonwealth's press.
Michigan has handled every test so far. Now it's time for the final exam: a Louisville team that is the NCAA tournament's top overall seed.
Michigan is trying for its first national title since 1989, and Monday night will be its first appearance in the championship game since 1993, when the Fab Five lost to North Carolina. The last two decades have been difficult for the Wolverines, but after sanctions and mediocrity, they're back in the spotlight.
Coach John Beilein's team is plenty talented, but point guard Trey Burke and the Wolverines have reached this moment because of their smarts — and their ability to adjust quickly to new challenges.
“It means a lot to Michigan,” Burke said. “This program hasn't been this far in two decades, so just to be back in this situation definitely means the world to alumni and it means the world to us. That's been our No. 1 goal since Day One.”
Led by Burke, the Wolverines won their first 16 games and eventually were ranked No. 1 in the nation at the start of February. But as Beilein stressed over and over, it was still a young team. Burke, the consensus national player of the year, is a sophomore. Guard Tim Hardaway Jr. is a junior, but Michigan relies a lot on freshmen Glenn Robinson III, Mitch McGary and Nik Stauskas.
When the NCAA tournament began, the Wolverines still had a lot to prove — but this team's mental strength should not be underestimated.
Michigan has looked poised, prepared and confident for the last month or so. The Wolverines have been able to handle every challenge for the last few weeks, and their presence in the title game is a proud moment for a program that was reeling after a federal investigation revealed that a booster gave Webber and three non-Fab Five players more than $600,000 while they were student-athletes.
On Monday night, the current Wolverines will try to add a national title to their own growing legacy.
“I am still in shock of what we accomplished,” Robinson said. “After watching the national championship for so many years and finally having this opportunity to play in it — especially my freshman year — I can't wait.”