ARLINGTON, Texas: Another fabulous group of young players has Michigan headed back to the Final Four.
Led by Big Ten Player of the Year Trey Burke and sharp-shooting guard Nik Stauskas, one of three freshman starters, the Wolverines dominated Florida right from tip-off, scoring the game’s first 13 points and routing the Gators 79-59 in the South Regional final Sunday.
“A lot of guys said we were really young and that we couldn’t get here,” said Burke, a sophomore and the South Region’s most outstanding player. “We’re here now and we still have unfinished business.”
The last time Michigan made it this far was the Fab Five era of the early 1990s, what until now had been considered the program’s glory years.
Might be time to start rethinking that.
Once they got ahead Sunday, the Wolverines (30-7) maintained a double-digit lead against the SEC regular-season champion Gators (29-8), who lost in a regional final for the third consecutive year.
“We haven’t gotten off the greatest of starts of late. That was a terrific start,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “Just hanging in there with our defense allowed us to keep that separation.”
Stauskas scored 22 points while making all six of his 3-pointers and Burke scored 15. Mitch McGary, a 6-foot-10 freshman, had 11 points and nine rebounds.
When the game ended, Burke was among several Michigan players who went to the opposite side of the court toward Michigan fans behind press row with fingers raised. Fans were chanting, “It’s great to be a Michigan Wolverine!”
And great to be young.
The Wolverines are headed to Atlanta to play Syracuse (30-9) in a national semifinal game Saturday.
Michigan hadn’t reached the Final Four since consecutive national championship game appearances in 1992 and 1993, the freshman and sophomore seasons of the Fab Five — Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Ray Jackson and Jimmy King.
Webber was gone before that team’s 1994 regional final loss to Arkansas played in the now-demolished Reunion Arena in Dallas, and Howard followed him to the NBA after that.
With four wins in this NCAA tourney, the Wolverines already have more tournament victories than their total from the end of the Fab Five era to this season.