Michigan Wolverines: 2013 NCAA tournament

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Visions of Mitch McGary’s past came bubbling up Saturday afternoon as he stood waiting to set a screen for his point guard, Trey Burke.

The Michigan freshman forward stood firmly, and Briante Weber had no chance. He ran right into the Wall of McGary and crumpled to the ground for a little while, unable to get up.

The hit, crushing Weber and part of VCU’s spirit in Michigan’s 78-53 win in the round of 32, harked back to a former life for McGary -- and another sport, football. A 6-foot-6, 190-pound tight end as a freshman at Chesterton High School in northwest Indiana, McGary loved playing football. Until he kept growing.

“My dad made me quit,” McGary said. “I was getting too tall.”

[+] EnlargeMitch McGary
Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY SportsMitch McGary's fierce play in the paint on Saturday helped deliver Michigan to the Sweet 16.
Michigan and coach John Beilein should be happy about that. McGary focused on basketball and a continual growth to the 6-10, 255-pound body of enthusiasm he now inhabits.

Devastating hits, such as what he did to Weber, are merely an energy point for Michigan. McGary is the Wolverines' bruiser and interior presence, something they have been waiting for in Beilein’s first five years in Ann Arbor.

McGary almost shrugged discussing the hit, with a sly smile yet insisting it was unintentional. That is part of what makes McGary a question mark for how good this Michigan team could be in the final two weeks of the season.

“Mitch, his confidence was incredible today, easy drop-offs and offensive boards that he got and he just kept going,” said Michigan redshirt freshman forward Max Bielfeldt. “He can go on a run, and he’s just very talented. When he gets his game going, he’s really, really tough to stop.

“He’s a guy, when he gets going, he’s going to keep going, and his enthusiasm keeps his game at a high level.”

This enthusiasm has been something Michigan has missed a lot of the season. Burke is a savvy, cool player who rarely displays emotion. Guard Tim Hardaway Jr. feeds off emotion, but it comes in spurts.

McGary is like a loose pinball, bouncing all over the place, lighting up bonuses and giving everyone around him added bursts of energy.

Especially if he plays the way he did Saturday, with career highs of 21 points and 14 rebounds against the Rams on 10-of-11 shooting. Michigan reinserted McGary into the starting lineup in the round of 64 against South Dakota State, and he had 13 points and nine boards.

Saturday was something different, though. It was what Michigan had hoped for all along. Although the Wolverines have multiple contributors playing well, McGary is the one who turns them into a title contender.

“He now brings another element to the table,” Michigan assistant coach Bacari Alexander said. “Sometimes we joke about them guys being the Justice League.

“If Trey Burke is Batman and Tim is Robin, I’ll tell you what: Mitch McGary might be Hercules.”

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Quick thoughts from fourth-seeded Michigan’s 78-53 win over No. 5 seed VCU on Saturday from the Palace of Auburn Hills.

Overview: Havoc? The only havoc caused in this game Saturday was from Michigan.

The Wolverines took VCU’s vaunted "Havoc" press apart with a combination of their own defense -- the Rams press off of made shots and dead-ball situations -- and their ability to break the press. Michigan handled VCU’s press with the ease of an elite college team and handed Rams coach Shaka Smart the most lopsided loss of his career.

The Wolverines used their press break, which was fast but patient, to lead to easy transition on the other end and layup after layup along with open 3-pointers. It was a tape teams likely will use for a long time in trying to figure out how to dissect VCU.

Michigan did this with its star point guard, Trey Burke, having another off day. Although his scoring returned, Burke had a season-high seven turnovers, but he did find Michigan’s shooters and cutters well for seven assists.

Turning point: There were many, but the stretch Michigan had to open the second half -- in which the Wolverines had three turnovers and a missed shot yet maintained their double-digit lead -- all but signified a poor day for VCU and an eventual run-out for Michigan. It escalated further when VCU guard Darius Theus picked up his third foul at the 17:23 mark in the second half.

Key player: Michigan forward Mitch McGary had the best game of his career, providing the interior presence the Wolverines often had lacked this season. McGary played like the guy they anticipated he might be coming out of high school and prep school. He went 10-of-11 from the field with career highs of 21 points and 14 rebounds, taking advantage of a lacking Rams interior.

Key stat: Before Michigan’s walk-ons came in, the Wolverines committed 12 turnovers, exactly the average teams that beat VCU this season had reached. The Wolverines handled the press easily and, save for one stretch early in the second half, never appeared rattled.

Next: Michigan makes its first Sweet 16 trip since 1994, facing No. 1 seed Kansas or No. 8 seed North Carolina in Arlington, Texas, on Friday.


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