Florida Gulf Coast stopped scoring at the wrong time, while Louisville and Duke won by maintaining solid, boring leads, so the chatter last night naturally turned to Trey Burke's remarkable game-tying shot against Kansas. Michigan clawed back from a 14 point deficit in seven minutes, Burke scored all of his 23 points in the second half, and the shot that sent the game to overtime was a perfect March Madness mix of courage and desperation. The cover of ESPN's NCAA page reads "Trey's Time," and the Associated Press recap leads with, "Trey Burke never doubted he could lead Michigan to its deepest NCAA tournament run since the Fab Five era." Fair enough, but it probably shouldn't take that recap 15 more paragraphs to mention Mitch McGary, who more than quadrupled some of his season averages last night, and led the Wolverines in points, rebounds, steals and blocks.
When the tournament's breakout teams run up against insurmountable talent gaps in the later rounds, we're left with the players having breakout tournaments for a dose of pleasant surprise and vicarious living. Burke is an established entity—a Wooden award finalist this year and an All-American last year—but you're either a Big 10 obsessive or a liar if you claim to have known much about Mitch McGary two weeks ago. If you picked him as the player most likely to swing the tournament in his team's favor, you're Mitch McGary's mom.
McGary's per game average rose by almost a point after last night's 25 and 14 performance, to 7.3. He's averaging 6.1 rebounds on the year, even after a three-game stretch in which he's grabbed 37. A freshman, McGary spent much of the season coming off the bench, and while he wasn't exactly unheralded coming out of high school—at one point he was considered the second best prospect in the nation before coming down to earth in his senior year of high school—his first season at Michigan had been coming along fitfully until the tournament began. In 33 regular season games (four starts), he averaged 6.2 points and 5.5 rebounds. In the tournament, he's averaging nearly 20 points per game, and over 12 rebounds. His contributions may not have been the key factor in the Wolverines' blowout wins against San Diego South Dakota State and VCU, but he certainly made the difference last night, when he was the team's only steady presence, successfully adjusted to and ultimately neutralized Jeff Withey, and hit consecutive jumpers in overtime. He's big, skilled, and likes contact; a lefty shooting big man that, as of March 23, gobbles rebounds and doesn't miss.
If Michigan suddenly looks like a reasonable pick for the national championship game, it's because Michigan suddenly has the interior presence long thought necessary for a real run. It was on the bench the whole time, and McGary's insertion into the line-up has been so seamless and effective, one almost wonders whether John Beilein wasn't simply waiting for the right time to unleash him. You might expect most of the action to happen on the perimeter when Michigan plays Florida for a shot at the Final Four on Sunday afternoon, but keep an eye trained on the middle. McGary will have to contend with Erik Murphy and Patric Young, Florida's experienced and sometimes fearsome big men. He'll be looking to secure a better One Shining Moment entry than this.