Facing similarities from last year, Wolverines focus on first round

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By Daniel Wasserman, Daily Sports Writer
Published March 17, 2013

As a No. 4 seed and co-Big Ten champion last year, the Michigan men’s basketball team had its sights set on bigger and better things than a loss in its first NCAA Tournament game. Standing in its way, though, was Ohio, and instead, it was the 13th-seeded Bobcats who dashed to the Sweet Sixteen before dropping a closely contested game to North Carolina in the regional semifinal.

The Wolverines’ first-round opponent this year, South Dakota State, shares several commonalities with Ohio. Both teams — each No. 13 seeds — entered the Big Dance riding win streaks after winning their conference tournaments, and each features a talented veteran point guard.

Hoping not to repeat its fate from the previous year, several Michigan players that were on last year’s team openly admitted they’d use the upset as a teaching tool, showing that anyone can be beat in the tournament.

“Definitely, I’ll bring that up because as a freshman, or any player, it’s March — March Madness,” said sophomore point guard Trey Burke. “It’s hard to not look at the bracket and see where you would be if you were to play in the Elite Eight, or who you could potentially play in the Sweet Sixteen. It’s hard (not) to do that, so it’s my job as a captain … to continue to tell them that we’ve got to take each game by each game and not look ahead.”

As a leader, Burke said that the team will “definitely hear my voice and just my opinion about how we should approach this game.” Burke referred to last year’s loss as a “trap game,” and that he’ll make sure Michigan doesn’t get off to another slow start like last year.

Both junior guard Tim Hardaway Jr. and redshirt junior forward Jordan Morgan also said they’d make sure everyone, especially the team’s five freshmen, don’t forget about the Ohio game, but Morgan was also quick to point out that the freshmen have had experience this year losing games the team shouldn’t lose. Though he didn’t specify which games he was referring to, the loss at previously winless Penn State certainly comes to mind.

“This is really a different team (than last year’s),” Morgan said. “We lost some close games (this year), games that we didn’t think we could lose, games in ways we wished we hadn’t lost. You can’t take anyone lightly, and I think this team has done a good job at teaching us that.”

Michigan coach John Beilein thought his team had turned “stale” by late Friday afternoon when the Wolverines faced off against Ohio in Nashville, Tenn. last March. And when Michigan opened the game by missing open layups and easy jump shots allowing the Bobcats to jump out to an early lead, the coach admitted that his team “played not to lose.”

“We’re doing everything we can to make sure we go in there and play to win,” Beilein said.

Still, Beilein cautioned, he can’t overplay last year’s loss, and while he certainly acknowledged an urgency the team must play with, there’s a fine line he must walk.

“I think you’ve got to be careful there,” Beilein said. “We have to make sure we go after this with everything we can … but you can’t go in with this attitude where, ‘We’re going to go home if we don’t win.’ ”