Michigan’s Trey Burke was named the AP College Basketball Player of the Year on Thursday and will pose a major challenge to the Syracuse defense, which has been dominant in the first four games of the tournament.
ATLANTA — Michigan coach John Beilein popularized a version of the 1-3-1 half-court trap as a defensive equalizer. Entering today’s national semifinal against Syracuse, Beilein has gone back to his roots to study and teach the intricacies of the 2-3 zone employed by the Orange.
“I used to play the same 2-3 zone for a long time,” said Beilein, who 28 years ago first attended a coaching clinic at which Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim spoke. “Everybody in Upstate New York did, has for a long time. But I found maybe I wasn’t as good at times and changed to 1-3-1. Now the 1-3-1 hasn’t been as effective. We still use it, but we’re a straight man-to-man team now.”
Florida coach Billy Donovan said Sunday that he anticipates national player of the year Trey Burke, Michigan’s sophomore point guard, to be slowed by the disciplined zone defense. Beilein isn’t so sure, but he affords the possibility that a good zone can eliminate the isolation penetration that helps Burke get to the basket or create open shots for teammates.
“We have to change what we do because we’re going to see the zone for 40 minutes,” Beilein said. “We don’t see it very often. Our hope is we have enough guys that see the floor that we don’t have to have the ball in one guy’s hands all the time.
“When you have a player like Trey Burke, you get the ball in his hands as often as you can. If zone negates that, we’ll just have to do our best.”
Syracuse was the tallest team, by average roster height, in the NCAA Tournament field of 68 at over 6 feet 7. The Orange zone took the life out of Indiana’s offense, and the Hoosiers came into the tournament averaging more than 80 points per game.
“We do a great job of making people take tough shots,” Syracuse senior forward James Southerland said. “I know Michigan is a young team, we’re a little bit older, so we’re going to definitely try to play a little smarter. I feel as if we go out there and stop ‘em early, make ‘em take tough shots, limit them from second-chance opportunities, we’ll be fine.”
Family matters: Richard Pitino was introduced as head coach at Minnesota on Friday, becoming the youngest coach in the Big Ten after one season (18-14) at Florida International, posting a winning record despite having just three scholarship players at the start of the season. He was with his father, Rick Pitino, and Louisville in Indianapolis for the regional semifinal and final.
The elder Pitino said he can excuse his son’s absence.
“Very proud and happy for Richard, coach at Minnesota,” Rick Pitino said. “So it’s been a great week in our family.”
Richard Pitino said Friday that he’ll work to continue putting his own thumbprint on a program, implementing valuable lessons learned from his father and Florida coach Billy Donovan.
“I’m extremely proud to be his son. I’m extremely fortunate to be his son,” he said. “I embrace it every single day. I would be silly to hide from it. He’s a legend in this game. He’s changed the game in many, many ways. He’s had people who have worked under him who have changed the game. So I’m extremely proud of him and I embrace it very much.
“As for the second part of doing it my own way, I think it’s fun. I really enjoyed it to coach last year and run my own program. When you work under two guys like Billy Donovan and Rick Pitino, you’ve got to make some decisions, because those are two legends who do it a little differently. So I had to figure out what worked for me, and that was really the biggest obstacle.”
Show him the money: Boeheim said Thursday that he eyeballed the USA Today newspaper story about the highest-paid coaches and noticed he wasn’t all that high on the list at under $2 million per season. Louisville’s Rick Pitino was at the top of the heap at $5 million annually.
Boeheim was responding to a question during his press conference about lasting nearly 40 years in coaching when he set out to “make it to 38” after breaking into the profession in his early 30s.
“I mean, if you don’t win, you’re too old or something,” he said. “There will be something that they come up with. In the end, you know that going into coaching. That’s just the way it is. I saw the USA Today, I think I’m getting underpaid, too, so I don’t know what’s going on here.”
Which way to Wichita?: Senior forward Carl Hall, a sixth-year senior who has already graduated, doesn’t mind admitting he needed Google to guide him to Wichita State from the junior college ranks.
“I knew nothing about Wichita State,” Hall said. “I had to Google it, see how big the city was. When I first heard the word ‘Wichita,’ I’m thinking a small country town, people walking around with cowboy boots on, things like that.”
Pointing to parity: Pitino keeps close track of his pupils — and their pupils — when possible, and that’s how he knew way back in November what the rest of the country learned only last week — Wichita State is Final Four worthy.
Pitino said he noted the Shockers to other coaches after their victory at VCU — coached by Shaka Smart, a former assistant of Pitino protege Billy Donovan. Prophetic? Perhaps. That’d be the 53-51 slugfest in Richmond way back in November.
“Little did I know we’d be playing them in a Final Four,” Pitino said. “So today the great thing about college basketball is there’s no difference between Butler, VCU, Wichita State, than UCLA, Louisville, North Carolina, Duke. There’s absolutely no difference.
“If you play them 10 times, they’re going to win a few of those games, and sometimes they’re going to win more than their share. That’s what the one-and-done has done for college basketball in a positive way. You see teams grow together.”
Four of Wichita State’s five starters were making their first road start at VCU.