Michigan advances to the semifinals of the NIT Season Tip-Off with a 77-47 victory over Cleveland State.
By DAVE HOGG FS Detroit
ANN ARBOR, Mich. — When "Empire State of Mind" plays after a victory, places like Yankee Stadium and Jay-Z's own Barclays Center in Brooklyn come to mind.
Tuesday, the iconic hip-hop song was blasting at the Crisler Center, where No. 5 Michigan's 77-47 rout of Cleveland State earned the Wolverines a trip to the Preseason NIT semifinals in the Big Apple.
"You always dream about playing at Madison Square Garden, so it is unbelievable that so many of us are going to get to do it as freshmen," said Nik Stauskas, who scored 15 points off the bench. "I don't think many of the other guys have played there, either, so this is going to be big for all of us."
The preseason NIT doesn't offer the beaches and scenery of a trip to Hawaii or Puerto Rico, but it has a venue and tradition that no other tournament can match.
"When you come to Michigan, you come to win championships, and now we've got a shot at one of the most prestigious preseason tournaments out there — I think it rivals Maui as No. 1," Michigan coach John Beilein said. "I know we have a lot of fans and alumni in New York, and I hope we're going to see all of them next week."
Michigan's biggest problem right now is one that almost every coach would love to have. The Wolverines have won each of their three games by at least 30 points, so they aren't getting a lot of work on pressure situations.
"We work a little on late-game situations every day in practice, but we're going to have to do a lot more of that in the four practices before we go to New York," Beilein said. "You usually get that experience in games, but we haven't had that chance yet."
Michigan played two exhibition games against Division II teams, then routed Slippery Rock, IUPUI and Cleveland State to start the season. It was the first time the Wolverines won three consecutive games by 30-plus since 1988-89, when they did it five times in a row at the start of their NCAA championship season.
It's a little early to crown this team as a championship favorite, but Beilein thinks that even lopsided victories can have a positive effect.
"The first thing is that we're getting in shape," the coach said. "Trey Burke played 32 minutes tonight, and that's a workout that you can't get in practice, no matter how hard you work. In a game situation, your adrenaline is flowing and everything counts. That's not something you can duplicate in an empty gym."
Beilein also was happy that his team had to deal with some freak defenses from Cleveland State — stuff the Wolverines didn't expect to see.
"They came out and trapped us in the quarter-court, and we had never seen that from them, so I was over on the sideline trying to draw up things on the whiteboard," Beilein said. "Then they pulled out a 2-2-1 zone and a diamond-and-one on Nik, and we've never practiced against those at all, so it was a good challenge for us to adjust to new things."
Michigan is a very young team — it played with three freshmen, a sophomore and a junior for large portions of the game — but it was hard to tell. Along with Stauskas, freshmen Glenn Robinson III (nine points, seven rebounds) and Mitch McGary (six points, nine rebounds) had strong performances, while Burke had 12 points and seven assists and junior Tim Hardaway Jr. led all scorers with 17.
"That's a young team, but talent knows no age," Cleveland State coach Gary Waters said. "That team has exceptional talent and a lot of size. If I've learned one thing as a basketball coach, it is that really good things can happen when you've got both talent and size."
Beilein and his youngsters will have a week to prepare before facing Pittsburgh in an NIT semifinal next Wednesday.
"IUPUI and Cleveland State have great teams, but we've told the freshmen that we're going to be seeing a different level of talent in New York," said Burke, sounding like a grizzled veteran on the day after his 20th birthday. "We're going to make sure the kids are ready for this."