Two of nation's top point guards on display
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — Michigan point guard Trey Burke isn't just the team's best player; he's also the Big Ten player of the year and a finalist for the John Wooden Award, presented to the national player of the year.
South Dakota State point guard Nate Wolters has almost identical credentials, albeit in a lesser conference, the Summit League.
As a result, the matchup between Burke and Wolters is getting a lot of attention heading into Thursday's NCAA tournament game between the fourth-seeded Wolverines and 13th-seeded Jackrabbits (7:15 p.m. EDT tip-off). And their coaches know it.
Burke and Wolters will both be running the offense on one end of the floor and guarding one of the nation's best players on the other end.
"We're going to put Nate on Trey because Nate is a tremendous defender," Jackrabbits coach Scott Nagy said. "We're also going to rely on him to play 40 minutes and handle the basketball.
"He's a huge reason that this program is here right now, and we're going to let him do what he does."
Michigan coach John Beilein thinks Burke and Wolters might cancel each other out to some extent.
"These are two teams with terrific point guards, and when you get the ball into those two young men's hands, anything can happen," Beilei said. "Both of them are very good at getting their teammates open, and this game will probably come down to those guys making their shots."
Wolters has put up incredible numbers — scoring a combined 89 points in back-to-back games, including 53 in a win over Indiana University–Purdue University Fort Wayne — and he's done it outside the weak competition of the Summit League. He scored 28 in an upset victory at New Mexico and had 30 in a close loss at Alabama.
"I'm trying not to focus on just one matchup, but I obviously know he's a really good player," Burke said. "I think 30 percent of their offense runs through him, and it is my job to slow him down."
Burke hasn't had the same numbers, but that hasn't stopped him from being recognized as the best player in the country's best conference. He's already won several All-America and player-of-the-year awards and is the favorite for the Wooden Award.
"He's probably the national player of the year," Wolters agreed. "I've watched him multiple times on TV this year, and he's a great player. I try to learn things from him, because he's really good on the pick-and-roll and he's a good shooter.
"He's going to be tough to guard."
This is where Michigan has a huge advantage. The Wolverines boast future NBA players such as Glenn Robinson III and Tim Hardaway Jr., along with a 3-point specialist in Nik Stauskas and college basketball's most excitable player in Mitch McGary.
The Jackrabbits, on the other hand, have surrounded Wolters with good Summit League players. Instead of leaving early for the NBA, players such as Jordan Dykstra and Tony Fiegen will play four years at South Dakota State before playing in Europe or getting normal post-college jobs.
On the court, that translates to more speed and size for Michigan. The Wolverines will be nearly unstoppable in transition, so South Dakota State will need to hit a ton of outside shots to have a chance.