ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge
ATLANTA — John Beilein had one hope for his Michigan men’s basketball team when it woke up Tuesday morning, hours after its loss in the national championship game.
“I hope when we get on that plane, there’s some smiles on the faces,” the sixth-year Michigan coach said. “The sun is going to come up. If they’re not smiling, we’re going to make them smile.”
In the wake of an 82-76 loss to Louisville in Monday’s national title game at the Georgia Dome, the Wolverines had to shake off a certain stigma that comes with finishing the season in second place.
But the Wolverines (31-8) didn’t necessarily have to pick up the pieces of a devastating loss. This year’s Michigan squad was the culmination of a vision that Beilein had when he took over the program in 2007, and it was a group that, with the help of an extraordinary NCAA tournament run, brought the program back to national prominence.
“My goal and my task was, we need a basketball team that reflects this university,” said Beilein, who took the Wolverines to their first national championship game since 1993. “We do things right. We got great values with the university itself. That’s been the only mission. ... I would think Ann Arbor right now is very sad, but the people of Ann Arbor have been so good, our brand throughout the world.
“We made a major step toward that.”
But now, Michigan’s roller-coaster season has ended. It began with a 19-1 start that vaulted the Wolverines to No. 1 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll at the end of January, then continued with a stretch that saw them finish 6-6 in their final 12 games before the NCAA tournament.
Then, after losing in the second round of the Big Ten Conference tournament, the Wolverines regrouped and went on a tear through the NCAA tournament.
Michigan manhandled South Dakota State and Virginia Commonwealth, then beat favored Kansas in the Sweet Sixteen before routing Florida for the South region title.
Now, after a national semifinal win against Syracuse and the loss to national champion Louisville, Michigan must face the questions that come with preparing for the 2013-14 season.
In the locker room after the national championship game, neither point guard Trey Burke, junior guard Tim Hardaway, Jr., freshman forward Mitch McGary, nor freshman forward Glenn Robinson III discussed their futures, either at Michigan or in professional basketball.
When asked during the post-game news conference about his future, Burke said he wasn’t considering it at that moment.
“This game hurts so much, that’s something that I’ll just talk over with my coaching staff, my parents really over the next couple of weeks,” Burke said. “I’ll make a decision from there.
“Thanks for being interested. It’s not on my mind right now, really.”
On Wednesday, ESPN NBA draft analyst Chad Ford projected Burke as a top-10 pick in this year’s NBA draft — Burke led the Wolverines in tournament scoring with 15.5 points a game, ahead of McGary, whose draft stock rose during the course of the NCAA tournament, in which he averaged 14.3 points and led the Wolverines with an average of 10.7 rebounds in six games.
Burke, who swept every major national individual honor, said the day before the national title game that he had a vision for his team — to win the national title.
That eluded Burke. The Wolverines fell short of that goal. But they set a new standard.
“We worked extremely hard all year to get to this point,” freshman guard Nik Stauskas said. “Just because we lost this game, we don’t want to hang our heads that low. Obviously, this is a tough loss to swallow, but we’re going to move on from this and get better.”
Contact Rachel Lenzi at: email@example.com, 419-724-6510 or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.