It was over a year ago that we sat over at Hustle Belt and talked about why Ohio would beat Michigan. All it took was a little bit of a contribution off the bench.
Ohio got that and more in the game against the Wolverines. Reggie Keely came off the bench with 10 important points. The Bobcats made Trey Burke almost a non-factor in the game, as he shot just 33 percent overall, and was 2-for-9 from 3-point range.
But that was the freshman Trey Burke, one that got a lot of praise but was still half the player he is now. By the numbers, Burke is almost exactly twice as valuable as he was last season. He has gone from being worth five wins, to being worth more than 10 wins on the season. That was the growth that he needed, the piece that was lacking, that probably kept him from turning pro as he seemed on the verge of a year ago after the loss.
And that has turned Michigan from the upset victim last season into the clear favorite in their second round game against South Dakota State.
The funny thing is that they are facing a team much like Ohio last season, a team that was dominated for the most part by a single player, and that needs a lot of help from its supporting cast if they hope to pull off an unlikely upset.
That player is Nate Wolters. We have waxed poetically on Wolters before, especially after his 53-point performance that was worth more than a single win. We even made him the captain of the Mid-Major 5.
But there are limits to the magic that Wolters is going to be able to pull on the basketball court, especially with how much might be riding on this game for his future. He has toiled in obscurity for most of the season, and while being a cult hero among fans scattered around the country, there haven't been many chance for those same fans to see the Nater Nate.
It is the type of performance that could inspire the fans to get up and dance, much like that guy:
This is his stage -- Wolters, not the purple guy -- and there will be a lot of eyes on how he handles the man on the other side of the ball, the man who doubled in stature this season, Burke. Wolters will have the hardest task on the floor.
He not only has to produce for his team, but he has to stop the best player on the opposing team. Sounds like the type of performance that could easily make someone a pro, or a more expensive pro in the least.
What we have learned this season is that Wolters is going to put on a show, one that will keep the crowd from settling back in its seats. He might even win the likely-to-be partial fans over to his side. After all, with the cheapest tickets running at almost $50, and the average price rolling at near $150 for the night's action*, they people are going to want to get what they paid for. That is more than they are paying for what Michigan State will be turning in during the morning session.
Nater will pull it off. He always does. That is how you get to be more valuable than the man you are guarding.
Yeah, you read that right. Wolters was worth almost 13 wins, according to HOOPWAR, for the Jackrabbits this season -- and don't forget that he was worth more than one in a single game.
At the end of the day though, there just isn't enough on South Dakota State to contend with this Michigan team. This isn't the team that took the floor against Ohio. This team is more mature, and more dangerous both offensively and defensively.
They ramped up the tempo this season and started to play like the assembled talent that they have.
South Dakota State doesn't have the chops to stop that. No matter how good Nate Wolters is.
The MRI computer rankings favor Michigan to win this game, with a 76.6 percent chance of winning.
*TiqIQ has teamed up with Primesport, the official exchange of the tournament, for tourney tix and data.