John Beilein, Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Mitch McGary were all on the podium on Thursday afternoon to preview Michigan’s matchup with Kansas on Friday evening. Read comments from all four below.
COACH BEILEIN: Obviously we’re thrilled to be in this situation right now with 16 teams still vying for a National Championship. Our team is excited about this opportunity, just walking out on that court in this venue.
The University of Michigan, we’re very proud to represent the University of Michigan, and I think the university is very proud of these young men, what they’ve accomplished thus far this year.
We have a difficult challenge with Kansas. Bill Self’s teams are fundamentally sound offensively and defensively they’re as good as we’ve played all year long, and we’ve played against some good defensive teams.
We have challenges in front of us. We have to grow very quickly, and we have, particularly over the last month through both the ups and the downs, I’ve seen considerable growth in this team. We are one of the younger teams in the country. And I love how they’ve come after it every day with everything they have.
Q. One of the things that Kansas seems to do best in the tournament is to make other teams not play well, seemingly. How do they do it and what do you have to avoid to play closer to your A‑game?
COACH BEILEIN: I think it starts with their defense again. It is very good. First of all, you have four seniors out there. They have seen it all. They have been through, they’ve been to the Final Four’s. They’ve ‑‑ looking at Releford and Johnson, and I’m looking at guys, I just saw you two years ago, no, I saw you three years ago. They didn’t see any of our guys three years ago. It’s really important they’ve had that continuity. I don’t think Withey played very much my first trip to Kansas.
That’s what makes them. They have continuity with young talented young players all the time. It takes time to learn this defense like they play it. They really play it well.
Q. I imagine a lot of different teams have tried a lot of different ways to slow down Trey Burke. Obviously I don’t know who Kansas will put on him, but one possibility is Travis Releford, is Trey seeing someone like that guarding him?
COACH BEILEIN: He has seen everybody. The comparison I make is Victor Oladipo, who is 6‑4 and very, very talented defensive player. So people have switched different people on to him.
He’s talented. He’s had some great challenges this year. And has really faired as well as could be expected. He’s only a sophomore now. He’s 20 years old. He’s learning by the moment. But what a competitor. And if he has that type of competition, I think it drives him to be his best.
Q. You mentioned Withey, could you address what you’ve seen from him of late, the way he’s played and how having an anchor like that alters what you can do?
COACH BEILEIN: Being a former coach in the Big East when you were playing against Connecticut centers usually with 130 to 150 block a year guys. And what is deflating ‑‑ you run a beautiful play, it couldn’t be run better, and he somehow blocks the shot and they’re going the other way. It can be very deflating to a team.
I look at the other way, where you’re playing really good defense and the ball doesn’t bounce or it bounces off someone and they score a basket and that’s all it is. You’ve got to come back and try again. He has the ability with four blocks a game, there’s going to be those moments, we’ve got to fight through those. That’s the biggest impact I see.
They’ve really done a great job of developing his ability to play taller than earlier. He’s basically going to put it back in and not bring it back down, if he’s in a scoring area.
So he’s a challenge both ways.
Q. Both teams possess some long wings that like to get out in transition. Can you talk about that matchup for each side and what you’re going to do to try to control Kansas?
COACH BEILEIN: They can go small, as well. And this year, we’ve been able to go big or small, more small than big. But I love having 6‑5, 6‑6, 6‑7 wings that are both a guy that can fly down the court and finish at the rim, but also be able to have a good perimeter game.
And Bill’s got three of those guys out there. They’re the one, the two and the three man, all have size and length. They all can shoot it. It’s what we like to do, actually.
I think what’s really lost in this whole thing is their two four men. Those guys are keys to that team. They’re selfless and they’re long and skilled. Their assist numbers are very complimentary of most people. The four man does a lot of dirty work for the other guys.
Q. It’s been a while since a Michigan team has made it this far in the tournament. What does it mean for the program?
COACH BEILEIN: I think there’s been a progression in the last few years, and we fought hard to get to this point. I think Tommy Amaker, when he took over, it really was a very difficult situation. It got to a certain point where it set some things on the table for us. With our facilities and recruiting, now we’ve been able to go another step.
And so it’s been a long grind for 16 years to get back to this thing from ’94, 18 years, 19 years. It’s a long time.
But it did not ‑‑ it wasn’t like, okay, we finally did ‑‑ the direction of this program has been positive. We’re selling out every game. We’re getting really good recruiting classes that have come back. Next year is going to be very good. I think we were moving in that direction anyhow. This is a little bit of a spike for us or a catalyst for us, perhaps, for the future.
Q. You guys are averaging 75 points a game and shooting 48 percent. A lot of people say the offenses are not doing very well in college basketball. How would you describe the schemes you run and what is your offensive philosophy?
COACH BEILEIN: I guess, first of all, if we play good defense we’re a much better offensive team because we can really get up and down the court. When you have a point guard like Trey Burke and you shooters on the wing like we have, Tim Hardaway, Jr. is a tremendous full‑court player, as well. So it is really ‑‑ when you have that type of personnel, that leads to that.
But here’s what I’ve seen in the last couple of weeks, and we sort of put in this package, and then we tweaked the package all year long. And we found what really is good for this team as they develop. Glenn Robinson has felt much more comfortable in the last couple of weeks with some things we would like him to do.
Gradually we’ve gotten our timing down a lot. You’d like to have these young guys playing five to ten minutes a game in their sophomore year, they’re ready, we couldn’t do that.
But I think we drive the ball to the basket well. I think we shoot the ball well. And we do a good job on the offense boards. And those three things have helped us.
And the other thing that’s really important tomorrow, don’t turn the ball over. We’re one of the leaders in the country in getting a shot up every time down the court as much as possible. And that’s important against these guys, because they’re going to defend you, so yeah, you’re going to need to get a lot of shots.
Q. Going back to the question of having not been here in a while. Is it an advantage for Kansas having been here more recently? Can you sort of lean on your own experiences in the Sweet 16 trying to relate it to your players and negate that a bit?
COACH BEILEIN: This team, in Auburn Hills, we only had two guys played significantly in that game ever played in a NCAA game. It was all new to them then. And the next step is new to all our guys. Kansas has been there. I didn’t see our kids affected by that. I think we’re affected more by the opponent right now than how long it’s been or where it’s at. I think you’re affected more by who you’re playing, what’s the matchup.
Q. You’re here in Dallas with Florida Gulf Coast. What do you think of their run?
COACH BEILEIN: I love these stories. I think it makes this tournament so special. I’ve known Andy since ‑‑ when he was getting an award for being a great foul shooter at Johns Hopkins. His coach, Bill Nelson, was ‑‑ when I was at Nazareth, Bill Nelson replaced me. We’d been good friends for a while, he was the Johns Hopkins coach. Somehow when Andy got that award out of college, we met or something at a Final Four.
He and I have stayed in touch on the road. I like to teach shooting. He’s not just both a great shooter, but teaches. It’s a great story. I don’t see it stopping.
There’s a lot of room for this in college basketball if you do things the right way and get kids to stick around you can grow a program more than people think you can.
Q. Ben McLemore has had a celebrated shooting form in the tournament.
COACH BEILEIN: Well, all teams will go ‑‑ all players will go through tough shooting times. It’s a lot about your defense, but sometimes you just make one shot, and you could even play better defense and that ball is going to go in. We see it all the time.
The big thing is he’s a heck of a player. We can’t give him an open look, because it’s obviously the open look for him to be there. But the freshmen will go through this. Our freshmen have gone through this. This team is a lot more than him. They can win, as they’ve proven without him shooting.
Q. Kansas played last year in a Final Four in a football stadium. Is there any advantage to that and what are some of the things you’ve talked to your team about playing in Cowboys Stadium?
COACH BEILEIN: I doubt if we’ll even address that issue, because I was interested to see how we’d shoot the ball today, just, all right, here we go. We practiced around the corner at Texas‑Arlington and then we came over here and shot again. I didn’t see any difference. We were practicing in their little practice gym.
There could be differences. I didn’t see anything. So we’re not going to address it. Why address it?
Q. This is the first time for you in the Sweet 16 since the Fab 5 era. I wonder if you had heard from any of those guys, if they reached out with any of their experiences?
COACH BEILEIN: A lot of our alums, and the whole team, not just those five, but a lot of them. We hear from them all the time. We get great emails. Many of our former alums were in just a month ago, six weeks ago when we rededicated Chrisler. The Championship team, Glen Rice, I’ve seen Jalen on the road, Jimmy King I saw a little bit ago. We’ve stayed in contact. That’s one of our missions and one of our goals is to try to reconnect all the different eras of Michigan basketball back, and certainly that era is an important one.
Q. Everybody says guard play is the key to this tournament. And with your two guards do you feel that you’re in as good a position as anybody to have them control the game?
COACH BEILEIN: I think to win at this level right now ‑‑ I mean, everybody has got to play well. But when your two guards have the experience it’s really an advantage. I think wherever you are the point guard position, its importance has escalated beyond belief in the last ten years.
So if you do that type of math and you’re a point guard, it’s really important, and you have a tough game, the other guys have to have really good games. And that’s going to happen.
We had that situation in much of the game against South Dakota State and the other guys really stepped up. I’m glad we have our two guys, but I don’t think at the end of this game we’re going to say we had better guards or our guards didn’t play well. No, it’s going to be a team thing, no matter what.
THE MODERATOR: We have three student‑athletes, Trey Burke, Mitch McGary and Tim Hardaway, Jr.
Q. Trey, you faced a number of different defenders this year, including Victor Oladipo of Indiana. Do you find different ways to attack tall defenders, short defenders, and do you have a preference who you get covered by or do you just figure it out?
TREY BURKE: I try to play off what the defense gives me. Just watching a lot of film on Kansas I see that they’re really a good defensive team. I’ll have to just try to find ways to attack their defense and try to find ways to get into the paint and hit the open defenders.
Q. Trey and Tim, I’d like each of you to explain how your chemistry has developed, what you look for from the other guy and how you kind of work together to be so effective?
TIM HARDAWAY, JR.: Well, it’s just playing off of instincts, really, and playing with each other on the court in the summer in open gym and practice, whatever the case may be. You’ve got to read off what the other guy is doing, make it easy for your partner.
That’s basically what you look for in your teammate, and that’s what we’ve just been doing all season long.
TREY BURKE: And we trust each other, really. Like you said, we know each others’ tendencies, that all plays a part from playing with each other all the way back since I came in as a freshman in the summer and things like that. And I think since then we’ve just continued to grow on and off the court. And it’s just allowed us to play as well as we do with each other.
Q. Mitch and Trey, when you get to the rim you’re going to be facing Jeff Withey, you’ve probably faced big shot blockers before. Is that something you consciously have a game plan to go into when Jeff is on defense to try to score, to try to adjust to his height?
MITCH McGARY: I think so. I think offensively just going through our offense, we’re going to have to use shot fakes a lot and try to get him up in the air and maybe try to get him in foul trouble. He does a great job of staying out of foul trouble. So I think we have to get him in the air sometimes.
TREY BURKE: Just like he said, just try to get as deep in the paint as possible. When we get down there, just making wise choices. I know he’s one of the best shot blockers, if not the best in the country. My job is just to try to hit the layup when I can and hit the big man when I can. It’s all off of reads from Jeff Withey, really.
Q. Tim, is it hard at all with your famous last name, your famous dad and your name? Is your game at all comparable to your dad at all or is it a totally different animal?
TIM HARDAWAY, JR.: It’s not hard at all to play. It actually gives you confidence to go out there and just do what you do. It’s great just to go out there and play not only for yourself and for your family and for that last name. It’s all about heart when you’re playing.
He just tells me to go out and have fun, don’t worry about it, try to make a name for yourself. And our games are not comparable, really. I’m 6‑6, he was 6 foot. He’s a point guard, I’m not. That’s basically it, he could tell you that straight up.
Q. Trey, you have three teammates who are sons of NBA players. Is there anything they have in common in terms of basketball IQ or do you think your game is more comparable to Tim Hardaway, Sr. than Tim Hardaway, Jr.’s is?
TREY BURKE: I think with the athletes that we have that are sons of NBA players, what they have in common is they’re really athletic. And obviously that comes from their genes. It’s natural, really.
But as far as the Tim, Sr. question, I think maybe his game is kind of comparable. Like Tim said, Tim is 6‑6 and his dad was 6 foot and could really handle a ball at a high level and was a point guard. That’s a tough comparison. But I would say so.
Q. Trey, some people believe that the Big Ten has been the toughest conference this year. There’s four Big Ten teams still alive, conceivably could all get there. How do you think that’s prepared you for this game, going through that level of competition all year?
TREY BURKE: I think it’s prepared us all, really. Because, like you say, I think the Big Ten is one of the, if not the best conference in the country. Night in and night out we’ve seen some of the top talent, whether it’s a top 5 team or a team not ranked in the top 25. I think that’s prepared us for the postseason and allowed us to come into this tournament with a lot of confidence.
Q. Trey, you guys have got some good offense numbers, averaging 75 per game, shooting 48 percent, you lead the nation in fewest turnovers. Is that one of the biggest keys for those other numbers, the fact that you take care of the ball so much?
TREY BURKE: I think that’s a big key. Coach B always stresses the fact that the more turnovers we have the less chance we have to win. We try to take care of the ball as much as possible, try to take the best shots that we can, and just go out there and play within our offense. We trust our offense. And I think our offense allows us to get into a rhythm and allows us to play better defense.
Q. Tim, have you had a chance to talk to your dad much about NCAA tournament experiences, like what he went through and can he relate it to you and have you given him a hard time about going farther in the tournament than he did?
TIM HARDAWAY, JR.: About that, I don’t think he made it this far. I don’t think he really tell me ‑‑ he tells me to go out and have fun, play with heart, play within your game. Don’t do anything crazy and just trust your teammates and just trust what the coaches are telling you. So that helps me feel comfortable when I’m out there playing with my teammates and that’s what I’m going to continue to do.
Q. Mitch, maybe you’re part of this, the team went 6 and 6 down the stretch of the season, but then bounced back with really two really fine performances in the tournament. What do you think has turned it or getting out of the Big Ten?
MITCH McGARY: A little bit is getting out of the Big Ten. We tried to regroup as a team and just, I guess, make a better bond through a season that was a tough season, enduring our bodies and minds through the season. We needed to get fresh legs and make a better bond as a team and try to make a run at it.
Q. Mitch, I remember you had a big AAU tournament in Lawrence, Kansas. If I recall correctly, Kansas was recruiting you. Did you ever seriously consider them?
MITCH McGARY: Yeah, I did. Coach Self and Joe Dooley and Danny Manning talked to me, I took an unofficial here after that Jayhawk Invitational tournament. It was a good unofficial visit, but it wasn’t the best fit for me.
Q. Trey, who would you say is the best defender and the toughest defender you’ve had to face this year and what made that the case?
TREY BURKE: I would probably say the toughest overall defender would probably be Oladipo from Indiana. As far as on ball, I have to give it to Craft. Both of those guys are very deserving on the defensive end. They work so hard on defense.
It was really hard to say who is better than the other. They’re both really good at moving their feet, anticipating. I honestly had fun playing against them. They make me work and they make me better, and that’s all this is about.
Q. Trey, who do you think changes your job more as a point guard, whoever will be guarding you tomorrow or Jeff Withey on the second line, there?
TREY BURKE: I think Jeff Withey, just because our offense is set up on the guards getting into the paint. There’s going to be times when we get into the paint. When we get into the paint when you have a 7 footer there, you have to make the right decision or you’ll have a bad shot or a blocked shot.
I think our biggest area tomorrow is just trying to make the right decision when we get to their front court, get into the paint, just making the right play. I think our offense will be successful as our decisions in the paint.
Q. Trey and anyone else who wants to chime in, it’s been a while since Michigan has been this far in the tournament. Do you feel like you’re reestablishing something here?
TREY BURKE: Well, I just think as a team we’ve done a good job of just fighting through adversity. Like we say, it’s been a while since we’ve been back here. We’re definitely honored to be here, but we know we have to stay humble. We have more work to do. We have to continue to get better.
Kansas is not going to just lay down for us. We just have to do what we need to do, execution on both sides of the court will be big tomorrow, it’ll determine how much farther we can go.
Q. Along those same lines, I was wondering if any of you all had had any contact with some of the Fab 5 guys from the last time Michigan went this far, and if they had anything to offer and how you handle the experience?
TIM HARDAWAY, JR.: I don’t think ‑‑ no, I don’t think none of them contacted us. They probably contacted our coaching staff. But I know they’re happy for us and they’re pulling for us and they want us to do really, really good.
We just have to keep doing what we’re doing right now, preparing the same way, executing the same way and just being as efficient as possible to move on.
MITCH McGARY: I actually talked to Jimmy King on Monday, he came in and spoke in one of our classes to us five freshmen on the team are in the same class together. He said go out and have fun. He’s been here before. He knows what to experience from it. And it’s the same game of basketball, he just said go have fun and play your game.