March 30, 2013 at 1:00 am

Bob Wojnowski

Karma building as Michigan seeks spot in Final Four

Arlington, Texas — When a team does what the Wolverines have done, blowing out two opponents and miraculously escaping another, the temptation is to call on karma, to dial up destiny, to say there's no stopping them now.

It's never that easy. But at least Michigan knows it can't possibly be as hard as wiping out a 14-point deficit in the final six minutes against Kansas. The Wolverines are on a roll, just like everybody else in the Elite Eight, just like Florida, the final obstacle to the Final Four.

It won't be easy Sunday at Cowboys Stadium -- tip-off is at 2:20 p.m. -- but Michigan is way past the point of improbable. When freshman Mitch McGary averages 19 points and 12 rebounds in three NCAA Tournament starts, something is percolating. The fourth-seeded Wolverines have a unique element in college basketball, a potent offense led by the best guard in the country. The third-seeded Gators have an extremely sound element, a defense as tough as any.

Defense often wins these matchups, which is why Florida is a three-point favorite. But Kansas' defense smothered Michigan for a while, until Trey Burke and his wingmates took flight. Florida feels good about itself after dispatching Florida Gulf Coast, 62-50. Michigan feels great about itself after the 87-85 overtime shocker against Kansas.

In fact, Burke's toughest task Saturday was dutifully scanning the 200 messages on his phone, while temporarily deleting his memory. The Shot — a 30-foot 3-pointer with four seconds left that sent the game to overtime Friday night — has been elevated to tournament lore.

"It's hard not to think about it," Burke said. "It's definitely a picture that can be framed and put in houses. But we can't look back. We have to move forward."

The Wolverines lost a couple games precisely like that, last-second crushers to Wisconsin and Indiana. And the NCAA Tournament might be the only sporting event in which karma is considered a real asset. I'm surprised they don't list it on the score sheet.

Top offense vs. great defense

The thing is, karma doesn't play defense or rebound. The Wolverines are improving on defense, but they know where they excel, and it's in direct contrast to the Gators.

Florida coach Billy Donovan called Michigan "maybe the best offensive team in the country." John Beilein said Donovan had "probably the best defensive people he's ever had." That's the same Donovan who led the Gators to back-to-back national championships in 2006-07, and to back-to-back Elite Eight appearances the past two seasons.

The Gators are loaded with experience, starting three seniors and two juniors. They can be menacing, with all 29 victories this season by double digits, which is astonishing. Granted, they play in the SEC, a football hotbed that has become a basketball soft bed.

Florida holds opponents to 36 percent shooting (29.9 on 3-pointers). So, what's the strategy to stop Michigan's offense?

"The strategy is, take care of Trey Burke," center Patric Young said. "Take care of him and it takes care of everything else. I consider myself one of the top pick-and-roll defenders in the country. We'll have to be even better because Trey Burke is extraordinary."

The Wolverines aren't just on a roll — they're on a pick-and-roll roll. Young sounded far more concerned about Burke than McGary, even though the 6-foot-10 freshman dominated with 25 points and 14 rebounds against the Jayhawks.

Before Burke scored 23 in the second half and overtime, he was driving and distributing, playing expertly off Michigan's array of screens. McGary has been the biggest beneficiary, and he attracts quite the crowd these days, on and off the floor. He answered several questions about recruiting — Florida was his second choice behind Michigan — and about the groin shot he took from Kansas' Elijah Johnson.

He's enjoying it all (except the groin shot).

"I'm just trying to stay in the moment and stay humble," McGary said. "I know it can all go away in a flash, in a snap of the fingers."

Wolverines offense jelling

In another snap, Michigan could make its first Final Four since 1993, the second season of the Fab Five. Burke returned for his sophomore season for this very chance, and is doing what the best guards do — get others involved.

All five Michigan starters scored in double figures against Kansas, and Glenn Robinson III continued to bust out with aggressive play. If Florida stifles Burke, Michigan is feeling better and better about its options.

"It's not as simple as stopping Trey," Robinson III said. "I just feel we're playing some of the best basketball since early in the season. We're rolling on a lot of confidence and spirit now."

Like many teams, it grew out of adversity, such as the 6-6 finish to the Big Ten season, or the first half against Kansas, when Burke was scoreless and hope was fading.

Now, he has a phone full of messages, including some condolences — obviously sent before the game was over. He also has a skilled, energized big man and shooters all around. There's absolutely no secret what Florida's renowned defense will try to do.

"I'd like to say I like our chances," Florida guard Scottie Wilbekin said. "But we have great respect for Burke. The worse thing we can do is let him get into the lane, or take those pull-back 3s. But the guy had a hand in his face (on the tying shot against Kansas) and still hit it. If he wants to take shots like that, we'll live with it."

The Wolverines hope they don't need another shot like that to live on. But they'll take it, because if confidence and karma are real, they believe he'll make it.

Trey Burke’s toughest task Saturday was scanning the 200 messages on his phone / John T. Greilick /Detroit News
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