March 31, 2013 at 10:21 pm

Terry Foster

Mitch McGary, Michigan's perimeter prowess put scare into Syracuse

Michigan's basketball season is officially a success. That's the power of making a Final Four.

The Wolverines made it official Sunday when they jumped the Florida Gators out of the gate and rolled to an easy 79-59 victory in the South Regional final at Cowboys Stadium. Michigan unleashed its fury and buried the Gators in the first three minutes.

Michigan, the team that was called too soft defensively, is in the Final Four with a winnable game against Syracuse on the docket for Saturday night in Atlanta. The Wolverines (30-7) did not get there by beating Florida (29-8). They got there with that improbable overtime victory over Kansas when they were one shot from elimination.

Michigan, of course, is no dynasty. But it has become a team of destiny.

Once Trey Burke hit that 3-point shot that sent the Kansas game into overtime, the Wolverines realized anything was possible. The Gators were nothing more than a speed bump for the supercharged Wolverines.

Now the sluggish Michigan basketball fan base is excited and shooting arrows at Michigan State, which usually owns the state this time of year.

On the road to the Final Four people will talk about the hot shooting of Nik Staukas, who scored 19 points in the first half against the Gators and 22 for the game. They will talk about Burke (15 points), who was a dynamic playmaker Sunday. And they will talk about John Beilein, who started getting his just props when he turned VCU's press into mush.

But here's why Michigan is the best team in the Big Ten and now one of the top four in the nation: Mitch McGary. He has been the difference-maker in this rush to Atlanta. I talked to an NBA scout who mentioned that, earlier this season, you didn't notice when McGary was on the floor. That was the old Mitch McGary. Now you can't take your eyes off him because he is either knocking down a layup or knocking somebody to the floor with a brutal screen.

Michigan is no longer soft inside because The Monster has taken over the paint and called it his own.

Florida tried to stop the penetration of Burke by switching to a 2-3 zone defense. That only allowed Staukas to toss daggers from the corner. Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, king of the 2-3 zone, sure looked concerned during his visit on CBS Sports at halftime.

His Orangemen are up next for the Wolverines.

"What I've watched I have not liked at all," Boeheim said. "They're probably the toughest team offensively in the tournament for us. They shoot the ball from the perimeter so well."

Michigan is on its biggest roll since the Fab Five. And that was a long time ago because Chris Webber, Jalen Rose and the other men are old and gray. Now this is a fresh Michigan team that took its lumps in the Big Ten and found freedom outside the Midwest.

The Wolverines scored the first 13 points of the game and led 41-17 in the very same stadium their football team was embarrassed 41-14. What is the irony in that? The Wolverines finally got revenge from the SEC. It just wasn't in football.

Mitch McGary gets his piece of the net after Michigan's win over Florida. / John T. Greilick / Detroit News
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