April 6, 2013 at 10:55 pm

John Niyo: Final Four: U-M vs. Syracuse, 8:49 p.m., CBS

Time is now for Michigan to seize NCAA crown

Atlanta -- Right place, right time.

That was Benji Burke's explanation Friday morning, as he tried to figure out where to put all the hardware his son, Trey, was collecting.

"I just think he went to the right place at the right time," Burke's father said, after the Michigan point guard had accepted the Oscar Robertson Trophy — one of three national player of the year awards he picked up in a 24-hour span.

Left unsaid, though, is the inevitable truth: The time probably is right for Burke to move on to the NBA whenever Michigan's season ends. And that means time is of the essence now for the sophomore leader, and for his team, which tips off against Syracuse tonight in the national semifinals at the Georgia Dome.

Now or never? No, it's too soon to say that for Michigan — or maybe too late — with the basketball program finally on stable ground again and another top-20 recruiting class arriving this summer.

But as the ill-fated Fab Five were fond of saying some 20 years ago, "Tomorrow is promised to no one." Especially in today's college game, where, win or lose, it's often one and done for many of the nation's best players.

Michigan is flush with that kind of talent now, and saddled with all kinds of exhilarating expectations, rolling into Atlanta with a 30-7 record and a world of confidence after a miracle finish to beat Kansas and runaway rout of Florida.

But they're also dogged by persistent questions about what the future holds, beyond this weekend.

Tournament comes first

On Thursday, Michigan coach John Beilein snapped at a question about a report that Burke and junior Tim Hardaway Jr. both were planning to declare for the NBA draft with their families lining up prospective agents. Freshman center Mitch McGary, in the midst of a breakout NCAA Tournament performance, on Friday backed off comments he'd made only 48 hours earlier when he told MLive.com, "I'm coming back." Glenn Robinson III, McGary's classmate and former AAU teammate, is another player being touted by draft analysts as a potential first-round pick.

Whether they'll stay or go shouldn't be the issue now. But everyone knows it is until they do or they don't — that's the folly of this de facto farm system the NCAA and NBA jointly created.

"And it's a big distraction," Hardaway admitted Friday, right before he and his teammates took the court for an open practice at the Georgia Dome. "None of that (report) came out of me and Trey's mouth. We're not even thinking about that right now. We're thinking about what we can do to help this team win."

Burke said much the same, though he has had more practice at handling the speculation, having gone through this song and dance a year ago. Asked Friday if he'd made a decision on the NBA yet, the All-America guard replied, "No, I have not. And I'm not even thinking about it right now. It's not a distraction."

Burke has waited his whole life for this moment. Oddly enough, so has Michigan, making its first Final Four trip — record-book scrubbing aside — since 1993, when Burke was in diapers.

"So when you have an opportunity in front of you like we have now, it'd be selfish to be thinking about something that's pretty much irrelevant," Burke said. "We're focused on Syracuse, and only Syracuse."

Pressure not the same

And as luck would have it, Syracuse was more than happy to talk Friday about how good Syracuse is, providing Michigan's coaching staff with reams of bulletin-board material. Senior guard Brandon Triche bragged about "mismatches at every position" and suggested Michigan would be overwhelmed by Syracuse's suffocating 2-3 zone, much like Indiana was in the Sweet 16.

Even Jim Boeheim's soft-spoken point guard, Michael Carter-Williams, got in a few shots about Michigan's backcourt, Burke included.

"I don't have to worry about coming off being player of the year or having all these accolades and living up to a certain standard," said Carter-Williams, a fellow sophomore who ranked third nationally in assists and fourth in steals this season. "I'm sure he's gonna come in and perform well. But he just has certain pressure that I don't."

If he does, though, he's not showing it, which has to be a good sign for the Wolverines, who have followed Burke's lead to this point.

This isn't the right time, he insisted Friday, and it certainly isn't the right place.

"You never know when it's your last game, and I understand that," Burke said. "But we're here now, and we've got unfinished business."



Glenn Robinson III, here shooting in the cavernous Georgia Dome Friday, is another Michigan player who is being touted as a potential first-round pick. / David Grelick/Detroit News
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