All eyes were on the deadly duo of Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. as Michigan sought to win through to the Final Four for the first time since 1993.
Yet it was another guard who stole the show against the No. 3 Florida Gators, as Nik Stauskas announced himself as a legitimate scoring threat in the Wolverines offense, and a potential game-changer for the No. 4 seed heading into the Final Four.
The freshman guard netted 22 points and was an incredible six-for-six beyond the arc—showing himself to be a vital part of their offense this March Madness.
And whilst the likes of Burke and Hardaway will dominate the offense when they take the court against Syracuse in the Final Four, it's players like Stauskas who can be the biggest X-factors and game-changers for the Wolverines.
The Gators' natural gravitas towards Burke will always mean that other players are open—something we saw again to be true throughout this one.
Stauskas needed only one dribble for his six three-pointers, with the majority coming from catch-and-shoot situations and good ball movement.
Moreover, once players like Stauskas start to get hot, defenses are forced to send extra assistance away from Burke. They cannot afford to leave the corner three as open as they might have been earlier in the game, and they cannot afford to drop everyone into the key once Burke or Hardaway starts slashing their way to the basket.
Any defense that lines up against Burke and Hardaway knows that they need to focus their attention on the duo. Florida did just that, but when Stauskas started to get hot, they were forced into trying to play a different style to what they had otherwise expected.
In the end they lost by 20, and it wasn't even that close.
All because someone other than Burke started to score some points.
There are, however, a couple of things that need to be noted about Stauskas' performance and why he can't shoot all night against Syracuse.
The first is the context of the game.
Michigan raced to a huge lead early (up 20-5 after just nine minutes) but that wasn't' necessarily on the back of Stauskas, who had chalked up just one three-pointer by that stage in the game. It was on the back of their other players, who were dominating inside, outside and in transition.
With the Wolverines owning a huge lead, Stauskas was afforded the luxury of shooting from deep seemingly at will—a luxury that he probably won't be afforded if the Wolverines are in a close game with Syracuse heading into the final minutes.
And if he is trying his luck from deep when there's better options available—and that turns out to cost them the game—expect Stauskas to be a very unpopular guy.
So unless we're looking at another blowout early by the Wolverines, it's unlikely we'll see Stauskas play as anything other than a "threat" against Syracuse.
For the reality is that the Wolverines revolve around Burke. Period.
And even in amongst Stauskas' incredible shooting night and Michigan's Final Four berth as a result, it was still Burke who was pulling the strings in this one.
According to ESPN, Trey Burke was responsible for 40.5 percent (32 of 79) of Michigan's points Sunday—scoring 15 and having his seven assists lead to another 17. In Michigan's four tournament games, Burke has been responsible for 134 points in total.
As hot as Stauskas might have been on the night, it will be Burke who will lead Michigan against Syracuse and Burke's success that they live and die off.
The freshman guard will have a very important role to play in the Final Four game—a potential game-changing weapon—but only because of the impact that he could have for Burke. Be that creating more space for him to shoot or finishing off his assists, Stauskas' role will be simply to help Burke be as efficient as he can for the Wolverines in the Final Four.
And if he can do that, then Michigan's hot streak may well roll on for another game.
Who's winning in the Final Four—Michigan or Syracuse?
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