Beilein warned his players all week about guarding the three-point line and stopping the Jackrabbits' star point guard, Nate Wolters. But the pregame meetings were notable for what Beilein did not say: South Dakota State was not nearly as athletic as Michigan. About 30 minutes before tip-off, Burke sat at his locker, headphones on, fiddling with his phone, looking as if he were waiting for a bus, not the biggest game of his life.
"Never changes," assistant Jeff Meyer said of Burke's demeanor. "Been like this since he walked through the door."
While some of his teammates are still transitioning to college basketball, the 6-foot, 190-pound Burke has the demeanor of a 10-year NBA veteran. On the court he is almost expressionless. He doesn't waste energy jawing with opponents. On flights or bus rides after games, he watches the whole game again, regardless of the result.
But in the locker room at halftime, with Michigan leading 30--26, Burke's competitive fire is evident. Michigan had given up an open shot off an inbounds with the shot clock almost expired, the kind of mental mistake the team has battled all season. The Wolverines took turns getting mad at one another before Burke calmed down and asked anybody who would answer:
"How much are we up?"
Four points, he was told.
He said, "We get three or four stops in a row, we're good."
Though Burke would finish with his worst shooting line of the year (2 for 12, six points), the staff saw it as a good sign that Michigan could win 71--56 on an off night from its star. "Five more! Five more!" the players shouted as they headed to the locker room. Burke sat down in one of the plush seats normally used by the NBA's Pistons, looked at Hardaway and said, "If we all play like that, every game, we won't lose."
Friday, practice sessions
To begin preparations for No. 5--seeded VCU, the Wolverines were moved to a cramped, bare room down the hall. Even the whiteboard was worse. It did not erase cleanly. If the Wolverines looked closely, they could read the Rams' keys to their game against Akron the night before.