Spike Albrecht and other fresh faces of the NCAA Tournament

The Louisville Cardinals won the National Championship, but you knew with Michigan making it to the final game we would have plenty to talk about regarding fresh faces of March Madness as Michigan was the youngest team in the tournament. But while much of the talk going into the tournament surrounded freshmen Glenn Robinson III and player of the year Trey Burke, a sophomore, it was freshman Mitch McGary who was the story of the tournament. But that was before tonight, when an unknown freshman took over the game in the first half. You had probably never heard of Spike Albrecht before tonight, but by halftime that’s all anyone was talking about.

Spike Albrecht averaged less than two points per game during the regular season, and he hadn’t done much in this tournament until he put on a shooting clinic in the first half. He hit four three-pointers and didn’t miss any. One was a complete bomb from way beyond the arc. He scored 17 points in 20 minutes as he single-handily led Michigan to a 12-point lead while Trey Burke was sitting on the bench with a couple of fouls. He was also driving to the rim with reckless abandon. The kid was on fire and so was Michigan, but it wouldn’t last. His first half will be remembered for a long time, but Louisville was able to close the gap with a run before the half, as Michigan coach John Beilein left Burke on the bench as he seemed mesmerized by Albrecht like everyone on Twitter. The kid ran out of steam in the second half, but we’ll always remember that amazing first half run.

Like I said above, going into this game Mitch McGary was the story of the tournament. The freshman big man was the key to Michigan’s win over Syracuse as his play in the middle helped to counter the tough 2-3 zone that everyone was talking about before the game. His shooting ability was exceeded by his passing ability, and he had to turn some heads in NBA scouting departments with his performances. He finished that game with 10 points, 12 rebounds, and 6 critical assists. Against Kansas and their impressive front line, McGary finished with a whopping 25 points and 14 rebounds. Remember his name come draft day. But tonight wasn’t his night as he got into foul trouble and wasn’t as effective against Louisville’s tough front line.

Even with these two Michigan freshman steeling all the headlines, Glenn Robinson III also had an excellent tournament for the Wolverines. He basically did everything well, as he was able to score and rebound, but he also played excellent defense and had some big steals as well. He also sank some critical free throws against Syracuse when it seemed like nobody on Michigan could hit one down the stretch when it mattered. He definitely lived up to his talent and all the hype surrounding his name.

The champs were a more veteran team, and that might explain their ultimate success, but they had one freshman in forward Montrezl Harrell who found ways to contribute throughout the tournament. He had a monster dunk tonight on a fast break, and he had eight big points against Wichita State. He also had a combined 19 points in the first two games of the tournament. He was an important cog of a truly impressive championship team.

Finally, apart from Louisville and Michigan playing an incredible final game, this tournament will be remembered for the excellent run by Wichita State and the excellent coaching from Gregg Marshall who urged the Shockers to “play angry.” Freshman guard Fred VanVleet was a big part of this run, scoring 13 points in the huge upset over #1 seed Gonzaga and then 12 points against #2 seed Ohio State. Unfortunately for the aptly named Shockers they couldn’t get past Louisville and VanVleet only had three points in that game. Still, he played very well in his first NCAA tournament, just like the other guys listed above.

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