Michigan star Trey Burke claimed coveted college basketball hardware Friday. The sophomore was named the John R. Wooden Award winner, selected as the nation's most outstanding player from a group of elite company.
Burke, a six-foot guard, accumulated 2,808 points in the vote, edging Indiana standout Victor Oladipo (2,718). Now that's he's locked up the prestigious postseason accolade, his attention turns to Atlanta and a Final Four showdown with Syracuse.
The Wolverines are two wins away from winning the national championship with Burke leading the way. If he completes a sensational season atop the winner's podium, it would place him among elite company.
Since 1980, only six players received the Wooden Award and went on to take the NCAA tournament title. Burke, known for his timely shooting and electric playmaking abilities, is on the doorstep of rarefied territory.
Last season, we witnessed Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis stake claim to the Wooden Award and lead John Calipari's Wildcats to the 2012 title. He became the first player to double-up since Shane Battier did it with Duke in 2001.
That 11-year drought is indicative of how difficult it is to will a team to a title as a star performer.
A variety of Wooden Award winners who developed into NBA stars fell shy of the ultimate team goal.
Blake Griffin (Oklahoma), Kevin Durant (Texas), Kenyon Martin (Cincinnati), Tim Duncan (Wake Forest), Elton Brand (Duke), Ralph Sampson (Virginia) and Michael Jordan (North Carolina) all bowed out in the tourney to conclude campaigns in which they won their Wooden Awards.
Burke is only the 14th Wooden Award winner since 1980 to reach the Final Four. Although his fate as an all-time college great still hangs in the balance, he has already solidified himself as the big man on campus in Ann Arbor.
Burke averages nearly 19 points and seven assists per game. He led a furious late rally against Kansas in the Sweet 16, draining a game-tying three-pointer with 4.3 seconds remaining in regulation.
The clash extended into overtime, where the Wolverines surged to an 87-85 victory. He scored 23 points after intermission, playing the role of hero to perfection.
This is Michigan's first visit to the Final Four since the "Fab Five" reigned supreme.
Burke averaged 19 points per game in the past three Michigan victories, catching tremendous attention from professional scouts in the process. Three teams and two games separate him from history.
Syracuse and its stingy zone defense present the first hurdle Saturday evening. If Burke and the Wolverines overcome the Orange, a trip to the national championship game is on tap.
Michigan would match up against Louisville in the finals with a win on Saturday. The Wolverines won't get to the finish line without Burke, and he certainly can't will the team to a title on his own.
A strong supporting cast is key, and that's what could separate Burke from so many past Wooden Award winners. Aside from Davis and Battier, only Darrell Griffith (Louisville), Danny Manning (Kansas), Christian Laettner (Duke) and Ed O'Bannon (UCLA) have completed campaigns with a Wooden Award and championship trophy.
When the dust settles after another action-packed college hoops weekend, we'll see if Burke and Michigan take center stage on Monday in the tournament title game. Program history and an individual legacy are on the line.