Trey Burke is a winner. Few thought Burke would be able to fill the void left behind by Darius Morris’s early draft departure but the 6-foot guard exceeded every expectation during his freshman season. He didn’t just replace Morris, he was better than Morris. Expectations for Burke’s sophomore year have gone from hopeful to assumed. Rather than unknown freshman, Burke is a preseason first team All-American meant to take Michigan on a deep NCAA tournament run before (more than likely) heading off to the NBA Draft.
Burke has never been one to shy away from expectations but there’s no doubt that the world is expected from Michigan’s point guard in 2012-13. Burke might not be the best shooter, doesn’t have the strongest build and isn’t the most athletic point guard in the country but through 34 career games he’s proven that he knows how to make winning plays. Burke relishes the big stage and needs (not wants) the ball when the game is on the line.
Despite Burke’s magnificent freshman season, he still has plenty of room for improvement as a sophomore. A new crop of supporting players could allow Burke to elevate his game (and draft stock) to another level.
- Pick and Roll Game: Burke is more of a scorer than a distributor off of the pick and roll but by the end of last season, he was extremely effective in numerous screen and roll scenarios. Burke’s perimeter shooting ability makes him tough to cheat on when defending the screen and roll while an extra year of chemistry with Michigan’s bigs should go along way toward ironing out any kinks. Add in a more versatile scorer like McGary as a screener and the pick-and-roll should be an critical aspect of Michigan’s offense once again this season.
- Added Strength: Burke added 10 pounds of muscle in the off season and the extra strength should go along way toward helping him through a grueling 30 game season. A year after he showed noticeable signs of wearing down late in the year. Last year, Burke seemed to use every last bit of energy over the course of Michigan’s final push for the Big Ten title. He scored 70 points in wins at Illinois, at Penn State and against Minnesota in the Big Ten Tournament before crashing in the final two games: scoring 21 points on 6 of 26 shooting against Ohio State and Ohio.
- Transition Offense: Think back to Michigan’s win over Ohio State at Crisler last season and it’s obvious that Burke possesses lethal ability in transition. He can push the tempo and make great passes in the full court when his teammates run the floor. This season, he’ll have a more complete arsenal of weapons on the wings with an abundance of finishers. With Glenn Robinson III, Mitch McGary, Jordan Morgan and Tim Hardaway Jr. running alongside him, Michigan should become significantly more effective when it opts to push the ball off of turnovers and defensive rebounds.
- Interior shooting: Burke has the quickness to get to the basket and, at times a devastating mid-range jump shot, but his overall two point shooting numbers are fairly lackluster. Burke converted 120 of 245 (49%) of his twos on the season but just 47% in Big Ten games. While those numbers are respectable, two point shooting numbers over 50% would make Burke a significantly more effective scoring threat.
- Efficiency and shot selection: The loss to Ohio in the NCAA tournament serves as a nasty reminder of Burke’s Achilles’ heel in 2011-12: settling for pull-up three point shots. It’s a shot that Burke loves and has proven the ability to hit but he was 2-of-9 from long range in that game and needs to avoid settling with so many other options on this year’s Michigan team.
- Defense: It’s not that Burke isn’t capable of playing good defense, and he had plenty of strong defensive games as a freshman, but there’s simply only so much you can ask from a player on the court for so many minutes. Burke was the lifeblood of Michigan’s offense and there was a noticeable trade-off between offensive production and defense. Without Stu Douglass, Michigan will need Burke to shoulder more of the load defensively and emerge as a vocal leader on that end of the floor.
Trey Burke saved Michigan’s season when he opted to return to school. The thought of Tim Hardaway Jr., Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary without a point guard was tough to stomach. Having all of that talent on the wing combined with an All-American caliber lead guard means that John Beilein’s hard work on the recruiting trail will pay off and that Michigan is poised for a special season.
There are always worries about kids that “test the draft waters” losing focus after returning to school – focused more on NBA scouts and individual performance rather than winning – but those concerns are generally case-by-case. Trey Burke has proven he’s a winner and it would be shocking to see him focused on anything other than Michigan’s success.
Michigan will go as far as Trey Burke takes them and there aren’t too many other guards in the country that I’d sign over that responsibility to before Michigan’s No. 3. Burke’s freshman year was so prolific that it’s hard to gauge just how much improvement he’s capable of in an off-season. Traditionally the jump from freshman to sophomore, especially for a point guard, is massive and it would be tough to bet against Burke given his track record of improvement. Even consistent incremental progression across the board will mean that Burke is one of the nation’s top point guards by year’s end.
If this year goes as planned, this will probably be Burke’s final season in Ann Arbor. Michigan fans should enjoy it as all signs point toward him being a better player, and leader, in 2012-13. Expect Burke’s scoring average to hang steady near 15 points per game but add to his assist averages with a stronger supporting cast.
Quotable: “Having [Trey Burke] back has been helpful because he’s a good player, he is a winner, he’s proved he’s a winner and having talent is one thing, teaching winning is another thing. He’s been through a year where he was so helpful in that Big Ten championship in games both at home and on the road. – John Beilein at Big Ten Media Day