With the regular season just around the corner and Michigan’s first exhibition game tonight, let’s take a look at the Wolverines’ preseason First Team All-American, Trey Burke, as we wind down our player previews. You can view previous player previews here.
6’0″, 190 pounds
Northland High School
Career Highs: Points – 30, Rebounds – 7 (4 times), Assists – 9 (twice), Steals – 3, Blocks – 2 (twice), Minutes – 45 (3 times)
Career to Date: Trey Burke came to Ann Arbor as a small, little-known high school point guard, a slightly above-average three-star out of Columbus who had committed to Penn State before re-thinking his decision and picking Michigan over Cincinnati. He would have big shoes to fill his freshman year after Darius Morris bolted to the NBA following a sensational sophomore season, clearly catching head coach John Beilein off-guard.
Burke led Michigan in scoring as a freshman. Can he keep it up this year? (AP photo)
Five months after stepping onto Michigan’s court for the first time, Burke was clearly the best player on a team that earned a four-seed in the NCAA Tournament and split the Big Ten championship. Darius Morris’s shoes had been filled.
Perhaps Burke was underrated his whole high school career because he played in the shadow of Jared Sullinger, a former Ohio State star, a current Boston Celtic, and Trey Burke’s best friend. Northland was dominant with Sullinger, Burke, and two to three others currently playing in Division 1, but no one really thought Burke would turn out to be a dominant individual player at the next level. Though he led his high school team to a state championship, a state-runner up, and a 97-5 overall record in four seasons (including a nearly unprecedented 57-0 City League record), he was too small, not a good enough shooter, and not talented enough on his own to star. In one season, however, Trey proved all his critics wrong.
Within weeks of Michigan’s second-round loss to Ohio in the NCAA Tournament, Burke was contemplating a move to the NBA, a testament to just how far he had taken his game. It was to the point at which the NBA was a serious thought, and probably his choice, but some persuasion from his coaches and parents secured his commitment to stay at Michigan for at least one more season, a season that many predict will be his last in college. After carrying the Michigan team last year, Trey should have some more weapons around, and he will certainly need to use them considering the extra attention he is sure to receive. And even if his scoring numbers dip, the now nationally-known point guard could easily be more effective overall in a distributing role.
If Burke continues to improve and fill up the stat sheet, this probably will be his last season in Maize and Blue, and rightfully so.
The question, however, is not how far can Michigan take Trey Burke, but how far can Trey Burke take Michigan?
What He Will Provide:
1. Scoring: Burke led this team in scoring last year by putting the ball in the hoop in a variety of ways. From outside shooting to mid-range jumpers to killer drives, Burke simply knows how to score, and he will be expected to score in bunches again this season. Michigan will have plenty of guys that can put points on the board, but look for Trey to be near the top of the scoring list again. There is really nothing he can’t do on the offensive end to get buckets, and with the offseason work Burke put in, he’s going to be deadly again. And while Trey can score seemingly at will at times, it is in clutch situations that he really comes through with the big shot or nice drive.
2. Offensive Facilitation: There is no question that Michigan’s offense is going to run through Trey Burke once again this season, no matter how many different playmakers there may be. John Beilein has a system, but he tweaks it to fit his personnel. When his team has a superstar point guard and not a whole lot else in terms of ballhandling, Beilein is going to put the ball in his point guard’s hands, meaning Burke should be controlling the ball for at least one quarter to one half of the time in Michigan’s possessions. Burke’s assists numbers were very good last year, and they could rise even higher this year as teams commit to stopping him from shooting. His drives will continue to open up passing lanes and his lethal shot should leave teammates open in the corners as defenders crash on him.
Burke played a lot of minutes last season and will have to avoid getting worn down (photo by Damen Jackson, Icon SMI)
3. Leadership: Beilein recently said that this team’s captains will be voted on by the players, but even those veterans not tabbed as captains will be expected to provide leadership. It wouldn’t surprise anyone if Burke was picked as a captain, but even if he is not, he will be certain to provide a more vocal presence on the court and in the huddle. Zack Novak mentioned last year that he was grooming Trey to become a leader; when you learn from the best, things usually turn out well.
What He Will Have to Improve:
1. Decision-making: Burke’s 1.7 assist-to-turnover ratio is certainly nothing to stick your thumb up at, but with his skill set, abilities, and basketball IQ, Trey could bring that number over 2.0 with a great season. He turned the ball over a little too often when using the pick-and-roll that will be deployed frequently again this year and also seemed to hold onto the ball a little late into the shot clock at times before looking for a teammate or bailing himself out with an isolation or pull-up attempt. This season, look for Burke’s hard work to pay off, and with another year in Beilein’s system, he should be able to improve his decision-making and play more within the flow of the offense. If there was one fault to Trey’s offensive game last season, it was his tendency to dribble down the court and pop the three without thinking twice when he sensed that the team needed a big shot. He probably took that same shot five times in Michigan’s final game of last season against Ohio and failed to get the team back in it. In similar situations from now on, Burke needs to learn that he can’t always get Michigan back in a game with one shot.
2. Defense: By no means was Trey Burke a slouch on the defensive end of the floor last season, and he will probably never be a lock-down defender because he isn’t the biggest guy on the court, but with the loss of Stu Douglass’s perimeter defense, Trey would be wise to focus on shutting down the other team’s point guard and letting his own offense come naturally.
3. Efficiency: When any college player takes 409 shots in one season, it’s going to be tough to make an extremely high percentage of them, but Burke could boost his 43.3 FG% mark and 34.8 3P% by a couple points each if he takes smarter shots and improves his shot by the slightest of margins. The added playmakers on offense will hopefully lead to some open lanes for Burke to roam. If teams are forced to guard all five Michigan players on the court, Trey’s efficiency numbers should see some improvement.
Burning Question: How many minutes will Trey Burke play?
It was no secret near the end of last season that Burke was starting to lose his legs. Beilein admitted that he probably played him a bit too much, noting that because of a lack of options he would simply call a timeout when Burke got tired instead of giving him an extended rest; with the addition of Spike Albrecht, this shouldn’t be too big of an issue, but Trey is certain to still see more than 30 minutes a game. Beilein will ride his horse as long as he can, being careful to not wear him out down the stretch, but there’s a fine line between tired and worn out; Beilein will try to keep him to the former at the worst while giving him rest when it’s needed.
Favorite Big Ten Opponent: Minnesota – 28.5 points, 2.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.0 blocks, 1.5 steals, 2.0 turnovers, 41.5 minutes per game in two games against the Golden Gophers.
Going Forward: If I had only one word to describe Trey Burke’s game, I would choose “smooth.” Trey is simply a pure and natural basketball player that looks so comfortable with the ball in his hands at any time during the game. He is going to be the on-court leader of this team and will determine how far Michigan can go. A huge season for Trey likely means a deep run in March for the Wolverines, but if he sees a sophomore slump, Michigan could find itself underachieving massively.
Stat Predictions: 15.0 points (44.8 FG%, 37.0 3-Pt%, 81.2 FT%), 3.3 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 1.0 steals, 2.2 turnovers, 0.4 blocks in 35 minutes per game.