Michigan Can Still Make a Deep March Run Because of Trey BurkePosted by Deepak Jayanti on March 16th, 2013
Deepak is a writer for the Big Ten microsite of RTC. Follow him on Twitter for more about B1G hoops at @dee_b1g.
In four out of the seven Wolverines’ losses this season, Trey Burke has taken more than 20 shot attempts from the field, which limited his ability to involve his teammates. Wisconsin and Indiana in particular did a great job of keeping Burke away from the paint, forcing him to take tough shots from beyond the arc. Even though this recipe could be used by other teams in the NCAA Tournament during the next couple of weeks, it may not be successful because there are only a few guys in the nation that can keep Burke in front of them. Not only do the Hoosiers have Victor Oladipo – arguably the best on-ball defender in the country (along with Aaron Craft) – but they also have athletic big guys such as Cody Zeller and Christian Watford who defend the pick-and-roll very well. The Badgers on the other hand have Ben Brust who has been an underrated defender this season and he did an excellent job of pushing Burke into tough positions on the floor. Once you step out of the Big Ten, there are very few guards in the country who can contain Burke; which is the main reason why the Wolverines can still make it well past the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA tournament.
The potential top seeds outside of the Big Ten include Duke, Louisville, Georgetown, Kansas and Gonzaga. Assuming that Michigan won’t be in the same region as Indiana, it is likely that the Wolverines will square off against one of those teams during the second weekend. The Blue Devils’ backcourt of Seth Curry and Quinn Cook are not known for their defense and asking freshman guard Rasheed Sulaimon to guard the best player in the country is simply asking too much. Although the Hoyas play great team defense, none of their guards can defend Burke one-on-one at the top of the key. Brandon Paul torched Gonzaga’s backcourt for 35 points on the road which shows that a talented player like Burke could have his way against them. The Jayhawks on the other hand are a tough defensive team and Travis Releford will probably take the defensive assignment of the sophomore guard. Releford can use his size to push Burke out of the lane but it can be argued that he is not quick enough to hang with Burke on his crossovers. Rick Pitino’s Cardinals will throw a funky zone at them and force the Wolverines to beat them from beyond the arc, but John Beilein has the sharpshooters – Tim Hardaway Jr. (38% 3FG) and Nik Stauskas (45% 3FG) – who could catch on fire on any given night.
The hard-fought conference season could affect the Big Ten teams negatively in the postseason but teams like Michigan could actually benefit from the change of pace of playing teams that are less physical. Among the teams mentioned earlier, only the Jayhawks and the Cardinals have the personnel to defend Burke or Hardaway. Bruce Weber’s Kansas State Wildcats, who are one of the better defensive teams in the nation, couldn’t control the Wolverines during the non-conference season. Just because the recipe to beat the Wolverines is out in the open doesn’t mean that the teams outside the Big Ten actually have the talent to execute the plan effectively on game day.