Monday, November 5, 2012

Previewing The Roster: Trey Burke

He's back.  Well sort of back.  Following last season, Trey Burke had a lengthy process about an NBA decision.  After eventually deciding to come back for his sophomore season, he appears ready for the 2012-2013 season.  However, we actually have yet to see him on the court.  He was suspended for Michigan's first exhibition game against Northern Michigan and his first game will be in the exhibition against Sagniaw Valley, at least if nothing changes.

There is no doubt that Burke was Michigan's most productive player last season.  Burke amassed 36.1 minutes, 14.8 points, 4.6 assists, 0.9 steals, and 0.4 blocks per game.  All of these were team leading stats.  Add in a few rebounds and it's pretty easy to see that he was a major contributor last season.  Not even Draymond Green from MSU led his team in as many major categories as Burke led Michigan in last season.  Green was the Big Ten's Player of the Year and an All-American.  That's a pretty big accomplishment considering that both Michigan and MSU had the same Big Ten record and shared the title.  I'm not making a case for who is better, but simply showing that Burke was in some elite company last season and with his Preseason All-American selection, he appears to be in elite company again.

Things To Look For In 2012-2013:

1.  Less Turnovers
If you're looking over Burke's performances and his stats, there isn't much to complain about.  He was a great player and carried Michigan through many of its toughest games.  However, if he had a flaw, it was his tendency to turn the ball over a lot during games.  He had a team-leading 2.8 turnovers per game during last season.  Of course, Burke played the most minutes and had the ball in his hands more than any player on Michigan's roster last season, but you never like to see a lot of turnovers from your point guard.

If Burke is able to do things like those I have listed below, his turnovers just reduce by themselves.  When you're literally playing 35-45 minutes a game, you are going to make some mistakes.  If he's on the bench for even 10 minutes a game, his turnover numbers should improve.  Add in the fact that other players should be able to carry the load at times this season and you have a perfect storm to get the turnover numbers down.  Now, other players may make mistakes to make up for this, but I think Burke's increased understanding of the offense and the increased role of both backups and other players will improve on Burke's turnover numbers this year.

2.  Get On The Bench
As previously mentioned, Burke played a massive amount of minutes last season.  For starters and teams' best players, this isn't something that's very uncommon.  Both Keith Appling and Aaron Craft averaged over 30 minutes a game and were the starting point guards for their respective team, so Burke's situation of playing 30+ minutes a game isn't extremely uncommon.  However, it was the fact that Burke averaged about 4 minutes per game more than either of those players and many of his heaviest minutes were at the very end of the season that make his situation challenging.

Most fans clearly remember Michigan's late season collapse.  In the team's final game of the Big Ten Tournament, Michigan got trounced by Ohio State and in their next game against Ohio in the NCAA Tournament, Michigan fell flat again.  You cannot solely credit one player for either of these losses, but it is interesting to consider what type of impact Burke's heavy late season minutes on his and the team's play.

In the 5 games leading up to the Ohio State game, Burke averaged 40.4 minutes per game.  Yes, he averaged more minutes than are in a regulation game.  This is due to the fact that two of the five games leading up to the Ohio State game went into overtime.  Burke played 45 minutes in each game.  There's no doubt that is an insane amount of play.  Unsurprisingly, he followed this insane 5 game stretch with a total of 21 points in 2 games (more than 4 pts below his average) and a total of 10 turnovers in 2 games (almost double his average).

There's no way to prove that these heavy minutes right before Michigan's most important games hindered Burke's play, but I think the evidence is there to make a case.  This year, Spike Albrecht should be able to get enough minutes to keep Burke's minutes down.  Yes, Burke is going to have a 30+ game here or there, but that's a lot less than 40.4 minutes per game, especially over a season.  I think Burke's play will improve significantly as he spends more time on the bench.  I know it sounds weird to say, but sometimes that much playing time just isn't good for a player.

3.  Ability to Defer
For all intents and purposes, Trey Burke ran and controlled the offense last season.  He had more points and assists than any other player and controlled the team's tempo.  Along with this, there were many times when the play would breakdown and Burke would make a spectacular play to come away with a basket.  I want Burke to be the team's "general" once again this season, but with Michigan's increased weaponry this year, I think it's appropriate for him to take a step back and use his teammates more.

One of the things that killed Michigan, especially in the NCAA Tournament game against Ohio, was when Burke would try to do everything himself or attempt to launch a 3 pt shot with plenty of shot clock remaining.  With shooters like Nik Stauskas, Matt Vogrich, and GR3, I see no reason for Burke to take these type of shots on a very consistent basis.  Burke is a great shooter and should take a fair number of shots every game, but he will no longer have to force plays from outside the arch to make the team's offense work.

Along with this, Michigan has a lot of solid players and depth in the paint this year.  I've already talked about the offensive struggles of Jon Horford and Jordan Morgan, but they both would be able to contribute.  Add in Mitch McGary and this team should have a pretty solid attack inside, especially in the important late season games, when interior play means even more.  The bottomline for all these points is that Burke just needs to step back and try not to do as much by himself.  For most players, this would be a negative statement, but it's mainly because of the increased talent that Burke will have surrounding him.  If Burke can do these types of things this season, he and Michigan should have an outstanding year.

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