Freshman Burke making big impact at Michigan
The game had been a nightmare for Jordan Taylor. The Wisconsin star couldn't seem to shake free against Michigan's defense, and he was outplayed for significant stretches by Trey Burke, the new point guard for the Wolverines.
After Michigan pulled away and won by 18 points, Taylor gave Burke perhaps the biggest compliment possible.
''The thing with Michigan is that they lost an NBA-caliber player in Darius Morris, and they've actually gotten better,'' Taylor said.
Indeed, the Wolverines have hardly missed a beat following Morris' departure. Burke, a freshman, has stepped in and guided 13th-ranked Michigan to an impressive start. Although the Wolverines have an experienced group around him, it's no exaggeration to say Burke has been their best player at times. He's averaging 14.1 points and 5.1 assists while avoiding the types of mistakes a young player might make while adjusting to such an important role.
''At the beginning of the season, I would get nervous,'' Burke said. ''The more I'm playing now - we're playing two or three games a week now - I'm pretty much used to it.''
Michigan made the NCAA tournament last season thanks to a late-season run. Morris was the leader of that team, averaging 15 points and 6.7 assists, but he played so well he was able to leave school after his sophomore season. Morris was drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Wolverines had high hopes for 2011-12 anyway. The other four starters returned, but it wasn't clear how they would replace Morris, the 6-foot-4 point guard who seemed to have the ball in his hands on every possession.
Burke put those concerns to rest almost immediately.
''Here's Darius, he's playing with Kobe the other night,'' Michigan coach John Beilein said. ''Trey already has more assists in this season than Darius had his whole freshman year, and Darius is a heck of a player.''
Burke has started all but one game this season. He's a different type of player than Morris - shorter and perhaps less adept at creating his own shot in the lane - but he has looked comfortable in Michigan's offense. The Wolverines rely a lot on their 3-point shooting, and in that respect, Burke has actually outperformed his predecessor.
Burke has made 26 shots from 3-point range this season, more than Morris made in his entire two-year career with the Wolverines.
''I think Burke can hit a few shots that Darius couldn't, and he can do some other things,'' Taylor said. ''I was really impressed.''
At 5-foot-11, Burke could have his problems against bigger guards, but the 6-foot-1 Taylor couldn't take advantage last weekend. He scored only 12 points, most of them after Michigan had taken control en route to a 59-41 win.
Burke scored 14 points in that game and followed it up with 19 points, seven assists and seven rebounds Wednesday night, playing 45 minutes in a 66-64 overtime win over Northwestern. Burke scored Michigan's final eight points and made several key free throws to help hold off the Wildcats.
The Wolverines (14-3, 4-1 Big Ten) play at Iowa (10-8, 2-3) on Saturday. Aside from a 4-for-15 night at Indiana last week, Burke has held his own against tough competition within the conference. Burke credits his coaches, who have kept him prepared without overwhelming him.
''Sometimes they throw a lot at me, but they do a great job of continuing to remind me all the defensive principles, everything on offense,'' Burke said. ''We go over all our plays, all the time.''
The remarkable thing about Burke is that he's only a freshman. Even Morris didn't turn into a real standout until his sophomore season. When he went to the NBA, Beilein turned over the point guard duties to a player in his first college season, but Burke has been up to the challenge.
''It's not normal,'' Beilein said. ''It's rare, and it's been very good. Our hope is it doesn't have to happen too often.''