Star freshman point guard Trey Burke had every Michigan Wolverine fan in the country ready to hit the panic button until Monday morning when he announced his plans to return to Ann Arbor for his sophomore season and put his NBA dreams on hold.
"After gathering information, I am excited to be continuing my education at Michigan as we look to accomplish even more in our 2012-13 season," Burke said in a statement through Michigan's website. "I love my Michigan family and I am excited about playing with my teammates and our incoming freshmen."
Burke is coming off of one of the best freshman seasons in the history of Michigan basketball in which he led the Wolverines in scoring (14.8 ppg), broke the 27-year-old school record for assists as a freshman with 156 and became the first Wolverine to be an Associated Press All-American honorable mention since Robert Traylor and Louis Bullock earned the same honors in 1998.
The Columbus, Ohio native was also named Big Ten Freshman of the Year by the media, and both the media and the coaches voted him to the All-Big Ten second team. On top of that he helped Michigan claim a share of the Big Ten championship since 1986.
With Burke's decision to return to Michigan for his sophomore season finalized, ESPN's Andy Katz has the Wolverines ranked No. 5 in his latest Top 25 projection for next season.
"After flirting with the NBA, Trey Burke decided to remain in Ann Arbor," Katz wrote Thursday afternoon. "That's huge for the Wolverines, who would've had a serious void at the point without the invaluable Burke.
"He will join Tim Hardaway Jr. and a loaded freshman class that includes ESPNU 100 recruits Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson Jr. and Nik Stauskus. This team is loaded and as long the newcomers blend in, there's no reason to believe Michigan can't compete at the highest level in both the Big Ten and nationally."
The only Big Ten team Katz has ahead of the Wolverines is Indiana, while the other two co-champions from last season, Michigan State and Ohio State, checked in at No. 8 and No. 10, respectively.
It is easy to see why Katz is so high on the Wolverines heading into the 2012-13 campaign, since all of their key contributors from last year's team are returning except graduating senior guards Stu Douglass and Zack Novak, along with sophomore forward Evan Smotrycz, who has opted to transfer.
Hardaway Jr., Burke and much-improved center Jordan Morgan will be the leaders of the veteran squad next season, while McGary will finally give Michigan an outstanding rebounding presence inside and Robinson Jr. has the potential to be a matchup nightmare for just about every small forward in the Big Ten.
However, are the Wolverines really ready to contend for a national championship, or is Michigan slightly overrated at this point in the offseason?
After all, Michigan was bounced in their first NCAA tournament game by the Ohio Bobcats and did not beat any ranked opponents on the road last season.
The loss of Douglass and Novak is also going to hurt this team more than the stat sheet will lead fans to believe. Those two seniors were the focal point of Michigan's return to prominence over the past four years and it is nearly impossible to replace the leadership and experience they brought to the table night in and night out.
If Burke has another strong season, Hardaway Jr. avoids a shooting funk and the Wolverines' incoming recruiting class is as good as advertised, Michigan should have the talent to contend for a Big Ten title this season even though the conference will be hands-down the toughest in the country from top to bottom for the second straight year.
When it comes to discussions of the Wolverines making a run to the Final Four and potentially being a preseason Top 5 program though, people may be getting a little bit ahead of themselves.
If Michigan is able to get a share of another Big Ten championship and advance to the Elite Eight the 2013 NCAA Tournament the season will have been a success. Both of those goals are attainable if the Wolverines play up to their potential.
Whether or not Michigan will actually live up to that potential or fall short like they did against a talented Ohio squad in the NCAA tournament will not be known until next March.
One thing is for sure though, Michigan has thrust themselves back into the national conversation and with the influx of talent coming into the program the Wolverines should have no problem continuing their winning ways in the near and distant future.
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