Despite little scoring, Trey Burke’s performance in the Michigan Wolverines’ 71-56 win over the South Dakota State Jackrabbits proved to be a sort of blessing in disguise for the Maize and Blue.
Burke, a National Player of the Year candidate, struggled throughout the game. After making none of his seven attempted field goals in the first half and hitting the floor hard after a collision with Jon Horford, things weren’t looking good for Michigan or its star player.
The Jackrabbits' defensive objective was to stop Burke. Combine that with his bad luck, and they had him missing shots from all over the court.
Unfortunately for South Dakota State, the rest of the Wolverines didn’t sit back and let Burke’s lack of scoring lead to a Jackrabbit upset.
Tim Hardaway Jr. picked a convenient time to overcome his late-season slump. He picked up the scoring slack by making five of his seven shots from the perimeter and amassing 21 points throughout the game.
Hardaway heated up and helped lead Michigan in taking back the game in the last 11 minutes of the first half. He was critical in the Wolverines going from a 13-10 deficit to taking a 30-24 lead into the second half.
Glenn Robinson III also played a vital role in Michigan responding to Burke getting shut down. He made all three of his three-point shots and matched the 21 points Hardaway posted.
When shooting wasn’t working out for him, Burke capitalized on the fact that the Jackrabbits were putting so much pressure on him. He looked out for open teammates—like Hardaway on the perimeter and Mitch McGary down low—and set them up to make baskets.
Burke only had six points in the game, but totaled seven assists. He was able to get the ball to anyone open on the court, and they made sure not to disappoint.
Having the 6’10” McGary at the hoop proved to be a major factor in Michigan’s victory. As talented as the Wolverines are on offense, a big-man presence at the hoop is one facet of their game that left something to be desired.
His 13 points in the game were just over double his average of 6.4 points per game. One of his six baskets was assisted by Burke and two were assisted by Nik Stauskas. McGary asserted himself to grab a team-leading nine rebounds—three of which were on offense.
The confidence that the freshman big man played with was a highlight for the Wolverines. Head coach John Beilein and company made a judgment call by starting him over junior Jordan Morgan and it paid off nicely.
If fellow freshman Nik Stauskas can step up in a similar way, Michigan may be one of the most unstoppable forces in the tournament. In addition to the two McGary baskets he assisted, he had eight points—short of his season average of 11.4 points per game.
Burke can only do so much to carry his team in the NCAA tournament. With everyone stepping up and impressing against South Dakota State, the Wolverines are better poised to make a deeper run in the tournament.
Virginia Commonwealth will be a tough challenge. Not only will the entire team need to rise to meet that challenge, but they can’t afford to have Burke held to only six points. They’ll need him to score while also continuing to show the ability to adapt his game to face VCU’s full-court press.