On Monday night, Michigan needs "regular season" Trey Burke, not "NCAA tournament" Trey Burke.
To be fair, the latter is still better than most in the country.
Burke has masterfully orchestrated Michigan's efficient offensive attack, averaging 5.0 assists in five tournament wins. Moreover, his second half against Kansas—in which he single-handedly willed the Wolverines to an instant-classic comeback—was the stuff of legends:
But that's clouding the fact that the dynamic sophomore point guard has, for a large part, struggled in the Big Dance.
He's shooting an anemic 32.4 percent (23-of-71) from the field and 25.8 percent (8-of-31) from long range, both of which are way down from his season averages of 47.9 and 40.1. On Saturday, he looked hesitant against Syracuse's length, going just 1-of-8 from the field with four assists.
Of course, that is part of what makes Burke so spectacular. His outside shot has abandoned him, but he has found other ways to take his team to the national championship, distributing to Michigan's slew of other talented scorers and sitting back as Mitch McGary emerges as a star down low.
Against Louisville, though, Burke has to be the man.
The Cardinals' formula for winning basketball games is as follows: Pressure defense = turnovers = transition offense = points = pressure defense. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Essentially, when Rick Pitino's squad is able to force turnovers, it is able to utilize Russ Smith and Peyton Siva in the open court, where they are most dangerous. The Cardinals can only set up their pressure defense, however, after they score a basket.
If they aren't able to force turnovers, they end up operating out of the half court on offense, become stagnant, score less and aren't able to set up the press.
While that can be a dangerous cycle for either team, more often than not it has worked out positively for Louisville.
That's because the Cardinals force opponents to turn the ball over on a staggering 26.0 percent of their possessions, second most in America. As such, it's not surprising that they rank second in the country in points allowed per possession and, because their offense comes from defense, 21st in points per possession.
It's simple. When Louisville's press is forcing turnovers, it can't be beat. When it isn't, like we saw on Saturday against Wichita State, it struggles.
Not only will he be crucial in breaking the full-court press, but he has to look to attack out of it before Louisville is able to recover and set up its half-court defense.
In addition to opening up the court for a team with a bunch of deadly outside shooters, attack-mode Burke has the potential to get Smith or Siva in foul trouble, a frightening thought for a Louisville team with such little backcourt depth.
Although he turned the ball over seven times, he has to do exactly what he did against VCU, the only team that forces more turnovers than Louisville:
Aggression is crucial, and sometimes that's difficult for someone in such a cold shooting spell.
Who is Michigan's most important player on Monday?
Burke doesn't necessarily need to regain his shooting stroke, but he can't just be a distributor. He can't stop looking for his shot and start being any less aggressive than he normally is. Against Syracuse, his eight shot attempts were the least he has attempted all season.
He can't do that again.
In the regular season, Burke was the best player in college basketball. Against the best defense in America, he's going to have to act like it.
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