Sophomore guard Trey Burke found himself alone in Michigan’s offensive half of the court multiple times on Tuesday. Whether it be for his third career dunk or an easy layup, he was consistently yards away from the nearest Bronco.
Burke and the Wolverines’ defense took advantage of Western Michigan’s giveaways in Tuesday’s 73-41 win. The Broncos committed 13 turnovers in the first half and 18 in total. From shot clock violations to bad passes to steals — you name it, Michigan forced them all.
Though tough defense isn’t normally Michigan’s strength, the Wolverines played a full 40 minutes, forcing Western Michigan to take errant shots and force bad passes. With Burke and redshirt junior forward Jordan Morgan leading, No. 3 Michigan added 22 points off of turnovers, many times adding a dunk as an exclamation point. For Michigan coach John Beilein, this is a sign of maturation on defense.
“Our fast break keyed our first half and the second half, we executed offense really well and our defense was terrific,” Beilein said. “We haven’t been turning people over a lot. There are a couple of schools of thought, when you can really block out and defensive rebound and defend — that’s sort of a turnover too, a bad shot with a rebound. I do like those because usually the turnovers are easy baskets.”
Though the game didn’t start out crisply on defense — Western Michigan held within five points of Michigan until late in the first half from multiple shots per possession — Beilein credited turnovers as the deciding factor in winning the possession battle in the first half.
Many of the Broncos’ turnovers were a result of great guard play on defense. Western Michigan was forced to play on the perimeter and couldn’t effectively rotate the ball to find an open man in the paint. The Broncos made bad passes and seconds later, Burke or another Wolverine would be on the other end of the floor to pad Michigan’s lead.
Western Michigan coach Steve Hawkins said that after several failed attempts to set up the outside game, the Broncos would look down low for scoring but often times forced the ball inside, which resulted in another turnover.
“They’re able to get out in transition because of turnovers — some were in the variety of bad passes and others we charged too much,” Hawkins said. “I felt like a huge difference in the game was guard play. Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway, Jr., Nik Stauskas — they can play the game.”
As the ball fell into the Wolverines’ hands from bad passes or ball-handling, Michigan was easily able to go coast-to-coast for a layup or kick it out for an open three on the perimeter. Burke and freshman forward Mitch McGary recorded dunks in transition and junior guard Tim Hardaway, Jr. scored seven of his nine points in transition.
Burke scored just six of his 20 points from fast breaks, but he was a pivotal player in almost every transition point scored Tuesday. Though the sophomore guard was critical of how the team played overall on defense, Burke noted that the 22 points off turnovers often started with a good defensive stop or a rebound.
“The coaches, they prefer you get steals and that’s our best offense,” Burke said. “Getting a steal and moving it ahead for a fast break layup or dunk. Stay solid on defense, make the defense get the ball to you and go from there. That’s the key for us, making consistent plays on defense. I think our transition offense is one of our best offenses (and) we did a great job tonight.”