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Behind a steady Burke, Michigan plays keepaway

Teresa Mathew/Daily
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By Daniel Wasserman, Daily Sports Editor
Published February 24, 2013

The number everyone wanted to talk about after the Michigan men’s basketball team’s 71-58 win over Illinois was 1,000.

That’s how many points sophomore point guard Trey Burke surpassed with a second-half free throw, becoming just the seventh Wolverine to reach the milestone as a true sophomore. Burke finished with 26 points, giving him 1,013 career points, and eight assists. But it’s another number that often draws a lot less attention and what makes Burke so important to his team: one.

For the seventh time in 14 conference games (his zero-turnover outing last Sunday against Penn State), Burke turned the ball over only once on Sunday. He’s had three-plus turnovers in just three Big Ten games, giving him an eye-popping 1.6 turnovers per game against opponents from the best conference in the nation.

“He’s just really a special player and we just love what he’s brought to the team,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “His handle is so sure, even in crowds. He doesn’t try to do too much, either.

“His combination of being both a playmaker and a shooter and scorer has been big for us.”

Burke ranks 11th in the country at 6.9 assists per game but of the 10 players ahead of him, none turn the ball over less than twice per game like Burke does (he averages 1.8 for the season), while nine average more than 3.4.

Thanks to Burke, Michigan is second in the country at hanging onto the ball, turning it over just 9.5 times per game. Only Wisconsin, at 9.4 turnovers per game, is better, but a big part of that can be attributed to the Badgers’ excruciatingly slow tempo. Despite a propensity for playing with an up-tempo style of play, the Wolverines lead the nation in turnovers per possession, turning the ball over just 14.6 percent of the time.

Burke, Michigan’s primary ball handler, is essentially the Wolverines’ sole distributor. After Burke, no Michigan player averages more than 2.2 assists per game. Burke accounts for almost half of the Wolverines’ 14.7 assists per game, which puts Michigan 51st in the country. But thanks to Burke, the team’s 1.57 assist-turnover ratio is third in the country.

“You have to trust your point guard, and we trust him 100 percent with the ball and we wouldn’t want nobody else,” said junior guard Tim Hardaway Jr. “It’s great to have a point guard that makes plays for your team and can go out there and make a play for himself as well.”

Burke’s consistently efficient numbers don’t stop with his assists and turnovers. He’s the only player in the Big Ten to score 15-plus points in every conference game (he averages 19.4) and he’s shooting an impressive 48.9 percent from the field on the year.

And as Beilein highlighted following Sunday’s win, Burke is a reliable option from the free-throw stripe, making him the prototypical player to handle the ball with a late-game lead. Even when trapped or double-teamed, Burke has proven that he won’t turn the ball over, forcing teams to send him to the line, where he’s shooting 81.3 percent in conference play.

Against the Fighting Illini, Burke connected on eight of his 10 free throws, including a 5-for-6 stretch with less than two minutes remaining to seal the game.

“Here’s what I love about Trey: at the foul line, he’s been absolutely terrific,” Beilein said. “We needed to win that game from the foul line with the way they can shoot 3s, and he did what he needed to do then because we obviously want the ball in his hands.”


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