- Adam Glanzman/Daily
By Steven Braid, Daily Sports Editor
Published February 4, 2013
Trey Burke can try to deflect the questions all he wants, and he can try to play the “the team, the team, the team” card as much as he pleases. But for the No. 3 Michigan men’s basketball team, success against No. 10 Ohio State on Tuesday night will hinge on whether the sophomore point guard wins his individual matchup against Buckeye point guard Aaron Craft.
More like this
Burke and Craft have squared off four times in their careers, and Burke has struggled mightily on the offensive end against his Ohio State counterpart. In those four contests, Burke has averaged 12.5 points, 4.5 assists and five turnovers, while shooting below 33 percent — numbers well below his career averages. And in their last meeting, a 56-53 Buckeye victory three weeks ago, Burke shot just 4-of-13 from the field while dishing out four assists and committing four turnovers.
“We’ve been trying to find different ways in our scouting to give Trey the freedom to do some things, just to get him away from Craft,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “(Craft) is a good (defender), he’s a really good one.”
Though Burke has stumbled against Craft and Ohio State — he has led the Wolverines to just one victory against the Buckeyes — he’s looking forward to round two of 2013, relishing the opportunity to go against one of the better defenders in the country.
“I love playing against Craft,” Burke said. “He’s a guy that makes me work and it’s always a battle. Growing up watching him, and him watching me — we played in the same AAU program — it’s just fun playing against him. Although it’s tough because he makes you work, he makes you better, believe it or not.”
In their first matchup of the season three weeks ago, Michigan (7-2 Big Ten, 20-2 overall) came out with very little energy and fell behind by 21 points midway through the first half. The Wolverines rallied back, but it was too little, too late. With Craft tightly guarding him, Burke missed a go-ahead 3-point attempt in the waning seconds.
Michigan will try to be better prepared this time around. On the defensive side, Michigan will hope to contain Ohio State forward Deshaun Thomas. Thomas led Ohio State (7-2, 17-4) with 20 points and four rebounds when the two teams last met — he was the only Buckeye to score in double digits — and is one of only three players across the nation that averages more than 20 points and six rebounds per game.
But Ohio State won’t need much offense if it can recreate the defensive intensity it displayed during the teams’ first matchup. The Buckeyes played one of their best games defensively against the high-powered Wolverine offense — Michigan’s 53 points, 22 first-half points and 38-percent shooting from the floor were all season lows. Ohio State also forced 13 turnovers, scoring 18 points off of those miscues.
If it’s even possible, the Buckeyes defense might be even better now than it was three weeks ago. In their last five games, they have allowed an average of 56 points and have hounded their past four opponents into shooting worse than 38 percent from the floor.
“Their defense sets the table for everything they do,” Beilein said. “And obviously DeShaun Thomas — he’s as talented a player as I’ve seen in this league.”
As for who will start at center for Michigan, the decision hasn’t been made yet. Redshirt junior Jordan Morgan, who has been recovering from a right ankle sprain suffered against Illinois a week ago, sat out against Northwestern last Wednesday and played just two ineffective minutes against Indiana on Saturday. Redshirt sophomore Jon Horford has started the past two games in place of Morgan, but saw just 10 minutes of action against the Hoosiers.
“I’m not sure who will start tomorrow night,” Beilein said. “Jordan practiced a bit (yesterday) but there was some soreness from just playing those two minutes (against Indiana). I’m very happy we did not play him more the other day.”
Between trying to avenge their loss in Columbus, and avoiding their first losing streak of the season, the Wolverines won’t be lacking for motivation.
“They really played a great game against us in Columbus and hopefully we’ve improved since then,” Beilein said. “I expect a charged-up atmosphere”