AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — With 11 minutes left in the Michigan men’s basketball team’s 71-56 victory over South Dakota State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, it looked like the Wolverines were in trouble. Michigan’s star, its backbone and floor general, sophomore point guard Trey Burke, had fallen hard to the floor, landing sharply on the hardwood.
The initial concern, as Burke lay on the court, was that he’d sustained a head injury. But after walking off the floor and visiting the locker room under his own power, Burke returned to the floor and ended up missing less than two minutes of game action.
After the game, Burke said that he hit his tailbone, elbow and a small portion of the back of his head. He never lost consciousness, he insisted, and his head felt fine. Before heading off to the cold tub to try to remedy his sore tailbone and elbow, Burke also mentioned that he “got a little overdramatic.”
The Wolverines held a comfortable eight-point lead, and, at that point, Burke had only scored four points on 1-for-10 shooting. Out of necessity, the production came from elsewhere.
Without Burke, the trouble wouldn’t have come on Thursday. Instead, for Michigan, the trouble would’ve been on Saturday, against Virginia Commonwealth in the third round of the NCAA Tournament.
The Rams are known for their “Havoc” defense, a full-court press employed after most made baskets and dead balls. The goal is to trap the ball in the corner or pressure the primary ball handler into turnovers.
It’s not just a gimmick — “Havoc” is for real.
VCU leads the nation in steals with almost 12 per game, which is more than a full steal ahead of the next team, Louisville. Its 8.0 turnover margin also tops the country. In their second-round game — which took place at the Palace of Auburn Hills directly after Michigan’s game — the Rams forced 21 turnovers in an 88-42 victory over Akron.
And it’s not like the Wolverines have a ton of time to prepare, either. The Rams’ Thursday game didn’t end until after 11:30 p.m., meaning Michigan essentially has only one day to prepare for them.
The Michigan assistant coaches split up scouting for upcoming opponents, a task which obviously gets a little more complicated in the hypothetical world of tournament seeding. LaVall Jordan was tasked with VCU, preparing for the matchup by focusing on the Rams’ win over Butler — a game they won by 32 points.
“It’s a team effort to beat it,” Jordan said. “Multiple ball handlers is the key. … It’s not complicated, but it’s more than you can simulate or talk about before we actually get out there against it.”
Jordan mentioned that freshman point guard Spike Albrecht will probably play a larger role on Saturday, as Michigan wants to pair him with Burke to get two primary ball handlers on the floor. Besides Burke, the Wolverines’ other starting guards — freshman Nik Stauskas and junior Tim Hardaway Jr. — aren’t known for their ball handling, a glaring issue, especially against a team that lives off its full-court press.
Still, the key matchup will likely be Burke, one of the best point guards in the country going up against one of the best defenses. The Wolverines didn’t need him as much against South Dakota State on Thursday, but they will on Saturday.
Michigan’s just lucky he was being overdramatic.