There isn’t much that freshman point guard Trey Burke hasn’t done in his inaugural season for the Michigan basketball team.
Burke’s looked like a veteran floor general in his short time in Ann Arbor. He leads the team in scoring with 14.8 points per game, he’s taken over games when the Wolverines needed him to, and he’s been named Big Ten Player of the Week and Freshman of the Week multiple times en route to sharing the conference’s Freshman of the Year award with Indiana’s Cody Zeller.
But for all Burke’s already accomplished in his young career, the Columbus native is obviously still in his first year and hasn’t played in the NCAA Tournament yet. That will change on Friday against Ohio, and Burke — who took an unofficial visit to Ohio as a recruit — couldn’t be more excited.
“Growing up, that’s everyone’s dream, especially if you’re playing in college,” Burke said. “Growing up, I always watched March Madness and watched Selection Sunday and things like that. Just to be able to have the opportunity to participate in it and to actually play in it is just a blessing.”
The good thing for Burke, and Michigan by extension, is the point guard won’t have to adjust to playing multiple games in multiple days. He picked up that experience back in November when the Wolverines played on three straight days in the Maui Invitational, and added to it last weekend in the Big Ten Tournament.
If anything, despite the added pressure in the Big Dance, it will be more of a breather than those two events. There’s a day between games and a week in between the initial rounds, the Sweet 16 and the Final Four.
That rest could be huge for Burke. He adamantly denied being tired in Michigan’s ugly loss on Saturday to Ohio State in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals, even though he had his worst performance of the season a night after playing all 45 minutes of the overtime win against Minnesota.
Some may still worry about the proverbial freshman wall, but Michigan coach John Beilein has countered questions about his limited rotation in the past by pointing to how many teams besides his own ride their starters hard. And Burke has led the team in minutes without breaking down all season, which must give the Wolverines hope that he won’t tire in the NCAA Tournament but will instead rise to the occasion.
For his part, Burke said he’s just happy that the referees let the teams play in the Big Ten Tournament and hopes that carries over to the NCAA Tournament. The freshman, too, is more worried about making sure his team bounces back from its blowout loss to the Buckeyes.
“The whole team’s hungry to get back on the court,” Burke said. “We felt like we got exposed (Saturday), and we did. Like I said, after each loss this year, we bounced back three times harder. We have a new mindset, and I have no doubt in my mind that it’ll be the same coming up.”
HUNTER TO HUNTED: Michigan enters the NCAA Tournament this season in a different position than it did last year or even than it did in 2009, the other two times the team has made the Big Dance in Beilein’s tenure.
The Wolverines were an eight-seed last season, a distinction that comes with low expectations considering the matchup looming with a one-seed in the next round. Michigan was seeded even lower three years ago, when it made the field as a 10-seed.
Indeed, the chalk held true after Beilein’s two teams won their initial games, falling to Duke and Oklahoma, respectively.
But it’s a different situation this season — with the Wolverines seeded third, the baseline expectation is to make the Sweet 16 since they’ll be favored in their first two matchups.
That could mean added pressure for a group of players that have never advanced that far in their careers. But the team wasn’t worried about the change from giant-killer to giant.
“We had a target on our back all year I think,” said redshirt sophomore forward Jordan Morgan. “We’ve been ranked. We’ve been kind of at the top of the conference all year, so we’ve been in that situation. We were in that situation (Friday against Minnesota), so I think we’re ready for anything.”
CUE THE JOKES: The first thought on everyone’s mind on Selection Sunday when Ohio was announced as Michigan’s first opponent was what the team would be calling its adversary.
Thanks to Michigan football coach Brady Hoke, Beilein has taken to referring to rival Ohio State as, simply, “Ohio.” But now the Wolverines actually do have to play Ohio — how could this dilemma ever be resolved?
Quite easily, it appears. Senior guard Zack Novak said they’re playing “Ohio University” or the “Bobcats.” Beilein, with a hint of a grin on his face, added:
“We’re playing Ohio University now. It’s a great university down in Athens, Ohio.”