January 7, 2013

Borton's Blog: Strong hand

So Trey Burke grabs Big Ten Player of the Week honors, for piling up a bushel basket full of big numbers. He earned it, no doubt. But Michigan fans should also love what isn't on the stat sheet.

Burke will put marks in the book, all year long. Since the Big Ten season tipped off, the sophomore point guard has averaged 21 points and 8.5 assists, keeping the Wolverines undefeated overall (15-0) and in conference (2-0).

He's shot 61.5 percent from the floor, notched 17 assists to just three turnovers and become the conference's Player of the Week for the second time this season. Head coach John Beilein hopes he'll be the Player of the Year, and more.

The boss revels in what he's seeing.

"I've had really good point guards," Beilein said. "Darius [Morris] had moments like this, and some of our West Virginia, Richmond, Canisius guys had days like this. But whatever that ratio is after the Garden, it's something very, very few teams or coaches ever experience."

It's more than numbers, certainly. Many fretted, and rightfully so, about losing the leadership qualities of Zack Novak and Stu Douglass off last year's Big Ten championship team.

Burke was watching and learning all the while, and harbored toughness he didn't need to learn. He and junior guard Tim Hardaway, Jr., stepped into on-court leadership roles this season, and the Wolverines have responded well.

Sure, it helps to feature abundant talent. But talent can tear apart, or come together. Talent can get cocky, or stay hungry. Beilein is relying heavily on a guy like Burke to make sure everything stays in line, and so far he's running the show like a pro.

Burke doesn't mind getting into the personal space of younger players on this team, and so far, they've been receptive. He'll take control with his actions on the court, or like yesterday against Iowa, with his words in the locker room.

He told the team to forget about its offense, and start locking down Iowa on the defensive end. That process had already begun, and eventually exploded into a 95-67 Michigan win.

Afterwards, Burke wasn't talking about how great Michigan is. He didn't have to. Fans across the state, around the Big Ten, and in far-flung basketball venues around the country were doing that.

The sophomore was nitpicking over what the Wolverines need to improve on … just like his coaches will be.

"Sometimes we come out and we're too lackadaisical on defense," Burke insisted. "We're trying to figure out what they're trying to do. Although the scout team does a good job of running their actions in practice, it's kind of hard to implement, because they know all the little shortcuts.

"It was just a matter of time. We just had to continue to huddle up and stay together, make a change - we had an attitude to get stops."

It's a matter of time, but the Wolverines themselves can impact the timing, he vowed.

"I knew the offense was going to come," he said. "We have a lot of options. Other guys have a lot of options -- Iowa does. It could have been an 80-80 game with five minutes to go, or an 80-50 game with five minutes to go. We had the attitude to get stops.

"Our biggest weakness right now is transition defense. We just have to continue to work on that, continue to get better on defense."

And get better overall, Burke added. Someone asked him if he could have imagined a start like this.

Actually yes, he responded. And it can get better.

"I know we have more great teams to play coming up," he said. "We just have to continue to stay humble and get better, continue to learn from our mistakes. The better we learn from our mistakes and make adjustments, the better we will be in the Big Ten."

The more the Wolverines keep looking to someone as hungry to win as this week's Big Ten Player of the Week, the tougher they'll be to handle … right on into March.

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