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March 15, 2013

The Week That Was: Burke named Player of the Year

While Michigan is set to play Wisconsin today after vanquishing Penn State Thursday, it's been a relatively quiet news week. Trey Burke's announcement as the Big Ten Player of the Year highlights The Week That Was.

Trey Burke named Big Ten Player of the Year

Michigan's sophomore point guard, Burke became the sixth Wolverine in school history and the first since Glen Rice in 1989 to garner the Big Ten's most prestigious individual honor.

What They're Saying

Down the stretch, Indiana guard Victor Oladipo became a hot name, and many believed he would overtake Burke in the voting, but when it came down to it, Oladipo didn't have a strong case, MLive.com's Nick Baumgardner wrote: "Oladipo is a phenomenal talent. He's the best player on the league's best team. His acrobatic dunks inspired Michael Jordan comparisons, and his tenacious defense was game-changing. Even when the guy missed, it was impressive -- remember that botched alley-oop against Michigan in February? Oladipo still hasn't landed from that one.

"Oladipo dabbled in the spectacular and kept everyone on the edge of their seats all year long. But Burke made spectacular look routine. He made amazing look normal. He made consistency look easy. By almost every measure possible, Burke was the Big Ten's best player this season -- and it really wasn't close."

CBSSports.com's Jeff Borzello agrees and thinks Burke remains the favorite to take home National Player of the Year honors: "In [ESPN.com's] Michael Rothstein's straw poll released last week, Burke finished in first, with Georgetown's Otto Porter and Oladipo running second and third. Burke and Oladipo had the most first-place votes, though. The weekly Player of the Year column from our own Jeff Goodman and Gary Parrish had Burke on top last week, taking the No. 1 spot from Oladipo and keeping Porter at No. 3.

"Both of those articles were written before Indiana's win at Michigan on Sunday afternoon, though, a game in which Oladipo went for 14 points and 13 rebounds - while Burke shot 7-for-20 while finishing with 20 points. The loss knocked the Wolverines down to the No. 5 seed in the Big Ten tournament, and it also gave Indiana the outright Big Ten title.

"With all that factored in, Burke still got the award in the Big Ten. It's tough to argue with the call, even though Oladipo has gained a ton of momentum in the past few weeks. Burke has been outstanding throughout the season, scoring in double-figures in each contest.

"Will the Wolverines' struggles down the stretch - 5-5 in their last 10 games - play a factor in the national race? And will Porter usurp both Burke and Oladipo and take the Player of the Year award away from the Big Ten entirely? For now, Burke has the upper hand."

My Take: It can be easy as a voter to get caught up in the excitement of a good stretch of basketball, and certainly Oladipo has generated a lot of buzz in recent weeks, but as Major League Baseball voters proved in the MVP race the past two years, at the end of the day, you have to remove the gimmicky and go with the best player from the start of the year until the end, and that player is Burke.

Burke was the only player in the Big Ten to score at least 15 points in all 18 conference games while he's recorded 10 or more points in every game this season. Beyond stats - and there are plenty to back him up - he's been the best player on the court night after night no matter who U-M played, and he's been critical to the success of the sixth-ranked Wolverines. Take Oladipo off Indiana and the Hoosiers are still a top-four team in the league. Take Burke off Michigan and the Wolverines tumble.

Spring practice gets underway this week

Team 134 will begin its lead-up to an Aug. 31 opener against Central Michigan in earnest this weekend when it opens spring practice Saturday. The Wolverines have 92 players on their spring roster, including seven starters offensively, six defensively and both its placekicker and punter.

What They're Saying

In his first press conference of the spring, coach Brady Hoke said redshirt junior Devin Gardner will not be handed the starting quarterback job, and that he must beat out redshirt sophomore Russell Bellomy and true freshman Shane Morris, but that's just coachspeak, MLive.com's Kyle Meinke writes: "Gardner was the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback coming out of Inkster High School in 2010, and sparkled when he finally was given an opportunity to step out of Robinson's shadow last year.

"He made players around him better, especially in the passing game. Receivers Jeremy Gallon and Roy Roundtree posted the best five-game stretches of their careers with Gardner.

"Gardner appears to have the arm strength and accuracy to help Michigan transition to its preferred pro-style offense. And if he isn't the starter Aug. 31 against Central Michigan, something likely went really wrong.

"He already has assumed leadership of the team, and appears ready to guide Michigan into the post-Robinson era. He is the odds-on favorite to start against Central Michigan.Who backs him up -- Bellomy or Morris -- remains another question entirely."

My Take: This is, indeed, coachspeak, though it carries a message meant to be delivered both to Gardner and to the rest of the team - every rep must be earned. For Gardner, that means he cannot rest on his laurels. Yes, he finished the season strong, and yes, he had a strong winter, but Michigan needs him to practice every day this spring like the No. 1 QB, leading in the huddle and bringing out the best in those players around him.

Hoke also wants his entire team to understand that whether you're Gardner or redshirt junior linebacker Jake Ryan or fifth-year senior left tackle Taylor Lewan, there is always someone pushing you for playing time, and it is up to you to fend that competition off.

Those three will do just that because they want to be great, and that's the key - Hoke needs to get the very best out of his All-American talents, and then needs to get the very best out of the next tier and the next tier because that's what it will take for Michigan to win the Big Ten title this year.

The CCHA names its All-Time Team

Coming to an end this year after 42 seasons, the CCHA has been rolling out all-decade teams throughout the year and today announced its All-Time Team. Four Bowling Green Falcons made the list, and three Michigan State Spartans, but just a single Wolverine - center Brendan Morrison (1994-97).

To be eligible, a skater or goalie initially had to make one of the all-decade teams from the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s or from 2000-13. To be eligible for the all-decade teams, a skater or goalie needed to be an All-American that stayed in college for at least three years.

League administrators, coaches and long-time members of the media voted on the All-Time Team.

What They're Saying

There hasn't been a column about this yet since it's so fresh, but twitter is abuzz, especially with angry Michigan fans.

My Take: Putting these lists together is difficult, and segments of the fan base are going to be annoyed because there is no perfect way to pick, but let's start with the Wolverines that made all-decade teams and debate whether they should have made the all-time team.

From the 1990s, Morrison and goalie Marty Turco (1995-98) made the first team. From 2000-13, Kevin Porter (2005-08) and T.J. Hensick (2004-07). No one made it from the 1980s or 1970s.

No one can argue that Bowling Green was a power - the Falcons won seven regular-season and five conference tournament titles from the CCHA's inception thru 1988 - however BGSU has finished higher than fifth in the standings only once since 1990. Michigan, which joined the league in 1982, has captured 10 regular-season titles and nine tournament crowns.

During its 32 years in the CCHA, Michigan has produced 35 All-Americans, second only to Michigan State's 41 and well ahead of Bowling Green's 18.

If I was commissioned to vote, I'd start with the seven Hobey Baker Award winners, which include Michigan's Morrison and Kevin Porter. It also includes Michigan State's Ryan Miller and Kip Miller (both who were named to the All-Time Team) and a pair of Falcons. Miami's Andy Miele, the Hobey winner in 2011, was also snubbed.

The sheer volume of BGSU honorees is the greatest cause of consternation and while forwards George McPhee (1978-82) and Nelson Emerson (1987-90), and defenseman Ken Morrow (1976-79), are deserving, goalie Mike Liut (1974-77) is not. At least not over Michigan's Turco.

Liut went 53-27-1 in four seasons, posting a 3.35 goals against average and an .888 save percentage. Different eras indeed, one in which more goals were scored than in the 1990s and 2000s, but Liut never played in a Frozen Four and helped BGSU to just one regular-season and one tournament title in the CCHA.

Turco is the all-time winningest goalie in NCAA history with 127 victories, he had a .232 goals against average and a .898 save percentage. Most importantly, he led Michigan to national titles in 1996 and 1998, four Frozen Four appearances, three regular-season CCHA championships and two tournament wins.

U-M fans may not like it but should be able to live with the rest of the All-Time Team, but Liut ranking ahead of Turco calls into question the entirety of the voting process, including who cast ballots and what their ties to certain programs are.






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