Michigan basketball team missing Darius Morris less and less as Trey Burke progresses
Against Ferris State, Towson and Western Illinois, the Michigan basketball team's offense couldn't get out of its own way.
But outside of a choppy first half against Duke on Tuesday, the Wolverines have found their offensive flow at the 2011 Maui Invitational -- putting a full performance together against No. 8 Memphis before closing out strong against the sixth-ranked Blue Devils.
The reason for the improvement?
Freshman point guard Trey Burke continues to play ahead of schedule.
"It takes time for everybody, especially when you have a brand new quarterback," Michigan coach John Beilein said. "We're throwing at lot at this young man, and gradually he's absorbing as much as he can.
"It's encouraging that we're getting closer, and hopefully all year we'll take these mini-steps."
Against Memphis on Monday, Burke stole the show against highly-touted Tiger guards Joe Jackson and Will Barton, scoring 14 points and handing out four assists.
On Tuesday against Duke, with five-star freshman guard Austin Rivers being a focal point, Burke once again held his own, going for 17 points and nine assists.
Entering the season, the biggest question surrounding Michigan was how well Burke would do in place of departed point guard Darius Morris.
There's still a long way to go, but so far, the freshman has been just fine.
Burke is now averaging 12.2 points and five assists through five games and says his experience in Maui will help prepare him for the challenges of Big Ten play.
"Both Joe Jackson and (Duke's) Seth Curry were really good players," Burke said. "I just went out and did everything I could do to try and get my team (a win)."Those are two of the top point guards in the country, so I'm sure it'll help prepare me for people like (Wisconsin's) Jordan Taylor and (Ohio State's) Aaron Craft and people like that. I'm just trying to get my team a win."
Burke's development has had few flaws early (outside of his tardiness to a pregame walkthrough against Ferris State), but from an outsider's perspective, the leadership of seniors Zack Novak and Stu Douglass has gone a long way in helping the youngster adapt and realize some of his potential.
"(Burke's) really good, such tremendous poise for a freshman," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "But the big thing he's got going for him is veterans around him. (Michigan) has two of the tougher kids with (its) two seniors.
"Novak and Douglass are tough competitors that can shoot the heck out of the ball. ... You put veterans around a gifted point guard and he's going to feel even more confident, and he handles it well."
On the stat sheet, the biggest difference between Michigan finding a way over the hump and Duke refusing to allow it was the 3-point shot.
The Blue Devils went 11-for-21 from downtown, while the Wolverines finished 7-for-21, two of which came in the game's final minute.
At any point during the game, Duke had four shooters in Rivers, Curry, Andre Dawkins and Ryan Kelly capable of hitting a 3-point shot.
That factor effectively negated any advantage Michigan had with its 1-3-1 zone defense.
"We hit some amazing 3's," Krzyzewski said. "We attacked their 1-3-1 well. When you have Ryan Kelly in there, you basically have four shooters. It's a weapon for us.
"I think it's difficult for somebody to play zone against us."
For the second straight game, Michigan held a statistical advantage in the low block.
The Wolverines out-rebounded Duke 31-27 on the game, holding a 12-6 edge on the offensive glass. Michigan also dominated the points in the paint department, outscoring Duke 38-28.
Sophomore forward Jordan Morgan bounced back from a foul-laden performance against Memphis with 12 points and six rebounds.
The same couldn't be said for Evan Smotrycz, though. He finished with just five points and five rebounds before fouling out.
Revenge on the brain?
Technically, Michigan had a chance to avenge last season's NCAA Tournament loss against Duke on Tuesday.
Novak said that wasn't a focus heading in, but it wasn't ignored either.
"That game hurts from last year, but this is a new team," he said. "I'd be lying to you to say we weren't thinking about it a little bit, obviously. It seems like that game was just a couple months ago, not eight months.
"We had a little extra motivation. But, like I said, this is the (Maui Invitational), we were going to come ready to play no matter who we were playing."
Odds and ends
Duke shot 27 foul shots to Michigan's nine Tuesday. ... For the second straight day, Tim Hardaway Sr. took in the game from the stands. On Tuesday against Duke, the elder Hardaway sported one of Michigan's Maui-exclusive light blue warmup shooting shirts. ... Michigan committed just nine turnovers against the Blue Devils, but Duke took advantage, turning them into 14 points.