During Michigan’s showdown with Ohio State in Columbus on January 13th, Aaron Craft did his best late-90s Gary Payton impression against Trey Burke. Craft was on Michigan’s point guard like a glove, forcing him into tough shots, taking away passing lanes and preventing Burke from establishing a rhythm.
The numbers bore out Craft’s excellent defensive play. Burke had as many turnovers as assists, and needed 13 shots to score 15 points.
When asked what he thought of going up against Craft during Michigan’s press conference on Monday, Burke answered in a way that may be surprising to some.
“I love playing against Craft,” Burke explained. “It’s tough because he makes you work, but he makes you better, believe it or not, during the game. It’s definitely exciting to play against him, but I think it’s going to come down to me getting other people involved so I can open it up for the guards on the perimeter.”
Playing against Craft is no picnic but Burke relishes the match-up because both players have share roots and state pride is on the line.
“It’s an Ohio thing,” Burke explained.
Burke and Craft both played summer basketball with the prestigious All-Ohio Red AAU program and have been watching one another play for years. Although fans and media can’t help but pick apart the one-on-one match-up, Burke made it clear that he doesn’t put the individual match-up above the team match-up.
“I don’t take it personally at all,” Burke said of the Craft match-up. “It’s just going to be between Ohio State and Michigan, not Aaron Craft and Trey Burke. I’m going to do whatever it takes to get my team a win.”
Burke’s success will be judged by whether he can get Michigan’s normally-efficient offensive machine up and running against the Buckeyes in a way he wasn’t able to during the first meeting of the season. One of the major reasons Michigan had so much trouble scoring against Ohio State was because the Buckeyes were “locking the rails,” or taking away Michigan’s perimeter scoring options and forcing the Wolverines to play a two-man game using the pick-and-roll.
It’s up to both Burke and John Beilein to try to come up with new ways to get the offense going, should they run into a similar defensive attack on Tuesday.
“If a team is hugging the rails and kind of denying our players the ball and trying to play 2-on-2 in the middle, which is pretty much what Indiana tried to do, then we have to find ways to get into the paint. We have to get the bigs going if they’re denying the wings,” Burke explained. “We’ll watch film on Ohio State today on the way they played us in Columbus and try to make adjustments for what we did wrong.”
Burke understands that Michigan’s success will hinge on his ability to get his young teammates involved.
“I know their game plan is going to be focused around Tim [Hardaway Jr.] and I, so we’re just going to have to find ways to get some of the freshmen going early. That’s something we failed to do in Columbus. I think the more I get into the paint, the more open other guys will be.”
Upcoming schedule will test the Wolverines
Few teams will face a stretch like the one that Michigan is currently in the middle of. The four game stretch started with Saturday’s trip to Bloomington. On Tuesday, Michigan will face off against Ohio State at home before traveling to Madison and East Lansing. All in a span of just 11 days.
It’s going to be a difficult slate of games at the halfway point of the Big Ten season, but John Beilein is finding ways to look at the schedule as something that can help his team down the road.
“It really stretches us, but we frame it up with our players like, ‘This is what our run would be like in March,’” Beilein said. “If you have a great run in the Big Ten Tournament and you’re playing until Sunday, you might have a Thursday game somewhere else and if you win you’d have a Saturday game.”
Getting through this tough stretch for Michigan will mean taking care of the little things, like sleep habits and diet, in order to make sure the Wolverines are at full strength during the most trying portion of the season to date.
This can be especially hard for the freshmen, who are going through this many tough games in so little time for the first time in their careers. However, Beilein said he think the freshmen have a decent handle on it.
“We try to make sure they get enough rest, but those guys are pretty resilient,” Beilein said. “I really feel that they get their sleep, just knowing and talking with them. They get their sleep, they eat well, they train hard and they’re in pretty good shape.”
Burke added that even though the team feels a bit drained, but Michigan’s resources make it a little easier.
“I think mentally we’re pretty drained, physically we’re drained as well. But we have the resources to continue to go. Stretching, cold tub, sleep is very important,” Burke said. “It’s definitely tough on your body, especially if you’re not used to it like the freshmen. But as long as you’re eating the right things, taking care of yourself, on and off the court, then I think you’ll definitely be fine going into March.”
Jordan Morgan back in practice but still hurting
Jordan Morgan continues to work his way back from the nasty-looking ankle sprain he suffered against Illinois last week.
Michigan’s starting center played two minutes in the first half at Indiana but was ineffective and clearly hampered. John Beilein said he was “very happy” he didn’t play Morgan more than that.
“I’m not sure who will start tomorrow night,” Beilein said. “Jordan yesterday practiced a little bit, but there was some soreness from just playing those two minutes.”
Even if Morgan will have to sit again against Ohio State, Burke said he was encouraged by the play of Mitch McGary in the loss to the Hoosiers.
“With Jordan, I don’t know his status for tomorrow’s game, but I know if he’s not able to go I know Mitch will be able to step in and contribute at a high level,” Burke said.
Notes: Michigan will be wearing Adidas “Bleed Out” jerseys against Ohio State, along with neon-maize shoes. … Beilein hasn’t heard anything from the Big Ten regarding the alleged “punch” by Glenn Robinson III on Jordan Hulls, said it looked unintentional.