Breaking Down: Trey Burke and the perils ‘Craft Island’

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Trey Burke has been having a year that should earn him some serious National Player of the Year consideration.

I’m not going to get too in-depth on why that is — you can check that out here — but the long-and-short of it is that Burke is a tremendously efficient and productive player that is the primary playmaker and scorer for one of the nation’s best teams. He’s been nothing short of sensational this season, especially when it comes to creating open looks for his teammates.

Which is why the job that Aaron Craft did on Burke on Sunday afternoon was as impressive as any individual defensive performance that I can remember.

In case you’ve forgotten — or in case you were too busy watching the Falcons earn the right to lose to the 49ers in the NFC title game next weekend — Ohio State knocked off then-No.2 and then-undefeated Michigan 56-53 in Columbus. Michigan needed to rally from a 29-8 deficit to make things interesting. And Burke? He finished with 15 points and four assists while shooting 4-13 from the floor and turning the ball over four times.

One of those assists came when Evan Ravenel was matched up with him after an in-bounds play under the basket. Burke was also 2-5 from three on the day, the second of which was a ridiculous leaner that he banked with with 1.0 seconds left in the game, down by six.

Take those two possessions into account, and Burke had 12 points, three assists and four turnovers on 3-12 shooting on Sunday. (And that’s before you factor in defensive breakdowns on the part of Craft’s teammates.)

From a guy that has been the best point guard in the country, playing on the nation’s most potent offense.

And Craft shut him down more-or-less by himself.

You see, Ohio State has the luxury of matching up perfectly with the Wolverines. Craft is such an unbelievable on-the-ball defender that Thad Matta could simply put him on an island against Burke. As John Beilein put it, Ohio State “locked the rails and made you pay two-on-two in the middle.” They didn’t help off of Tim Hardaway Jr. or Nik Stauskas or Glenn Robinson III. The Buckeyes simply allowed Burke to try to beat Craft one-on-one or in the pick-and-roll.

Part of what makes Craft such a good defender — in addition to his terrific lateral quickness and lightening fast hands that would make the most skilled pickpockets jealous — is his strength and his balance. Simply put, if he doesn’t want you going somewhere on the floor, you’re not going to get there, and that’s why Michigan had so much trouble in ball-screen actions.

At the top of the key, Craft could simply work his way over the top of a screen, which is less game-planning than it is terrific individual effort.

What was interesting was how Ohio State defended Michigan’s side ball-screen. One of the sets that the Wolverines like to run involves Burke hitting a wing and cutting through to the opposite side of the floor. Michigan has a couple different looks they can run out of that, but if they can’t get a good look, the ball is eventually swung to Burke on the wing on the left side of the floor. Michigan’s big man will come over and set a ball-screen. The goal is to get Burke to be able to drive to his right down the middle of the lane with the three shooters — Hardaway, Robinson and Stauskas — spotting up along the three point line.

Craft wouldn’t let Burke use the screen by jumping above it while whoever was guarding the screen — in this case, Evan Ravenel — would cut off Burke’s ability to penetrate to his left towards the baseline:

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And if Burke was able to get into the lane, Ohio State didn’t try to cut him off. Trying to score on Craft is a lot tougher than kicking the ball out to an open shooter:

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Here’s another example. This one ends up in Craft forcing a turnover by Burke. Notice that, once again, there is no help.

“Craft is a matchup problem for anybody,” Beilein said. “He’s a great, great defense player. You don’t hear me say that often. That kid can really guard. He impacts the game the way a great middle linebacker or a great safety can impact a football game.”

I disagree.

He’s more like a shutdown cornerback.

You don’t want to get stuck on ‘Craft Island’.

Previous Breaking Down posts can be found here.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Syracuse’s Tyus Battle to test NBA draft waters

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Syracuse announced on Friday afternoon that sophomore guard Tyus Battle will be declaring for the NBA draft without signing with an agent, giving him until the NCAA’s May 30th deadline to withdraw from contention and return to school.

Battle averaged 19.2 points as a sophomore for the Orange, who made a surprising run to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.

He is a projected late-first round or early-second round pick given his size, shooting ability and skill with the ball in his hands.

Losing Battle would be a massive blow to a Syracuse team that is already going to be without Matthew Moyer, who transferred out of the program, and Dareus Bazley, who is heading to the G League instead of enrolling in college.

Maryland’s Kevin Huerter declares for NBA draft, won’t hire agent

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Maryland wing Kevin Huerter announced on Friday afternoon that he will be declaring for the NBA draft without hiring an agent, giving him the option of returning to school by May 30th.

“This will be a great experience for Kevin to get honest feedback from NBA teams and executives,” said head coach Mark Turgeon. “Taking advantage of this opportunity will allow Kevin and his family to make an informed decision about his future.”

Huerter is a 6-foot-7 wing known for his ability to shoot from the perimeter. He averaged 14.8 points and shot 42 percent from three as a sophomore.

He is also the third player from Maryland to declare for the 2018 NBA Draft. Justin Jackson, a borderline first round pick who missed time last season with a shoulder injury, has signed with an agent while Bruno Fernando is testing the waters. Maryland, who has an excellent recruiting class coming in, will be a preseason top 20 team if Huerter and Fernando both return to school.

Huerter is a borderline first round pick.

Michigan’s Charles Matthews to test NBA draft waters

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Michigan guard Charles Matthews announced on Friday that he will be declaring for the NBA draft, but that he does not intend to sign with an agent, meaning he has until May 30th to withdraw from the draft and return to school.

“After careful consideration with my parents and coaching staff, I am excited to announce that I will be declaring for the 2018 NBA Draft without hiring an agent,” said Matthews. “I give thanks to the Lord for this amazing opportunity, as well as the entire University of Michigan for their support. Go Blue!”

Matthews, a redshirt sophomore that averaged 13.0 points and 5.5 boards for the national runners-up, was a four-star prospect coming out of Chicago and spent his freshman season at Kentucky.

Matthews is a likely second round pick with the potential to climb into the first round should he prove to be a more consistent three-point shooter. He shot just 31.8 percent from beyond the arc this past season.

Virginia’s Hunter to return to school for sophomore season

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De’Andre Hunter announced on Friday afternoon that he will not be entering his name into the NBA draft and will return to Virginia for his redshirt sophomore season, a decision that will have as much of an impact on the 2018-19 college basketball season as any that is made this spring.

Hunter, now a potential top ten pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, was one of the breakout stars of the 2017-18 season. A 6-foot-7 combo-forward with a 7-foot-1 wingspan, Hunter averaged 9.2 points and 3.5 boards while shooting 38.2 percent from three in just under 20 minutes a night for a Virginia team whose pace severely limits the kind of numbers a player like him can put up.

Throw in his ability to defend on the perimeter and in the paint, and Hunter is precisely the kind of player that NBA teams are looking to land as basketball becomes more and more built on positional versatility and the ability to space the floor.

And it’s that versatility that will make Hunter so important for the Cavaliers next season.

Let’s go beyond the simple fact that he is going to be the only guy on the Virginia roster that can create his own shot against length and athleticism and that there is a chance that he could end up being an all-american next season if things play out the right way. What makes Hunter so important to Virginia his that his defensive versatility is what allows Virginia to matchup with teams that want to try and play small-ball against them.

That’s precisely what UMBC did in the first round of the NCAA tournament, a game that Hunter missed with a broken wrist. We all know how that played out, and I’m not even dumb enough to pin all the blame of a 20-point loss to a No. 16 seed on a guy that played less than 20 minutes a night.

Virginia choked once they realized that there was a chance this could happen, but I would argue that a major reason they couldn’t ever truly assert their dominance was because they were unable to matchup with UMBC’s four-guard lineup without Hunter.

With Hunter back, Virginia is the No. 6 team in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25. If he had declared for the draft and signed with an agent, I’m not sure I would have had the Wahoos in the top 20.

He takes Tony Bennett’s club from simply being good to once against being a contender for the ACC regular season title.

Vanderbilt the sixth Kentucky player declares for the NBA draft

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Jarred Vanderbilt is now the sixth Kentucky Wildcat to declare for the NBA draft this spring, joining P.J. Washington and Wenyen Gabriel in testing the waters without signing with an agent.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kevin Knox and Hamidou Diallo have all declared for the draft and signed with an agent.

Vanderbilt announced his decision on Friday afternoon.

“This season wasn’t easy for me,” Vanderbilt said. “At the end of the day, my goal has always been to make it to the NBA.”

“I know I have more to my game to show, but now I’ve got to figure out if the time is right for me to do it at the next level or if I would be better to return to school.”

Vanderbilt missed the first 17 games of his freshman season with a left foot injury, a foot that he had injured twice before during his high school career. He then missed all four of Kentucky’s postseason games with a left ankle injury, and there is a chance that he could end up needing surgery to correct this issue this offseason.

All told, the 6-foot-9 Vanderbilt played in 14 games as a freshman, averaging 5.9 points and 7.9 boards in just 17 minutes a night. But issues with his ability to shoot from the perimeter and a lower left leg that has proven to be extremely problematic, there is a good chance that Vanderbilt would go undrafted should he decide to turn pro.