Michigan Ohio St Basketball

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.

NEW PODCAST: Indiana, Cal, troublesome trends and a weekend preview

California's Jabari Bird celebrates a score against Oregon in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
AP Photo/Ben Margot
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The gang is back together again for another episode of the NBCSports.com College Basketball Talk Podcast, with Rob Dauster hosting and Raphielle Johnson and Scott Phillips joining him. Today’s episode touched on big wins picked up Thursday night by California and Indiana, discussing the performances of those teams and also touching on their prospects down the line.

Also discussed were the recent performances of Iowa State, Providence and Texas A&M (which are you more worried about?), and some of the top games on this weekend’s schedule headlined by Kansas visiting Oklahoma. And if you’re a fan of seafood, you may take umbrage with some of Rob’s comments at the beginning of the podcast.

As always, you can subscribe to the podcast on either iTunes or Stitcher, and there’s also a link to listen to this podcast below. Thanks for listening.

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: Key contests in Atlantic 10, Pac-12

Arizona head coach Sean Miller talks with guard Allonzo Trier (11) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Northwestern State in Tucson, Ariz., Sunday, Nov. 22, 2015. (Mamta Popat/Arizona Daily Star via AP)  ALL LOCAL TELEVISION OUT; PAC-12 OUT; MANDATORY CREDIT; GREEN VALLEY NEWS OUT
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GAME OF THE NIGHT: UCLA at No. 17 Arizona, 9:00 p.m.
The Bruins and Wildcats have already met once this season, with a Bryce Alford three-pointer giving UCLA an 87-84 win. But UCLA has continued to struggle with consistency since then, and the chance at payback should serve as a motivating factor for Arizona. Sean Miller’s team welcomed back Allonzo Trier in Saturday’s win at Washington, and in forward Ryan Anderson they have one of the conference’s best players. The “rivalry” aspect of this game should make it a good one, as UCLA tends to show up for big-name opponents, but it could also be another major blow to the Bruins’ fleeting hopes of getting back to the NCAA tournament.

THIS ONE’S GOOD, TOO: No. 19 Dayton at Rhode Island, 7:00 p.m.
The Rams have struggled with injuries all season, most recently dealing with Jarvis Garrett’s broken jaw and Kuran Iverson’s concussion. Garrett’s back on the floor, playing with a face mask that appears to be inspired by Hannibal Lecter, and it’s that team toughness that makes URI a serious threat to first-place Dayton at the Ryan Center (Iverson’s been medically cleared but remains a game-time decision). Charles Cooke has been outstanding for the Flyers this season, and Dayton’s depth makes them a tough matchup for any team much less one as banged up as URI.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR

1. As a result of No. 11 Oregon’s loss at Cal last night, No. 23 USC finds itself tied in the loss column atop the Pac-12 standings heading into their game at Arizona State (8:00 p.m.). Outside of keeping opponents off the offensive glass the Sun Devils have had issues defensively in conference play, and with the Trojans’ many scoring options led by guards Jordan McLaughlin and Julian Jacobs this will be a tough matchup for the home team.

2. Monmouth looks to maintain its lead atop the MAAC standings, as they visit Rider (9:00 p.m.). The Broncs haven’t been the conference contender many envisioned them being when the season began but they’re still dangerous, with players such as guard Teddy Okereafor capable of giving opponents fits. Justin Robinson, who’s been excellent at the point all season long, leads the way for a Monmouth team that still has hopes of earning an at-large bid should they need it.

3. Having lost to Yale last weekend, Columbia’s in a position where they need to hold serve ahead of the rematch in New York City March 5. That makes games like tonight’s against Penn (7:00 p.m.) that much more important for Kyle Smith’s Lions, who have done a good job of turning opponents over in league play (22.8 TO%). Penn’s had issues taking care of the basketball, and that combined with Columbia’s tandem of Maodo Lo and Alex Rosenberg could prove to be the difference at Levien Gym.

4. Two teams looking to make a push in the MAC East race meet in Buffalo, as the Bulls host Ohio (7:00 p.m.). Nate Oats’ team had its four-game win streak snapped by Toledo, with the Rockets beating Buffalo by two Wednesday night. They’ll look to rebound with a defense that has been the best in the MAC in conference play (tops in defensive efficiency and effective field goal percentage), but they have to take care of the basketball in order to do so.

5. Grand Canyon, which can’t play in the NCAA tournament as they’re still in the Division I transition process, looks to remain a game behind New Mexico State in the WAC standings. Dan Majerle’s Antelopes visit Seattle (10:00 p.m.), which handed GCU its first conference loss 13 days ago. GCU shot just 6-for-23 from three in that game, which they led by ten late in the first half. If Seattle is to win they’ll need to slow down the tandem of sophomore Joshua Braun and senior Grandy Glaze, who combine to average 31.5 points and 13.6 rebounds per game.