Michigan State v Michigan

This year’s Player of the Year race is not wide-open. It’s Trey Burke.


Mike Rothstein of ESPN.com released his latest installment of the Player of the Year straw poll, and once again, Michigan point guard Trey Burke sits at the top.

He received 30 first-place votes and was named on 49 of the 64 ballots, which was the most out of anyone.

But here’s where I get confused: what are those other 15 people thinking? Because as of today — and with all due respect to Otto Porter, Victor Oladipo, Doug McDermott and Kelly Olynyk — I do not think that this vote is really all that close.

Trey Burke is the National Player of the Year.

Let’s start with the ‘eye test’. Burke is averaging 19.1 points, 6.9 assists and just 1.9 turnovers with shooting splits of 49.2/38.4/79.4 for a top ten team. He’s doing so as the primary ball-handler and playmaker on a team chock-full of jump-shooters and big men who can’t do much more than roll after setting a screen and crash the offensive glass. He’s the leader on a team that is just as young as Kentucky’s national title-winning squad was last season.

That’s impressive, right?

Now consider this: his offensive rating (127.6) leads the country, according to Kenpom.com, for players that use at least 28% of their team’s possessions (he’s at 28.6%) while they’re on the floor. Burke is on the floor for more than 35 minutes per game. His numbers are, essentially, on par with what Jordan Taylor did in 2011 — Taylor had a 127.6 offensive rating while using 27.4% of the Badgers possession while logging similar minutes for a team that had more veterans but wasn’t as good as this year’s Michigan team — a season that was lauded as the second-best in the efficiency era.

I know, Kelly Olynyk and Doug McDermott have been almost as efficient as Burke while using just as many possessions and playing just as many minutes. But Olynyk is a 7-footer playing in the WCC, not a 6-footer playing in the Big Ten. And McDermott recently watched was his Creighton struggled through six losses in 11 games, which was nearly enough to drop them from the top 15 to the bubble.

Oh, and I know the stat-guys hate bringing up “clutchness” or “late-game execution”, but Burke has been the guy making the plays for Michigan down the stretch all season long. At the end of the day, winning games is what matters, and Burke has ensured that the Wolverines have won some games they may not have deserved to win.

Trey Burke is the most valuable player in the country playing on a top ten team that can win a share of the Big Ten regular season title on Sunday, and he just so happens to be having a historically significant season in terms of efficiency.

Why is there a debate again?

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Syracuse upsets No. 18 UConn as Tyler Lydon stars again

St Bonaventure Syracuse Basketball
AP Photo/Heather Ainsworth
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Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney combined for 34 points as Syracuse overcame an early 10-point deficit to knock off No. 18 UConn in the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis, 79-76.

The talking point at the end of this game is probably going to end up being UConn’s decision not to foul Syracuse with 36 seconds left on the clock. Trevor Cooney dribbled out the clock and, with six seconds left, missed a 35-foot prayer, the offensive rebound getting corralled by Tyler Roberson, sealing the win.

But that’s not the real story here.

That would be Tyler Lydon, who suddenly looks like he may end up being the difference maker for this Syracuse team.

If you don’t know the name, I don’t blame you. Lydon was a low-end top 100 recruit that had been committed to the Orange for a long time. He’s not exactly a game-changing prospect, but he’s a perfect fit for Syracuse. At 6-foot-9, Lydon has the length to be a shot-blocker in the middle of the 2-3 zone — he entered Thursday averaging 3.3 blocks — but his biggest skill is his ability to shoot the ball from beyond the arc. When he plays the middle of that zone, when he is essentially the five for the Orange, they become incredibly difficult to matchup with defensively.

The question is whether or not he can consistently be that guy on the defensive end of the floor. Against UConn, Lydon had 16 points and 12 boards. Against Charlotte, he finished with 18 points, eight boards and six blocks. But neither the Huskies nor the 49ers have a big front line that crashes the offensive glass.

Lydon is great at using his length to make shots in the lane difficult, but at (a generous) 205 pounds, he may run into trouble against bigger, stronger front court players.

The perfect test?

Texas A&M, who the Orange will play in the title game on Friday.

USC holds on to beat No. 20 Wichita State

Andy Enfield
Associated Press
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With guards Fred VanVleet and Landry Shamet both sidelined due to injury, No. 20 Wichita State arrived at the Advocare Invitational shorthanded. But even with that being the case the highly successful Shockers represented quite the opportunity for USC, and Thursday afternoon the Trojans took advantage.

Despite turning the ball over 23 times Andy Enfield’s team found a way to win, hanging on to beat the Shockers by the final score of 72-69. Freshman forward Bennie Boatwright, a tough matchup for most teams as a 6-foot-10 stretch forward who can score from the perimeter, shot 5-for-9 from three and scored a team-high (and career-high) 22 points.

The tandem of he and junior Nikola Jovanovic, who added 14 points and 11 rebounds, outplayed the Wichita State front court on a day in which the Shockers needed greater contributions from those players. Add in 15 points and four assists from Jordan McLaughlin, ten points off the bench from Katin Reinhardt and a 12-for-23 afternoon from three, and the Trojans were able to do enough to make up for their high turnover count and Wichita State’s 24 points off of turnovers.

Given the absence of VanVleet and Shamet there’s no reason to panic regarding Wichita State. Ron Baker, who was exhausted by the end of the game due to the heavy load he was asked to shoulder, scored a game-high 25 points and the play of freshman Markis McDuffie was a positive to build on.

McDuffie, who entered Thursday’s game without a made field goal in his first two appearances as a Shocker, shot 5-for-9 from the field and contributed 14 points and three rebounds off the bench. With their current perimeter rotation being what it is McDuffie will have opportunities to contribute, and the Shockers will need him to take advantage as they await the returns of VanVleet and Shamet (and the addition of Conner Frankamp).

Doing so will not only help Wichita State in the short term but in the long-term as well, thus giving Gregg Marshall another option to call upon on his bench.

Thursday’s outcome, even with the desire to see more from Anton Grady (eight points, seven rebounds), says more about USC at this point in time than Wichita State. Enfield’s first two seasons at the helm were about amassing the talent needed to compete in the Pac-12 while also gaining valuable (and at times painful) experience. In year three the Trojans hope to take a step forward within the conference, and wins like this one provide evidence of the program’s growth.