ATLANTA — Trey Burke was phenomenal for a three minute stretch against Kansas in the Sweet 16.
He scored eight points in the final minute and a half of regulation, including a 30 foot step-back three that tied the game and forced overtime. Then Burke hit the first two shots of the overtime period for the Wolverines, giving Michigan a lead that they wouldn’t relinquish.
All told, he scored 13 points in three minutes of game-time, which was enough to finish off Michigan’s comeback win and send them on to the Elite 8. Without it, the Wolverines would have made the Final Four and they wouldn’t be playing for the National Title on Monday night. That much should be obvious.
But what isn’t quite as obvious is that outside of those three minutes, Burke hasn’t played up to those National Player of the Year honors he’s been collecting during this tournament. He was 2-12 from the floor and had just six points against South Dakota State. He had 18 points and seven assists against VCU, but he also had seven of Michigan’s 12 turnovers and was the only member of the Wolverines that appeared to struggle with ‘Havoc’. Outside of those three minutes, Burke was 4-16 from the floor against Kansas. He was 5-16 from the floor against Florida in the Elite 8.
And believe it or not, his worst game of the tournament came in the Final Four. Burke was 1-8 from the field. He had just seven points and handed out just four assists.
For the tournament, Burke is shooting just 32.4% from the field and 25.8% from three. And Louisville isn’t exactly the kind of team that will help a point guard bust out of a slump.
“We understand that guys are going to have off-nights,” Burke said. It’s helped that guys like Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary have played some of their best basketball of the season, or that Nike Stauskas, Spike Albrecht and Caris Lavert have shown the ability to hit big shots in big moments throughout the tournament. The easiest way to relieve pressure on a superstar that isn’t playing his best is to have his teammates step up.
But here’s the thing about Burke — his shots might not have been falling, but he hasn’t exactly played bad basketball. He has 35 assists in the five games and just 15 turnovers. He’s rebounded the ball. He’s done enough that John Beilein got a bit feisty today when someone mentioned Burke having an off-night.
“I bristled a little bit last night when people say that Trey Burke had an off game,” Beilein said. “Trey Burke did so many things behind the scenes in that game that we don’t win without Trey Burke, don’t come close. What you all have to understand, it’s more than just that box score, how many points.”
“If you understand all the nuances of the game, it’s a huge difference of whether we win or lose, some of the intangibles that happen in a game that you never see in a stat.”
That’s fair, but perhaps the most valuable aspect of Burke’s play during the tournament has come on the defensive end of the floor. Michael Carter-Williams shot 1-6 from the field last night, finishing with more turnovers (five) than points and assists combined (four). Burke played a major role in that, just like he played a major role in holding Nate Wolters to 3-14 shooting in the tournament’s opening round.
There’s more to Burke’s arsenal than simply being a weapon on the offensive end, but that’s what he’s the best at. Michigan can survive without him shooting the ball well, but they aren’t going to be at their best, and if they want to beat Louisville on Monday night, they are going to have to be at their best.
That means that Burke is going to have to shoot the ball better than he did on Saturday night and better than he has over the last three weeks if the Wolverines want to win.
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.