Title game loss shouldn’t cloud Trey Burke’s amazing college career


ATLANTA — Trey Burke is leaving Atlanta with plenty of hardware.

The uber-talented Michigan point guard won every Player of the Year award that you can win, receiving trophy after trophy, posing for photo-opp after photo-opp, going from press conference to press conference to talk about the season that he had over the last five months.

And what a season it was.

Burke averaged 18.5 points and 6.8 assists. His efficiency numbers were superb despite being responsible for handling the ball on seemingly every one of Michigan’s possessions over the course of the season. He was the focal point of every defensive scheme, somehow managing to remain the engine that made the nation’s best offense run. He led a team full of freshmen to the national title game.

But there was only one piece of hardware that Burke wanted. And thanks to an 82-76 loss to Louisville in the national title game, he didn’t get it.

“It hurts a lot,” Burke said after the game. “Just to play for the national championship, it hurts so much.”

“You know we fought.”

Yes, we do.

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Burke, quite literally, left it all on the floor. He drove headlong into the lane and got knocked to the floor twice in the final minutes, spending every second he could milking the landing as he tried to catch his wind. After one possession where he went one-on-one against Russ Smith, trying to once again single-handedly lead Michigan back from a seemingly insurmountable deficit, he drew a foul and stepped to the line, grabbing his shorts as his chest heaved.

“There was never a point in time where we gave up,” he said.

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In all likelihood, this was the last time that we’ll ever see Burke suit up for the Wolverines. He was all-but out the door last season before a change of heart led him back to campus. You don’t think that, after a season where he’s the consensus Player of the Year and almost a lock for the lottery, he’ll be declaring for the draft?

And there-in lies the shame of it all.

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 Not that Burke is going pro. I think he’s making the right decision. As the saying goes, strike while the iron is hot, and Burke’s iron will never be hotter than it is right now.

The shame is that the lasting memory that most will have of Burke is with his head down, slowing walking off the court as the Cardinals celebrate, streamers and confetti bursting from the Georgia Dome rafters.

Not me.

The memory of Trey Burke that will always stick with me will be late in the first half, after Spike Albrecht had just beaten Louisville off of a high-ball screen, getting to the rim and finishing a layup over Gorgui Dieng for his 17th point of the game. That shot put the Wolverines up 33-21, their biggest lead of the game. Albrecht, the seldom-used back-up point guard who finished with a grand total of 24 points in all of Big Ten play, came sprinting back to the sideline, as fired up as you’ll ever see a basketball player.

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The first person to meet him, sprinting out to midcourt, was Burke.

Because when Burke was recruited to Michigan, he was that guy. He was supposed to be the seldom-used back-up to Darius Morris, the guy that paid his dues for a couple of years before getting a shot to beat out the next John Beilein point guard recruit for a chance at a starting job. But Morris went pro earlier than expected, and Burke was suddenly forced into the starting job, where he thrived.

Where he grew into an all-Big Ten talent as a freshman and the Player of the Year and a lottery pick as a sophomore, all as a kid that had originally committed to Penn State.

That ascent into greatness is how I’ll remember Trey Burke.

And I hope you will as well.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Battle 4 Atlantis title proves Syracuse will be relevant this season

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Michael Gbinije scored 20 points and Trevor Cooney added 15 points and five assists as Syracuse left the Bahamas with a title, beating No. 25 Texas A&M 74-67 in the finals of the Battle 4 Atlantis.

I guess it’s time to start taking the Orange seriously.

There’s a lot to like about this group. Gbinije and Cooney are both fifth-year seniors that not only understand how to operate at the top of the 2-3 zone that Jim Boeheim runs, but they both have developed into versatile offensive weapons. Cooney was known as nothing more than a jump-shooter when he arrived up north, but he’s now averaging 3.5 assists on the season.

And Gbinije?

He has been one of the best players in the country through the first two weeks of the season. Through six games, he’s averaged 19.7 points, 4.2 assists, 3.0 boards and 2.8 steals while shooting 51.3 percent from beyond the arc.

Freshman Malachi Richardson, who had 16 points in the win over A&M, has scored double-figures in all six games this season while another freshman, Tyler Lydon, was against terrific on Friday, finishing with 13 points and eight boards. He’s now shooting 58.8 percent from beyond the arc this season.

And that’s where this team is going to do the majority of their damage this season.

Through six games, they’re shooting 41.1 percent from beyond the arc. In the three wins in the Bahamas, the Orange knocked were 34-for-73 from beyond the arc, a 46.5 percent clip. The question isn’t whether or not that rate can continue — four of the six players that saw action on Friday are dangerous three-point shooters while the other two, Tyler Roberson  and DaJuan Coleman, aren’t going to be shooting threes — but what happens on the nights where the threes aren’t going down.

There are going to be nights where they shoot 5-for-25 instead of 11-for-25. Will they have enough firepower then? Will their defense be good enough? Will guys like Roberson and Coleman be able to supply a scoring punch? Will Cooney, Gbinije and Richardson attack the paint instead of settling for jumpers?

Because at the very least, these three games in the Bahamas have proven that the Orange are going to be relevant this season, even in the loaded ACC. Whether that means they’re going to push for a top four finish or simply end the year as a tournament team remains to be seen, but this much is clear: Jim Boeheim has himself a squad Upstate.

No. 10 Gonzaga outlasts No. 18 UConn despite late offensive struggles

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No. 10 Gonzaga survived a furious rally from No. 18 UConn to win the third place game in the Battle 4 Atlantis, 73-70.

The Zags were up by as much as 21 points early in the second half, leading 48-27, but UConn slowly chipped away at the lead. Kyle Wiltjer led four players in double-figures with 17 points while Eric McClellan added 15 points, making a number of key plays in the second half when it looked like the Zags were in danger of giving away the lead.

As good as Gonzaga looked in the first 22 minutes of this game — and they looked really, really good — the second half exposed the concerns that many had with this group entering the season. Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr., who both shot around 40 percent from beyond the arc and started for four years, graduated, meaning that Gonzaga’s point guard situation is, more or less, Josh Perkins.

Perkins was terrific in the second half of a loss to Texas A&M on Thursday. He played 17 foul-plagued minutes against UConn. When UConn’s defense ratcheted up during the second half, Gonzaga struggled finding a way to consistently get good shots on the offensive end. Part of that was due to ineffective point guard play and part of it was a result of not really having anyone on the offensive end that can create a look on their own. As skilled as Wiltjer is, his impact can be limited when pick-and-pop actions aren’t working and he’s getting doubled in the post.

Perkins is talented, but this is essentially his first season of college basketball; he was a medical redshirt last season after breaking his jaw last November. There are going to be ups-and-downs, and that’s problematic on a team where he is essentially the only point guard on the roster.

The good news?

Gonzaga beat a good UConn team on a day when their best players struggled in crunch-time. It was McClellan and Kyle Dranginis that made the big plays down the stretch, not the big names on the Gonzaga roster.