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.

Tennessee center Tamari Key out for season with blood clots

Saul Young/News Sentinel/USA TODAY NETWORK
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee senior center Tamari Key will miss the rest of this season because of blood clots in her lungs, coach Kellie Harper said.

Doctors found the issue during testing. Key is expected to make a full recovery after treatment from University of Tennessee doctors, Harper said, adding that her sole concern is Key getting the medical care she needs to heal and return to full strength.

Key missed the first game of her career in a win Tuesday night over Chattanooga after playing her first 99.

“This is much bigger than basketball. We are so grateful that this medical condition was caught,” Harper said in a statement. “Our entire program will be right beside Tamari during this process and welcomes prayers and positive thoughts from Lady Vol Nation and beyond.”

The Lady Vols opened the season ranked fifth but currently are 5-5.

The 6-foot-6 Key from Cary, North Carolina, currently is Tennessee’s third-leading scorer averaging 8.4 points a game and averaged 4.2 rebounds per game. She started all 34 games as the Lady Vols reached their first Sweet 16 since 2016 last season and set the school record with 119 blocked shots.

Key had 18 blocks this season and 295 for her career, five away from becoming the eighth woman to reach that mark in Southeastern Conference history.

No. 7 Tennessee beats Eastern Kentucky, win streak hits 7

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Saul Young/USA TODAY NETWORK
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tyreke Key scored 10 of the first 12 points of the second half and finished with 17, and No. 7 Tennessee overcame a sluggish first half and beat Eastern Kentucky 84-49 on Wednesday night.

“Tyreke is handling the ball now,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “That’s all new to him. He keeps getting better.”

The Volunteers (8-1) struggled in the first half but still built an 11-point lead over Eastern Kentucky (4-5) on the way to their seventh straight victory.

Key led Tennessee in scoring before leaving with a cramp in his right leg with 6:15 left in the game. Julian Phillips had 16 points and 10 rebounds, and Zakai Zeigler and Uros Plavsic added 13 points apiece. Olivier Nkamhoua scored 10.

“I’m still settling in,” said Key, a transfer from Indiana State who didn’t play last year while recovering from an injury. “This is a new role. I’m taking steps every day and keep learning.”

Eastern Kentucky, which came into the game averaging 83.5 points, was held well below that total due to 17% (6 for 35) shooting from long range and 22% (15 for 68) overall. Leland Walker led the Colonels with 13 points.

It was the seventh time this season Tennessee has held its opponent to 50 or fewer points.

“(Tennessee) is the best defensive team in the country,” Eastern Kentucky coach A.W. Hamilton said. “I think they’re the best team in the country.”

At one point in the first half, Tennessee was shooting 20% and still leading by 10 points. The teams combined to shoot 4 of 32 from 3-point range in the first 20 minutes. The Vols, who shot 24% (8 of 34), led 32-21 at the break.

“If we can’t make shots, can you find a way to win the game?” Barnes said. “When the shot’s not going in, find a way to play. The first thing we talk about is our defense.”

Tennessee shot 41 free throws. Phillips, a true freshman, was 7 of 10.

“(Phillips) has learned the pace of the game,” Barnes said. “I’m not sure there’s been a more effective freshman in the country (this season).”

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Since its early season slip against Colorado, Tennessee has had a steady ascent in the rankings. The Vols’ next two games – neutral site (Brooklyn) against No, 13 Maryland (Dec. 11) and at No. 10 Arizona (Dec. 17) – will go a long way toward justifying the No. 7 ranking.

BIG PICTURE

Eastern Kentucky: The Colonels’ run-and-gun style of offense had them averaging 83.5 points through their first eight games. They ran into a defensive buzz saw in Tennessee, which was yielding just over 51 points.

Tennessee: Santiago Vescovi sat out his second straight game with a shoulder problem. He is expected to be ready to play Sunday against Maryland. . The Vols have won seven in a row since their loss to Colorado.

UP NEXT

Eastern Kentucky: The Colonels host Boyce College on Saturday.

Tennessee: Take on No. 13 Maryland on Sunday at the Hall of Fame Invitational in New York.

Hoggard scores career-high 23, Michigan State snaps 2-game skid

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Matthew OHaren/USA TODAY Sports
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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A.J. Hoggard scored a career-high 23 points, Joey Hauser had 12 points and 15 rebounds and Michigan State beat Penn State 67-58 on Wednesday night to snap a two-game losing streak.

Michigan State (6-4, 1-1 Big Ten) avoided going .500 or worse after 10 games for the first time in 18 seasons.

Hoggard blocked an open layup with less than a minute to play and Hauser grabbed the rebound before being fouled and making two free throws at the other end for a 66-58 lead.

Hoggard, Hauser and Tyson Walker combined for 31 of Michigan State’s 32 second-half points.

The Michigan State defense allowed only one made field goal in the final five minutes. Penn State was just 1 of 9 from 3-point range in the second half after 7 of 18 before halftime.

Walker scored 10 of his 14 points in the second half for Michigan State. Hoggard, who entered third in the conference in assists at 6.3, had six rebounds, two assists and one key block.

Hoggard gave Michigan State 35-33 lead – its first since 4-2 – after back-to-back three-point plays with 59.3 seconds left in the first half. It was tied at 35-all at the break.

Seth Lundy scored 16 points and Jalen Pickett had 13 points, 17 rebounds and eight assists for Penn State (6-3, 0-1)

Michigan State hosts Brown on Saturday. Penn State, which hadn’t played since a double-overtime loss to Clemson on Nov. 29, plays at No. 17 Illinois on Saturday.

No. 7 Virginia Tech posts 9th straight win, beats Boston College 73-58

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BOSTON — Reigning Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year Elizabeth Kitley had 22 points and 12 rebounds, and Cayla King scored 16 on Wednesday night to lead No. 7 Virginia Tech to a 73-58 victory over Boston College, the Hokies’ ninth straight win.

Taylor Soule, one of two BC transfers on the roster for Virginia Tech (9-0, 1-0 ACC), added nine points and five rebounds. Soule scored more than 1,500 points and grabbed almost 700 rebounds in four seasons at BC, earning All-ACC honors three times.

Andrea Daley scored 15 points and Maria Gakdeng scored 14 for BC (7-4, 0-1). They each grabbed six rebounds.

Virginia Tech scored 17 of the game’s first 21 points and led by as many as 19 in the third quarter before BC cut the deficit to 10 in the fourth. Leading 64-54 with under three minutes left and the shot clock expiring, Kayana Traylor hit a 3-pointer for the Hokies.

Gakdeng missed two free throws for BC, and then Kitley scored from inside to make it a 15-point game.

Clara Ford, who also played four years in Chestnut Hill, pitched in 2 points in 2 minutes against her former team.

BIG PICTURE

At No. 7, the Hokies have the highest ranking in the program’s history. With the victory over BC, a 10th straight win against North Carolina-Asheville on Sunday would leave Virginia Tech in position to move up even higher should a top five team falter.

UP NEXT

Virginia Tech: Hosts North Carolina-Asheville on Sunday.

Boston College: Hosts Albany on Saturday.

Michigan’s Jaelin Llewellyn out for season with knee injury

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan point guard Jaelin Llewellyn is out for the rest of the season with an injured left knee and is expected to have surgery next month.

Wolverines coach Juwan Howard made the announcement three days after Llewellyn was hurt in a loss to Kentucky in London.

Llewellyn transferred to Michigan from Princeton last spring and that seemed to lead to Frankie Collins transferring to Arizona State after a solid freshman season for the Wolverines.

Llewellyn averaged seven points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists in eight games at Michigan. He was an All-Ivy League player last season and averaged nearly 16 points over three seasons at Princeton.