Sorry to interrupt your day of madness with more football right now, but since the Spring rosters were recently published it's time for that annual MGo-Tradition of way overanalyzing weights and numbers and stuff...which Brian just informed me he's working on too [ED: this was written on Monday] after I got most of this written so figure this is Part II to that. By request the Depth Chart by Class received a major overhaul. Clicking on a name will bring up their MGoRecruiting profiles, hovering over a name gives you the current height, weight, and the player he'd most resemble if everything works out.
Before we get to the new faces, let's pick through that video. Non-bullets:
Offensive Line-Up: Miller seems to be the #1 center. The first clip shows him snapping the ball to Gardner, who hands off to Justice Hayes. Later while Lewan is talking we see two snaps (both of them pulls to Schofield's side) where the 1st team goes and the second team steps up in order behind them. Screen grab:
Starters at the moment appear to be Schofield-Burzynski-Miller-Braden-Lewan. Second team is Gunderson-Kalis-Glasgow-Bars-Mateus. Magnuson (at RT), Ben Pliska (at C) and Bosch (at LG) are the guys walking up behind them. Chris Bryant appears to not be doing these things yet; I don't know where LTT is, nor preferred walk-on Dan Gibbs. I'm not so worried about Kalis since the coaches still love him and it's early enough in spring that you'd expect a freshman to be behind last year's first backup. That Braden's practicing with the ones ahead of the 5-star, and he's the guy pulling, seem to bode very nice things for him—like potential star things. I am worried that there may not be enough guys in the picture above to make two teams for a real spring game.
Thomas Gordon interview. He says this year's defense is much faster. Let's qualify that; here's our current expectations for new starters vs. the departures:
- Kovacs to winner of safety free-for-all: Thomas Gordon appears to be sliding down to strong safety but the other spot could be any of Jarrod Wilson, Josh Furman, Marvin Robinson, Dymonte Thomas, Jeremy Clark, Allen Gant or Delano Hill, and if anything can be gleaned from Hoke's comments that list is a pick 'em through Thomas right now. Unless it's Clark or Gant the safeties are gaining a lot of speed, though that's overrated next to Kovac's intuitiveness.
- Demens/Morgan/Ross/Bolden to Morgan/Ross/Bolden. Ross and Bolden are the faster dudes, though apparent speed at linebacker is more instinctual than athletic. We're trading Demens's underrated coverage and size for a sizeable jump in response time, which should work out to better run defense offsetting the loss in pass pro.
- Roh/Campbell to Wormley/Heitzman/Black. But don't totally discount Godin, who's the guy in the video providing the requisite attack on a sled. I've got Wormley hype in my shopping cart and need just one more positive review to buy. It may seem weird that the coaches are still saying the 290-lb. redshirt freshman is an SDE while Jibreel Black, holding steady at 276, is the presumed DT, but remember they did the same with Heininger at 3T and RVB at 5T much of 2011. They're pretty interchangeable.
- JT Floyd to Blake Countess. An upgrade.
A more accurate description would be the further you get from the line the greater the intensity of a general shift from greater experience to greater talent. It's hard to say if the net will be a better defense until we see what kind of sophomore leap we got out of the Class of 2011.
Welcome, early enrollees and your numbers:
|Name||No.||Pos.||Ht.||Wt. (R/S/ESPN)||# Previously worn by|
|Kyle Bosch||65||OL||6'5||307 (285/280/311)||Patrick Omameh, Leo Henige|
|Jake Butt||88||TE||6'6||231 (230/220/231)||Jim Mandich, Mark Campbell|
|Taco Charlton||33||DE||6'6||265 (240/235/249)||Mike Taylor (LB), Carl Russ|
|Ross Douglas||7||DB||5'10||176 (180/180/181)||Alfie Burch, Mark Jacoby|
|Dymonte Thomas||25||DB||6'2||187 (175/180/180)||Ernest Shazor|
|Logan Tuley-Tillman||72||OL||6'7||285 (321/295/314)||Dan Dierdorf, Jumbo Elliott|
The one that stands out obviously is Taco Charlton, whose camp measurements had him at linebacker size while his spring weight puts him already well within the bell curve for starting WDEs. Woodley and Jibreel Black are the only rush ends in recent memory to arrive over 260 but they're a lot shorter guys. The closer comparison is Glen Steele, who was 6'5/255 as a freshman in '93, redshirted, and got into the rotation in '94 at about 270. Before we were thinking Taco would be either redshirted or deployed as a kind of situational Shawn Crable while the coaches waited for him to grow into a regular down player, but if he's large enough already to stand up to OTs, that puts him squarely in competition with Beyer/Clark/Ojemudia.
The other guy significantly off from the services' numbers is LTT, who's down 36 lbs. from what Rivals said. We were rooting for this! Scouts said he put on some bad weight last summer and he's a project recruit who like Long/Lewan before him needs a redshirt to learn technique no matter what the OT depth chart looks like right now.
Dymonte Thomas is also 1 or 2 inches taller than the sites pegged him.
Somebody's an early '70s fan. That 33 for Taco stands out; I'm sure he'll have an explanation that isn't "Let me give you a history lesson." But if you blinked at a non-back wearing that number, you could use a little refresher on early '70s linebackers. Michael Taylor (NNMT) survived Bo's weeding out process to become an All-American inside linebacker, tallying 132 tackles his senior year. The number was immediately inherited by Carl Russ (right), who walked on to the '71 team and starred on the '73 and '74 defenses, two of Bo's best. Both 33s had short NFL careers.
As for Rick Leach's digit going to a defensive back, considering all the recruiting profiles of 6'2" corners you'll be seeing here this summer you might as well read up now on Alfie Burch, the early '90s prototype for big boy boundary cornerbacks who can stand up to blocks on the edge and neutralize tall/rangy receivers. Course Ross Douglas isn't that—he's more of a nickel type. In the '70s it was worn by Mark Jacoby, Bo's "Wolf" who played kind of a Shawn Crable role from what's technically the same field position (SAM) that the nickel corner plays.
There is also a new crop of walk-ons. Hello new walk-ons!
|Name||No.||Pos.||Ht.||Wt.||Elig.||Hometown (High School)|
|Brad Anlauf||49||WR||6'4||187||RS FR||Hinsdale, Ill. (Hinsdale Central)|
|Shaun Austin||15||QB||6'1||204||RS FR||Plymouth, MI (Plymouth)|
|Clark Grace||46||TE||6'3||228||RS FR||Tecumseh, Ontario (L'essor)|
|Bobby Henderson||51||RB||5'11||226||RS FR||Hopewell Junction, NY (John Jay)|
|Michael Jocz||95||TE||6'4||213||RS FR||Novi, Mich. (Novi)|
|Dan Liesman||66||LB||6'2||220||RS FR||Lansing, MI (Lansing Catholic)|
|AJ Pearson||36||DB||6'0||199||RS FR||Johns Creek, Ga. (Northview)|
Alex Mitropoulos-Rundus was on the roster last year as David. Internet search pulls up an interview with a really girlie site called Michigan: Her Campus where he's asked questions about what he looks for in a girl.
"I don't ever really think about a list of things that girls must have, I'm more of the type of guy that just knows when it's right or not. We all have that gut feeling."
Gals don't even know when they've been Sam Webb'd.
Position Changes: Only ones of note are Wormley is listed as a "DL" (was a "DE" last year) and Matthew Godin was a "DT", is now a "DE". Safeties Allen Gant and Jeremy Clark are back to the nebulous "DB" which means nothing. Interestingly redshirt junior Anthony Capatina, listed as a kicker last year, is now a "DB". Matt Wile is listed as a "PK" and preferred walk-on Kenny Allen is a "K/P" so Hagerup remains the only designated punter on the roster. Read into that what you will.
Non-Returning Walk-ons: You've heard of some of them but from last year's roster we're missing receivers Steve Wilson and Devon Micou, tight ends Nate Allspach and Chris Eddins, safeties Charlie Zeller and Andrew Offerdahl, and cornerback Chris Maye. Walk-ons who didn't return for a 5th year are onetime rotation Seth Broekhuizen, injured Nate Brink, and long snapper Curt Graman.
Number changes: None so far that I've seen.
Weight Gain 2013: Brian covered on Tuesday.
Or maybe "fail." Minnesota lost money selling beer.
The University of Minnesota lost almost $16,000 last year on alcohol sales at football games, despite selling more than $900,000 worth of beer and wine.
Proving that there's nothing too goddamn ridiculous to assert in public in a laughable attempt to save face, Minnesota responds!
University officials say it was never the intent that the school turn a profit on alcohol sales.
Jim Delany has taught you well, Minnesota.
Do you like pictures of oily men not wearing very much? Have I got some instagram for you, ladies and men hopeful Frank Clark is going to be superbad this year. Before and after winter conditioning, here's Devin Gardner and Frank Clark:
ANN ARBOR (AP) – FEMALE BLOG READERSHIP DROPS 96.5% AS COLD SHOWERS SKYROCKET. MEN GENERALLY HOPE FOR MORE PASS RUSH, WITH SCATTERED EXCEPTIONS.
I now believe Clark is at 277, sure.
Is oiling an extra benefit? Get Rosenberg on the case, yo.
I certainly hope this prediction is worthless since you seem to have something more pressing to do. Man with no more knowledge of basketball than random Rome caller picks Michigan to Elite Eight. Happens to be president, so people note it. Watch for upcoming Graham Couch column on how Obama is racist!
Obama chose Indiana, Ohio State and Louisville as his other Final Four teams [to go with Florida].
"I think (Aaron) Craft's defense is unbelievable," Obama said. "That makes a big difference."
OBAMA IS A RACIST
Grahm Graghm Graham Couch
Has anyone notice how racist Obama is?
Welcome to the jungle!
I kid, kid.
It's just that for a black man his skin tone isn't very dark and he seems to think Aaron Craft is good at basketball.
I think Aaron Craft isn't, because he's white.
That makes Obama racist.
I like pudding.
Graham Couch can be reached at [email protected].
Old lady is a nut. Old Lady, please leave man-mountain alone.
"I had an old lady who saw me at Kroger with my dad, (she asked) 'Are you Taylor, that No. 77 fella?'" said Lewan, mimicking her voice. "I was like, 'Uh, yeah, I'm Taylor.'
'She goes, 'You're an idiot! Why would you do that? You're dumb.'
"I was like, 'I appreciate it. Thank you. Go blue.' I didn't know what to say."
That's what you get for going to Kroger, man. Mandatory scan-your-card grocery stores FTL, amirite?
Aw man but we're just a four seed. Jeff Goodman runs down the list of teams with the most NBA talent and starts in Ann Arbor:
Trey Burke (G, 6-0, 190): The sophomore is a National Player of the Year candidate and also could be the first point guard taken in the June draft. He can shoot it, distribute, and will be ideal at the next level in pick-and-roll situations. Most NBA executives have him going somewhere among the lottery selections.
Glenn Robinson III (F, 6-6, 210): The Big Dog's son still needs another year in college, but he's intriguing. He's long and athletic and has shown spurts in which he's looked phenomenal. He still needs to shoot it more consistently from the perimeter and also play hard all the time, but he'd likely be a first-rounder if he left after this season.
Tim Hardaway Jr. (G, 6-6, 205): Another ex-NBA player's kid, Hardaway Jr. has improved his decision-making. He has nice length for a wing player, but still needs to improve his ability to put the ball on the floor. Likely pegged somewhere in the second round.
Stauskas and McGary also mentioned. But hey, at least we're a four-seed instead of an eight like #2 NC State. Mark Gottfried may be a terrible coach, but I remember thinking that about Thad Matta a few years ago and… uh… no. I will reserve judgment this time around.
This may be why. Even when talking about dangerous mid-majors in the tourney, Luke Winn manages to rope you in with interesting Michigan-related stats. Like this one:
Michigan isn't just the least experienced team in the tourney, they're the least by a mile.
SDSU is included at #8. Winn says watch out for this business:
The Wolters Special is a left-hand hesitation dribble, followed by a drive left and a righty floater/runner.
That's alarmingly Burke-like.
Aw man but they're an eight seed. A tip of the hat to Robert Morris despite their fans' failure to chant "N-E-C" last night after they knocked off the NIT's top seed Kentucky in a first round game at the Colonial's 3500-seat arena. (Rupp has NCAA games this weekend so Kentucky did not bid to host.) Even with the missed opportunity, Robert Morris set the irritating meme about "perception" harming the NCAA fates of SEC bubble teams on fire.
What meme? This meme. Cuonzo Martin two days ago:
“I wish I knew,” he said. “It’s unfortunate. I would say a lack of respect more than anything. When you have a second-place team at this level (Kentucky and Alabama finished second in the SEC and will join UT in the NIT), it’s almost like a mid-major mentality in this league. When your second-place team doesn’t get in the NCAA tournament — this is a BCS league, it’s one of the best league’s [sic] in the country — that just shouldn’t happen.” …
“When you look at Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky,” he added, “those are NCAA tournament teams; they’re just not playing in the NCAA tournament.”
If the SEC had actually beaten anybody in the nonconference maybe we could talk here. Florida got a three-seed thanks in part to wins over Wisconsin, Marquette, and I guess Middle Tennessee. Missouri got in comfortably with wins over VCU and Illinois. The entire rest of the league had three (three) wins over teams that got an at-large bid to the tourney, those Arkansas over Oklahoma in the midst of a 1-4 slide against BCS teams (and at home, obviously), Alabama over Villanova on a neutral floor, and Tennessee beating Wichita State at home.
USA Today rounds up the internet aftermath, with obligatory wikipedia vandalism:
oh god someone get rid of that apostrophe
The ACC is also bitching about a lack of respect, Rodney Dangerfield-style. If that's the case, the ACC is suffering a lack of respect from every-damn-body on the internet. Of 120(!) brackets tracked by the Bracket Matrix, all of seven had Virginia in them.
It is not that hard to predict this stuff, as Andy Glockner points out in excellent article. It's no secret how to game the RPI: don't lose at home, play some road games, and if you have to play a really bad team make sure they're not D-I. Glockner points out an imbalance in the RPI's home-road adjustment I hadn't thought about:
Almost a decade ago, the NCAA made an adjustment to the RPI formula to try to incentivize teams to play more road games. Of course, they screwed up the math such that the new formula rewards “not losing at home” more than it does “winning on the road,” at least for what its primary purpose is: sorting teams that may make the NCAAs.
The formula adjustment for Factor I (your winning percentage) now credits you with 0.6 wins for a home win and 1.4 wins for a road victory. Likewise, you get 1.4 home losses for an actual home defeat and 0.6 losses for an away loss. That sounds like a reasonable plan until you realize that the target demographic — NCAA tournament-caliber teams — are all way above .500. As such, when you split two games (.500 overall), you want that impact to be as small as possible on your overall adjusted record, as determined by the RPI formula.
If you win at home and lose the away game, you would get an extra 0.6-0.6 added into your overall adjusted record. If you do it the other way, you get 1.4-1.4 added to your totals. If you are well above .500 overall, like all these NCAA caliber teams are, adding the 1.4-1.4 into the record drags you down more than the 0.6-0.6 does. In simple terms, losing home games (for 1.4 losses in your adjusted Factor I) is the worst thing you can do, and it’s way more harmful than adding 1.4 wins to the ledger is helpful.
He also mentions that the committee did to some extent see through the Mountain West's conference-wide Game of RPIs*, dropping New Mexico and their on-paper case for a one seed down to a three and giving the rest of the league seeds that portend a second-round exit.
Yeah, it is perception that the ACC is down and the SEC is worse than the Mountain West. An accurate one.
*[CRAPPY MATH IS COMING]
“This is the beginning,” said Gene Kimmelman, a former senior antitrust official at the Justice Department. “If the conflict between cable distributors and content owners persists and prices keep rising, there will be enormous market pressure to begin unbundling offerings, give consumers more choices and, from my perspective, ultimately let consumers control what they buy and how much they pay.”
Nobody! Except a lot of people. [HT: Get The Picture.]
Etc.: But the kids love it! In other news, kids enjoy Laffy Taffy. Wetzel on O'Bannon and Delany. How did it take this long for someone to beat up Tim Doyle? No offense, Tim, it's just that you shouldn't have called Kendall Gill "that wasp that lays eggs in spiders and then the baby wasps eat the spider from the inside out" for ten years.
Of course Michigan State fans are buying up SDSU apparel. This is why you are Sparty. Delany-inspired "feelings collage." "An Open Letter From Jefferson Davis To Jim Delany." Don't recruit short fat guys.
WEEKS OF BREATHING IN A PAPER BAG HAVE PASSED BEFORE OUR PROTAGONIST FINALLY RAISES HIS BLOODSHOT EYES FROM THE TABLE WHERE HIS FOREHEAD HAS POUNDED A DISTURBINGLY DEEP GROOVE OVER THESE LAST, TERRIBLE HOURS. A RAGGED BREATH, and then…
CAM GORDON INNNER MONOLOGUE: YALL READY FOR THIS
IT COULD BE WORSE. Hello Cam Gordon, you senior you. You guy who has been playing SAM or its rough equivalent since Rich Rodriguez executed the last of his ill-fated in-season defensive rearrangements. You four-star athlete kind of without a position previously, now a strapping 233 pounds who saw plenty of time last year. You fellow who was getting a level of spring praise that might mean something even before this incident:
"Jake [Ryan] and Cam [Gordon] -- Cam’s had a tremendous winter. It will be exciting and fun to see the different things that we might be able to do with both of them on the field. Jake is one of those guys with his hand on the ground can rush the passer sometimes. It gives us some things that we can do.”
Can Jake and Cam be on the field at the same time?
You're going to be okay, you Cam Gordon senior you.
IT COULD NOT BE WORSE. aaaaaah not Jake Ryan, destroyer of all things.
What with the 16.5 TFLs and the 4.5 sacks and four forced fumbles and being the leading tackler in both solo and assist terms and also playing pass-rush DE quite a bit on a team that badly needs pass rush.
Damn you, cruel fate!
I GUESS I HAVE TO TALK ABOUT SOMEONE MOVING TO SAM NOW. Less than ideal, this, but there was always a hole behind Gordon and Ryan in the SAM pecking order that got worse when it turned out that none of the four guys from last year's freshman class seemed big enough to hack that spot. Brennen Beyer started there, was moved to WDE last year to platoon with Ojemudia and Clark, and added a couple pounds only as Clark hulked up to 277. Gordon now has no backup save true freshman Mike McCray, and WDE has three or four plausible bodies in the aforementioned three and early-enrolling, 265-pound Taco Charlton.
Beyer or Ojemudia, likely Beyer, is headed to the other side of the line.
WHAT ABOUT NICKEL PASS RUSH. Well… Hopefully Clark can make a leap. Even in that case, Michigan lifted the NT and moved the SAM down to that spot. Gordon has experience doing that; he has not produced. Ojemudia may step into that role, or Charlton. Freshman edge terror in the nickel package is a spot at which freshman errors are not that lethal if said freshman is also turning in the proverbial Plays.
COULD THE DUDE RETURN? It was about this time last year that Branden Dawson tore his ACL and he returned in time for Michigan State's basketball season. Will Heininger tore his ACL on March 30th and dressed for six games the following season, but did not play until November 20th, the week before OSU. That season started in November; that sport does not feature guys trying to cut-block you except when you play Wisconsin. ACLs are no longer yearlong injuries… but this one is cutting it too close to count on the guy at all.
If you can get him back, you might as well play him. IIRC his redshirt was not injury related. You may as well put him on the field since it'll take another catastrophic injury for him to get a sixth year.
BALLS. balls balls balls
Jake Ryan is out indefinitely with a torn ACL suffered in Tuesday's practice.
- Toussaint is in pads. Walking around and stuff. Not doing everything yet but progress looks good.
- Thomas Gordon is practicing at both safety positions so they can try the other guys out at both positions as well.
- Blake Countess's redshirt application has not been filed yet, but it will be.
- Frank Clark is staying at WDE despite gaining a lot of weight. There are no plans to move him to strongside.
“It was good to be the first day in pads. I thought we had a lot of enthusiasm like the physicalness that they played with -- really for the last three days, because even with the no-pads they got after each other pretty good. We have a lot of competition, have a lot of young guys that have to go out and compete. And then some of the older guys who have played, obviously, and they have to compete also. Everybody understands that, so it’s been good. I think the leadership’s good. I like the way they’ve handled themselves and handled the team. Like I said before, that stems from the winter into this phase.”
At my childhood home in Ann Arbor, a framed photo is propped up on the bookshelf in my brother’s old room. It shows my brother, Jack, and me with a close family friend in the cheap seats of The Palace of Auburn Hills. It was the spring of 1995, and I was seven years old. I couldn’t look more excited to be there, the smile on my face borderline cartoonish.
My father, a Detroit native and Michigan grad, had moved the family from San Francisco to Ann Arbor less than two years prior. In that time, he’d introduced me to Michigan football and Red Wings hockey; my brother and I alternated fall Saturdays with him at the Big House, and early summer evenings were reserved for watching playoff hockey in the living room. Dad was never a big basketball guy, though, so I had to look elsewhere to find an NBA rooting interest.
My father’s business partner lived in Ann Arbor at the time. Gail was a Boston native and, naturally, a Celtics fan—“The Celtics will rise again,” she’d like to say—and she also acted as a second mother to Jack and me. When my parents wanted a break from raising the two of us, we’d spend the night at Gail’s apartment. That was where she introduced us to basketball; one of my most vivid childhood memories is sitting on her bed, eating popcorn and watching J.R. Rider win the ’94 Slam Dunk Contest with his between-the-legs “East Bay Funk” dunk.
Gail also introduced us to Michael Jordan, and like most everyone of my generation, I couldn’t get enough of watching him play. He’d retired to play baseball, of course, but we’d pop in Bulls championship VHS tapes and marvel at the greatest. When I got home, I’d go to the backyard and play on the Little Tykes hoop set up on our brick patio, throwing down one-handed—and in my mind, buzzer-beating—dunks with my tongue out, just like Mike. Though I also watched the Pistons, rooted for them, collected their sports cards, I never pretended to be Grant Hill or Joe Dumars. If you’re not the best in your dreams, why have dreams?
On March 18th, 1995, I was in the midst of one of these backyard fantasy sessions. My mother rarely interrupted these except to call me in for dinner. This time, though, she walked out of the back door bearing an important message.
This was how, less than a month later, I’d be photographed at the home of the Detroit Pistons wearing a Bulls hat and Michael Jordan Birmingham Barons shirt. Jack wore a similar outfit. Gail, the Celtics fan, donned a Bulls sweatshirt. Some athletes transcend sports fandom.
My lasting memory of that night is seeing Jordan, wearing #45 and playing his way into shape, commanding the full attention of every spectator. He may not have been at the peak of his game, but the best player on the court was obvious to everyone in the building. From the cheap seats, my eyes rarely left Jordan, awestruck by his effortless greatness.
The box score shows that MJ scored 29 points that night, going 12/23 from the field while adding nine rebounds and nine assists; a great game, sure, but not one that would leave a lifelong impression on a budding sports fanatic if not for the nature by which it was achieved—with complete ease and confidence, Jordan moved through the game like he was starring in a play for which only he knew the script.
The box score also shows that Scottie Pippen had the night off, Allen Houston and Terry Mills combined to hit 10/13 three-pointers, and Joe Dumars dished out 13 assists. I remember none of these things, just watching Michael Jordan lead the Bulls to victory and going home happy.
Last Thursday, I walked past Michael Jordan’s statue and into Gate 3 ½ of the United Center, though a winding hallway adorned with photos of other Bulls greats, going by Jordan’s old locker room before finding a spot in the media workroom. Michigan’s opener in the Big Ten Tournament was the first road basketball game I’ve covered this season, so I immediately checked the seating chart—I get stressed in unfamiliar settings and wanted to know exactly where I needed to be when the game started.
As it turned out, press row at the United Center is courtside—unlike the Crisler Center, where the media is seated in the upper bowl—and I had a spot near the end of the second row. I’ve watched a lot of basketball, but this would be a new perspective. When covering games, I try to act like I’ve been there before, maintain a certain level of professional decorum, but when I got to my seat I couldn’t help but pull out my phone and snap a picture of the view:
As a blogger/fan working among full-time beat reporters, covering this year’s Michigan team has presented a challenge. The Wolverines have not just won in a way I’ve never experienced, they’ve done so while churning out the highlights; every instinct I have is to leap out of my seat and yell after each alley-oop, twisting layup, step-back three, or go-ahead jumper. This, of course, is not acceptable behavior in the working press area. I’ve been forced to perfect the subtle lean back in my seat, eyebrows arched, mouth slightly agape, reserving a slight shake of the head for the best of plays.
No player has elicited that response more than Trey Burke, for obvious reasons. On a team as talented as Michigan, his skill stands head-and-shoulders above the rest, even if he’s usually the smallest guy on the floor. While the others wear their emotions on their sleeve and struggle to consistently play their role, Burke wears the same expression as he goes about his business—calm yet intense, and utterly composed at all times.
He looks this way while making opponents defend air with his hesitation crossover, or throwing a pinpoint lob, or doing his best Rajon Rondo impression, or doing his best Dirk Nowitzki impression, or sneaking up to block Aaron Craft from behind, or picking Keith Appling clean at halfcourt and throwing down the winning dunk.
The Look was there for the second half of Thursday’s game. Michigan came out of halftime with just a two-point lead on the lowly Nittany Lions; Burke had started slowly, just 3/9 from the field, and it felt like the rest of the team was waiting for him to take charge.
The Wolverines were now shooting on the basket directly in front of me, giving me an ideal view of the Trey Burke Experience. Three minutes into the half, Burke inbounded the ball to Tim Hardaway Jr., took the return feed, and calmly drilled a corner three, standing no more than six feet in front of me. I turned into that wide-eyed kid again, and would stay that way for the remainder of the game, as Burke poured in 13 second-half points and the Wolverines pulled away, eventually winning by 17.
One moment in particular left me shaking my head in disbelief while I suppressed every urge to go into full-on fan mode. One of Burke’s go-to moves off the pick and roll is to stop his drive on a dime at the free-throw line and rise for a quick, unguardable pull-up jumper. With just under 13 minutes left, Burke took a Jordan Morgan screen and made his way into the lane, briefly checking over his shoulder to locate his defender, PSU’s D.J. Newbill, who was trailing him after fighting over Morgan’s pick.
In the moment that Burke peered over his shoulder, Penn State center Sasa Borovnjak—who’d been cautiously ceding ground—stepped up hard. At 6’9”, Borovnjak gave Burke, listed at a generous 6’0”, a sudden and tall obstacle. Normally, Burke likes to shoot that pull-up jumper like Chauncey Billups shoots his free throws—on a line, drilling that spot on the back of the rim that great shooters always seem to find. This time, however, that trajectory was no longer an option.
It’s barely perceptible on film, but what Burke did next is what separates him from the rest of the country—and every Michigan player I’ve had the opportunity to watch play. With an ever-so-subtle double-clutch, Burke shifted his right hand an inch or so to the underside of the basketball, then released a high-arcing shot that barely eluded Borovnjak’s outstretched fingers. The ball hit nothing but twine.
Burke momentarily held his shooting pose, as if to show the world that it's really as simple as this. For him, at least, it is.
The crowd reacted as they had for most of Burke’s baskets: with polite applause. This is what we’ve come to expect from him. We're jaded by a 20-year-old sophomore.
Burke would hit two strikingly similar shots later in the half, each recalling the one before but noticeably different in execution. I’ve included his highlights from the game in the above video. What strikes me the most isn’t Burke’s skill in shooting, passing, dribbling, or even on-ball defense, a part of his game that’s seemingly come out of nowhere in the latter half of the season. It’s Gus Johnson—that Gus Johnson—barely changing the inflection of his voice as he relays Burke’s latest masterpiece to the television audience.
The next afternoon, Burke couldn’t will Michigan to a victory over Wisconsin, though not for lack of trying. With the Wolverines down ten points with just over five minutes left, Burke almost single-handedly pulled the team back within four, recording a steal, two free throws on the ensuing foul, two more baskets, and even a block in the next 2 ½ minutes—his only miss in that span led directly to a Mitch McGary putback. The comeback stalled there as the defense faltered, but in an otherwise dreadful game Burke once again reminded everyone why he should be the national player of the year.
Burke put up 19 points and seven assists in that game, almost exactly matching his season average for both categories. This season, the question has ceased to be whether he’ll produce—he’s scored 15 points or more in every Big Ten game—but how hard he’d have to work to get there and if he’d have sufficient help along way. The Badgers made it a struggle—Burke took 22 shots, making only eight—and even then Burke’s misses were just barely off the mark. Left with no margin for error, it felt like Burke was mere inches away from dragging his team to victory anyway.
Much like the peripheral players faded from that night at Auburn Hills, eventually my memories of the Wisconsin loss, the late-season swoon, the crappy perimeter defense, they’ll all be lost to time, or at least need to be jarred into clarity by a Google search. What will stick is Trey Burke, expressionless, pulling up for that right-hand floater, each one nearly identical yet perceptibly different.
Incidentally, Michigan returns to the scene of my dalliance with sports bigamy on Thursday. I will not be there, having intentionally missed the deadline to apply for a credential. I want to experience Burke’s (likely) final games as a Wolverine as my seven-year-old self did Michael Jordan’s comeback: free to wear my team’s colors, leap out of my seat, and holler when a rare talent pulls off moves most of us save for backyard dreams.