Trey Burke And The Art Of Standing In A Corner
Trey Burke had a virtuoso performance against West Virginia on Saturday, scoring 27 points on 16 shots with eight assists, five rebounds, three steals, and no turnovers. Already the consensus choice for best point guard in the country, he's legitimately in the conversation for national player of the year honors; excise a ten-point, four-assist "dud" against Kansas State, and he's tallied either 16+ points or 7+ assists in every game this season.
John Beilein's offense is complicated, a highly-structured symphony of cuts and screens that relies largely on off-ball movement to create open looks. That is, unless it's time for Trey Burke to score. Last year's offense centered around the high ball screen to get Burke looks at the basket; while that's still a big part of the offense, Michigan is increasingly looking to isolate Burke and let him create.
The Wolverines did this in a variety of ways against West Virginia. Let's take a look at a few of them.
Michigan showed this setup a few times on Saturday. Instead of having two guards up top, Burke is alone with the ball; the 2 and the 3 (Hardaway and Stauskas) set up in the corner; the 4 and the 5 (Robinson and Morgan) form a stack at the free-throw line. This alignment leaves plenty of room on both sides of the court for Burke to maneuver. On this play, Burke doesn't even need help from a screen—he simply sets up his man with a hesitation move and drives hard to the right, netting a short bank:
The help is late-arriving because the threat of an open Stauskas or Hardaway (either in the corner or cutting to the basket) is, well, threatening. Having both bigs at the free-throw line or above draws the defense's shot-blocking threats away from the basket. A defense could try to counter this look by playing zone, but that brings forth a new set of problems, especially against a sharp-shooting team like Michigan.
Of course, for this set to be effective, a team needs a point guard who can create off the dribble and finish. This is not a problem for Michigan, obviously.
[Hit THE JUMP for more Trey Burke driving into big blue circles.]
At the end of the first half, John Beilein called a timeout to draw up a play for the final shot. He had Robinson come up from the high post and set a high ball screen for Burke. Then, when WVU hedged hard, he had Burke reset while the rest of the team GTFO'd:
Two crossovers and a sick hesitation dribble later, Michigan had an 11-point halftime lead.
Here's that double-stack again, this time with Burke attacking from an angle:
On this particular play, it's apparent that the players away from the ball are beginning to run a play—Caris LeVert cuts to the basket and I believe starts to head to the corner before he realizes Burke is driving—but Burke has the liberty to attack the open space when he turns the corner on his defender.
Of course, when a defense focuses too much on Burke, it opens up room for him to dish to a teammate for an easy bucket. Here's another play where Burke probes the defense before Michigan has begun to run a play—Stauskas is actually still getting to his spot when Burke drives—and when Morgan's defender jumps out to help, Burke deftly slips a pass through, leading to an uncontested dunk:
The key to all of this is Michigan's spacing at the beginning of each set, as well as the multiplicity of Beilein's offense—the Wolverines run any number of plays from each of the above looks, and opponents can't devote their defense entirely to stopping Burke's dribble-drive when he's surrounded by so much talent.
The other key, of course, is Trey Burke being really good at basketball. But you knew that already.