ANN ARBOR -- A year ago, Trey Burke might have lacked the confidence and patience to weather a scoreless first half in the NCAA Tournament.
He might have gone into his shell, he said Saturday. Now, the sophomore point guard has the University of Michigan going to its first Final Four in 20 years. The (30-7) meet Syracuse on Saturday in Atlanta.
“It’s definitely been crazy,” Burke said.
There’s little doubt that Burke will be the focal point for each team and for CBS’ coverage while leading the Michigan offense and being the prime target for Florida lockdown guard Scottie Wilbekin.
Already the odds-on favorite for major player of the year awards, Burke enhanced his credentials by scoring 23 points and adding 10 assists in a dramatic regional semifinal overtime win Friday over Kansas.
All of Burke’s points came in the second half and overtime. At halftime, he was 0-of-4 shooting, and Michigan trailed by six points.
“I never got down on myself, and I tried to stay confident,” Burke said. “I knew if I came out for the second half, moping or doubting myself, it would go south fast. A couple of times last year, I came out doubting myself. That’s never good.”
His 28-foot jump shot to lift Michigan into a tie at the end of regulation resulted in more than 200 text messages overnight. The shot was pure driveway fantasy, one Burke had imagined countless times.
“A lot,” Burke said. “It wasn’t from that deep, though.”
Burke remains focused on the NCAA grind now, not his NBA decision. Michigan coach John Beilein said, “It was the wrong time and the wrong place to ask that question,” when queried about Burke’s career path. That said, Burke nearly turned pro last season but decided to stay in school one more year.
Others are freer with their opinions.
A quick review of on-line mock drafts show Burke is projected to go anywhere from sixth overall to 17th, with several in the early teens. That’s exactly where the Mavericks, in a season-long search for a point guard, could find themselves. Then again, after Burke’s second-half performance against Kansas, he could easily blow up and be gone long before the Mavericks choose.
Florida coach Billy Donovan, the last guard to go for 20 points and 10 assists in a Sweet 16 game before Burke, compared him to Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving.
“Just watching him, not only is he playing the game, but he’s also measuring the game, how are you guarding, what’s open, what can he do,” Donovan said.
At 6-feet, Burke isn’t as tall as Irving (6-3). Other guards may be more physical or more consistent from the perimeter. But no one on a talent-laden Michigan roster is complaining.
Burke himself credits film work for his progression this season.
“A lot of times I would play so fast, I wouldn’t see certain things,” Burke said. “I wouldn’t even give the defense time to react. The slower I play … when I actually see my options, the better I am.”
Burke has been tested by the Big Ten’s torture chamber of outstanding defenders: Ohio State’s Aaron Craft and Indiana’s Victor Oladipo.
Now he faces Wilbekin, who has frustrated top SEC guards like Missouri’s Phil Pressey. Another Florida guard, Mike Rosario, provided a scouting report on Burke.
“Just make him feel uncomfortable,” Rosario said.
Visit The Dallas Morning News at www.dallasnews.com