Former Wolverine and current college basketball analyst Tim McCormick numbers himself among those who believe Trey Burke's return to Michigan next season makes the Wolverines Big Ten title contenders again. McCormick talked about Burke and other issues in this exclusive interview.
On Burke's decision: "It's tremendous news. To put it in perspective that all Michigan fans will appreciate, it's the equivalent of Denard Robinson deciding, 'I'm going to come back and play another year at Michigan.'
"If Denard would have left, everyone would have been extremely distraught, and they would have been searching for answers as to who would replace their star quarterback. The same questions would have been asked and fans would have been worried about them if Trey Burke wouldn't have come back.
"He's their quarterback. He's their most valuable player. Without him, the season could have still been successful, but now you have championship expectations."
On the difference in expectations with Burke, as opposed to without: "With Burke, they're one, two or three in the Big Ten. Without him, fifth, maybe sixth, depending on who the replacement would have been.
"I also put Michigan State up there, in addition to Indiana. The Spartans will be a formidable opponent as well. But Burke makes all the difference in the world.
"He's the catalyst offensively, the best playmaker. When Tim Hardaway, Jr., was at his best was when Burke was causing defenses to react to him. He got Jordan Morgan his offense. Without a point guard, your team is really a rudderless ship."
On whether Burke tried to do too much in the final games of the season: "I've heard the argument that he was trying to do too much. I think differently. I believe that for a freshman that is still a little bit undersized and can add a great deal of strength to improve his game, he was fatigued. It's a long season. A high school team will play 25 games, if you go deep into your state tournament.
"The toll of carrying a team against Big Ten defenses that are strong and physical was tough. The scouting report was very specific when you played Michigan: stop Trey Burke, you beat Michigan."
On what areas he expects significant improvement from Burke next year: "He will be more consistent and better at getting by his defenders and into the middle of the paint, to be able to distribute and score. He'll be a little bit stronger finisher. He'll have a better command of John Beilein's offense.
"I would expect John Beilein to make adjustments, too, to give him more freedom to create. John Beilein runs a very structured offense, and Trey Burke had a very good command of it as a freshman. I think he had a better command of it as a freshman than Darius Morris ever had as a sophomore.
"I would expect that Beilein would give him a little bit more latitude."
On Evan Smotrycz's departure: "It's very disappointing, because I think he was ready for a breakout season. But his departure is not as impactful as the potential if Trey Burke left. The way they will address it is, they'll have pretty good depth at the three spot.
"I would expect that Hardaway can play some four at times. They'll go with the three-guard lineup. There will be times they'll go with two power players, among [Mitch] McGary, [Jon] Horford and Morgan. They may minimize what the power forward spot does.
"Hardaway and [Glenn] Robinson [III] will play Smotrycz's positions some."
On whether he thinks Hardaway could play any shooting guard: "Yeah, I do. In many ways, I call John Beilein's offense a positionless offense. You can say, 'Well, he's 6-4, he's penciled in at the two spot.' I don't agree with that.
"Zack Novak was too small to play power forward, but he certainly thrived
he actually played better when he was at the four. You put your best five players out there, you pass and cut, and you really should know each of the positions if you're going to have that kind of an offense.
"I just think they minimize the name of what position you are. You go out there and you play with your teammates."
On which incoming freshman might have the greatest impact right away: "The immediate need is for Robinson to play. With the loss of three key contributors, Michigan will be deep at the power positions, because they already have Horford and Morgan. McGary is ready to play immediately, and I think Robinson is ready to play immediately.
"Both of those players, I would think, have equal opportunity to crack the lineup."
On the addition of point guard Spike Albrecht for next year: "I don't know a lot about him, but the same question would have to be asked if he didn't sign. Last year if Trey Burke would have gone down with an injury, Stu Douglass is certainly capable of stepping in. If Burke went down this year, the potential for disaster could have happened on the court."
On Michigan's prospects for a stronger tournament finish next year: "I think the reason Ohio beat Michigan is that they were really a good team. We saw how well they did against North Carolina. We maybe took them a little bit for granted. Trey Burke was very tired.
"The slogan I would stamp on this year is, 'Ready For The Next Step.' They're growing and they're getting better. To grow from last season means going into this season expecting to be a Big Ten champ, and to be able to get to the Sweet 16 and beyond."
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