Tangled among a heap of one-loss Big Ten teams, one co-holder of second place sticks out above the rest, if only slightly.
Michigan can look up in the standings and spot one team (Wisconsin), look laterally and spot several more, but if the Big 10 pecking order was recalibrated to account for team strength, not records, the Wolverines would stand alone at the top. Thursday’s stylish rout of ninth-ranked Minnesota at the Barn was further confirmation.
Evident in the team’s 83-75 win over the Golden Gophers at Williams Arena—and in so many other scoring blitzes this season—is that the Wolverines run the nation’s most efficient offense. Endowed with college basketball’s best backcourt, a trove of high-quality shooters and first-class athletes at all five positions, Michigan boasts a versatile offensive outfit that can pepper opponents from deep, beat them off the dribble or play above the rim. Pick your poison.
The Maize and Blue’s athleticism on the perimeter is a cut above its competition. Only Minnesota, the team Michigan conveniently just undressed, would even dare challenge the Wolverines’ high-flying acrobatics. Indiana is it as far as teams that can hold their own with John Beilein’s bunch in a 3-point shootout. And no team, not even Minnesota or Indiana, can simulate the combination of athleticism and outside shooting that differentiates, albeit slightly, Michigan from the field.
Stability at point guard is the grand trump card in the Big Ten. The Golden Gophers attack is spearheaded by the team’s leading scorer and 3-point shooter, Andre Hollins, far from a pure floor general in every sense of the term. The Hoosiers, meanwhile, turn to a true freshman, a 19-year-old oftentimes overwhelmed by the uptick in size and speed of the college game. Ohio State can name-drop Aaron Craft, but what Craft offers in defensive prowess and ball security he takes away with his acute inability to score. Wisconsin has made do thus far without Josh Gasser, who went down for the season in October with a torn ACL. Whether the by-committee approach to the sport’s most critical position can continue to work, however, remains unclear.
The Wolverines? They just happen to wield college basketball’s best point guard, a game-changing sophomore who owns a scintillating assist-to-turnover ratio just a few ticks less than 4:1. By every measure—statistical or empirical—Trey Burke is the golden standard of point guards in today’s game. He’s a deadly 3-point shooter (40-percent on the season), unflappable at the free throw line (80-percent) and is a wizard at getting to the rim. On top of making life easier for the other four starters on the floor with his uncanny passing, he’s also shooting 51-percent from the floor himself, an emblem of efficiency for a 6-foot point guard.