When Michigan nearly stunned Duke in the second round of last year's NCAA tournament, the buzz over the young Wolverines immediately began to swell, as they were set to return nearly everyone this season.
Not too long after that, when sophomore point guard Darius Morris declared for the NBA draft, then ultimately — and somewhat surprisingly — opted to remain in the draft pool, that train lost a bit of steam.
After losing Morris, who was a lynchpin for the fledgling Wolverines last year from his point guard post, that was the biggest area of concern for John Beilein's club entering the 2011-12 campaign.
Four games in, with the fourth being Monday's 73-61 upset of No. 8 Memphis at the Maui Invitational, the fact that 15th-ranked Michigan lost Morris is quickly being forgotten.
Enter Trey Burke.
The 6-foot-1 freshman from rival territory in Columbus, Ohio, got off to a rough start in Michigan's season-opening victory over Ferris State, but has consistently blossomed since then. Against the Tigers, Burke didn't have 'wow' numbers (14 points, 4 assists, 2 rebounds), but he was a steadying influence in the half-court set against Memphis's athletic, aggressive perimeter defenders. He kept the patient Wolverines from getting sped up and drawn into an up-and-down AAU-style of a game against the Tigers, and in turn helped them land a key signature non-conference win.
Since his uninspiring debut (1-7 from the floor, 0-4 from deep, 3 points, no assists in 18 minutes), Burke has taken off. In Michigan's last three games, he's averaged 13.7 points and 3.7 assists.
Last season, before becoming a second-round pick of the Los Angeles Lakers, Morris averaged 15 points, 6.7 assists and 4 rebounds a game as a do-it-all type for Beilein. Had he come back, Michigan would have likely had the makings of a legitimate Final Four contender.
What Burke is doing so far is allowing the veterans around him to remain in their comfort zones — Most notably Tim Hardaway Jr.
While his father was a legendary lead guard, Hardaway Jr. is more of a pure scorer than a floor general. Between Burke showing he can handle the rigors of running Michigan's half-court offense and also still having senior Stu Douglass there to chip in some at the lead spot, Hardaway Jr. is remaining free to do what he does best.
Burke was ranked by Rivals.com as the No. 142 overall prospect and No. 26 point guard in last season's senior class, and was expected to get a shot at contributing right away. He's taken that opportunity and made the most of it.
Michigan is now playing with house money during the rest of its trip to Maui. Many pegged Memphis as a strong dark horse candidate to emerge from this year's loaded field with three wins. Instead, now, Michigan will get a shot on Tuesday at the Duke-Tennessee winner, with another chance to pad its résumé before the holidays and another golden opportunity for Burke to grow as the program's point guard of the future.