Point guard Trey Burke has helped push Michigan toward its best start in 24 seasons, and his play could prove even more essential in the next game.
The third-ranked Wolverines will try to improve to 9-0 and give coach John Beilein his 100th victory at the school during Saturday’s visit from Arkansas and its high-pressure defense.
Burke, Michigan’s leading scorer at 17.0 points per game, directs an offense that is among the nation’s best at taking care of the ball with an average of 9.9 turnovers. In Tuesday’s 73-41 rout of visiting Western Michigan, he had 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting, seven assists and no turnovers. Michigan gave the ball away 10 times during its fourth win by 30 or more points.
“The last two games at (home), he’s had 18 assists and no turnovers. That’s pretty impressive,” Beilein said. “He’s got an edge of toughness and he’s got a pace to him. He understands when we need him to do more, and when we need him just to find all these good shooters we have around him, or pick-and-roll guys.”
The Wolverines are on the verge of winning nine straight to open a season for the first time since going 11-0 in 1988-89 en route to the program’s only national title.
Michigan, though, will have to face an Arkansas squad that’s forcing 18.3 turnovers per game.
The then-No. 20 Wolverines only committed 10 miscues last January in Fayetteville, but the Razorbacks pulled out a 66-64 victory, one of their three wins over ranked teams during coach Mike Anderson’s first season.
Michigan fell behind by as many as 20 points in the first half of that game before giving itself a chance to win. Burke missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer but finished with a solid all-around game: 13 points, seven rebounds and six assists.
“They’re going to really force the tempo. All I know is it was a blur the first few minutes last season,” Beilein said. “We’re going to simulate the best we can then hopefully we can adjust as well as we did last year, just not get down early.”
Beilein is seeking to become the seventh Wolverines coach to reach the century mark. Anderson, meanwhile, is trying to help his team put a three-game losing streak even further in the past.
The Razorback (4-3) snapped that skid Tuesday as BJ Young’s late shot helped deliver an 81-78 win over Oklahoma. Young, who averages a team-high 19.5 points, finished with a season-low 10 on 4-of-12 shooting while Marshawn Powell scored a career-high 33.
Powell missed last season’s matchup with Michigan due to a season-ending knee injury while Young had a team-best 15 points off the bench.
“(Visiting Michigan is) a tremendous challenge,” Anderson said. “Hopefully, it will give us an opportunity to get better. That’s going to be the big key. Can we play with patience and poise and play the game the right way?”
Michigan and Arkansas have split their six all-time matchups, but the Wolverines won the only other meeting in Ann Arbor on Dec. 6, 1980.