Gophers Likely to Be Challenged By Burke

Trey Burke

(AP) — Trey Burke and Michigan can put aside for now the idea of being ranked No. 1 in the country. An undefeated start to the season? That's over too after the Wolverines sputtered last weekend at Ohio State. Now, the focus is on a Big Ten schedule that will test Burke and his teammates plenty more over the next few weeks. No. 5 Michigan plays at No. 9 Minnesota on Thursday night.

"The level of intensity that we had in practice (Tuesday) was very high," said Burke, Michigan's star point guard.

The Wolverines (16-1, 3-1) were uncharacteristically sloppy at the start of Sunday's game at Ohio State, falling behind by 21 points in the first half before rallying to force a tense finish. The Buckeyes eventually won 56-53.

The road won't get any easier. Minnesota (15-2, 3-1) leads the Big Ten in offensive rebounds, and the Golden Gophers will challenge a Michigan team that has done a terrific job limiting second chances this season. The Wolverines have been preparing for another physical game around the basket.

Michigan will need to keep its composure in another tough environment. The Wolverines beat Minnesota twice last season, but one game was in Ann Arbor and the other was at the Big Ten tournament, when Burke scored 30 points on 11-of-14 shooting to lead Michigan to an overtime win.

"We could have lost both games very easily last year. They were both last-second games," coach John Beilein said. "It's another great opportunity for us to grow. ... It is all about the process, and the journey and the process are what leads you to the end."

Minnesota is coming off an 88-81 loss to Indiana over the weekend. After four games, Wisconsin is the only team with an unbeaten Big Ten record.

Gophers coach Tubby Smith, though, has a talented, versatile starting group that believes it can play with any team in the nation. Smith, who has drawn some criticism for a substitution pattern that often looked more like a hockey philosophy, has been using his most talented players heavily this season.

In the first four Big Ten games, guard Julian Welch is the only reserve playing more than 10 minutes a game. Three starters are averaging at least 30 minutes, with point guard Andre Hollins' 28.5 the lowest number.

"As you get into conference play, there's going to be tighter games and better athletes," Smith said Wednesday. "So you want your better athletes in the game at the same time. I don't have somebody measuring. This isn't Little League where everyone is going to play so many minutes."

Gophers starters have accounted for 87 percent of the team's scoring, with Hollins leading the way at 19.0 points per game in the conference. The biggest producer off the bench has been Oto Osenieks at just 2.5 points per game.

So far, the imbalance hasn't been much of an issue. The Gophers won at Illinois last week even though they didn't get a single point from their reserves.

Hollins, motivated for another matchup with Burke, may not be thinking about getting much help Thursday. He had 21 points in the Big Ten tournament matchup with Michigan last season.

"I look forward to going against great players," Hollins said. "I don't get too caught up in it, but at the same time it's like I have something to prove at the same time. It's going to make me better in the long run so I just take the challenge to go out and compete."

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