vs. Iowa - Not Just A Shooter.
We already knew it before this game. Nik Stauskas had been throwing down "game, blouses" dunks for the better part of a year and was already well on his way to turning in a Big Ten Player of the Year season when this game happened, but something about the Iowa game sticks out when looking at the broad spectrum of Stauskas's development over his two year career. I mean, there are hoots and hollers and tweets about "Not Just A Shooter", and then there are legitimate jaw-dropping drive and kicks.
I mean, good god. That was just silly. That was also one of three very gorgeous drives to the basket that ended in points either through a bucket or an assist. Couple this with the handful of pull up, NBA-range three pointers that Stauskas effortlessly knocked down, and you've got yourself quite a conundrum. How do you stop this? Even the answer provided by Indiana a few games after this ultimately crumbles after a few adjustments.
And even with Stauskas slicing through the defense and dropping five assists to go with his 26 points, he still wasn't the best facilitator on the team in the game. That would be Spike Albrecht, who calmly stepped into the starting lineup for the sick Derrick Walton Jr. and put up seven points, seven assists, four steals and three rebounds.
/thinks about two more years of watching Spike play for Michigan
@ Michigan State - One of the things I enjoyed most about watching Michigan basketball this year were the flashes of killer instinct that showed up, when one or two plays in a row late in a game swung things in Michigan's favor after a few tense minutes. A constant building of pressure until boom, there is Nik Stauskas with a step back three because of course, and out comes the bated breath.
Michigan did that many times this year, but I don't think I have ever been as exhilarated at a team's ability to swing the momentum of a game so quickly and decisively. Oh wait, that's right, this was the same thing Trey Burke did all the time last year. How spoiled are we getting?
With the game tied at 60 the following sequence happens:
- Jon Horford block, pushed up court for a secondary-break three from Stuaskas
- Jon Horford block, outlet pass up the court to Walton who draws and finishes the three-point play at the rim
Boom, that's a six point lead that just materialized in less that one minute of gametime and turned a close game into a free throw parade. Michigan went into the Breslin Center and flat out took the game from Michigan State at the end.
Also, this one has to go on Jon Horford's greatest hits list. His involvement late was big for Michigan.
vs. Purdue - One guy I haven't talked much about is Caris LeVert. Part of this is just how great Michigan's supporting cast was early in the Big Ten season and how brutally effective Nik Stauskas was. Another part was that Caris was still improving. His early Big Ten season was characterized by higher turnover numbers and a little less efficiency and consistency scoring the basketball. However, by this game Caris had already played a big role in two of Michigan's most recent road upsets, and the Purdue is a good mircrocosm of the good and bad that Michigan got from Caris LeVert this season. He scored 14 points and did most of his work inside the arc. He also added nine defensive boards, two blocks, three steals, but committed four turnovers. There was even one of the early iterations of the Caris LeVert staple — a deflected pass in the backcourt that he corrals by the sideline and takes in for a nice eurostep layup past a defender or two.
One of the reasons that I don't worry too much about losing Nik Stauskas was that by this point in the season it seemed like Caris LeVert was handling the ball and initiating the offense as much if not more that Nik. Michigan has complimentary scorers. If LeVert can handle a slight uptick in usage while improving his overall efficiency, Michigan should once again have a viable number one option.
@ Indiana - Then Yogi Ferrell happened.
The Stauskas hype train stalled big time in this one when Indiana made a couple adjustments (switching all screens, putting Sheehy on Morgan/Horford to disrupt the ball screen offense) to throw Michigan's offense out of sync while also using Ferrell to deny Stauskas the ball and stop penetration. Nik's game cratered and he spent most of it as an afterthought.
This was bad, and continued to be so, but it was also the point in the season where Caris LeVert's importance became obvious. Not only was he a deadly weapon to put next to Stauskas, but when Stauskas's game broke down, there were things Caris could do to keep the offense functioning. Again, my Caris optimism for next year is high.
vs. Nebraska - So much for the rematch, eh Nebraska?