On Saturday, Stauskas did what Michigan’s best players before him couldn’t, he walked out of the Kohl Center with a victory.
Michigan hadn’t won in Madison since 1999 and finally was able to close out a victory. The game showed all of the same signs of recent Wolverine collapses at Wisconsin. Michigan was held scoreless from 8:06 to 3:26, watching a 13 point lead disintegrate into a one possession game in a flash. But Nik Stauskas came through in the stretch, scoring the Wolverines’ final 11 points of the game.
John Beilein has called the 6-foot-6 Canadian’s number in winning time for most of the season and he answered the call again. Up one point with under a minute to play, Stauskas took the ball, dribbled between his legs, stepped back and buried a three over Nigel Hayes. Ball game.
Stauskas iced the game out at the free throw line as the Wolverines held onto a 77-70 victory. Wisconsin is the highest ranked team that Michigan has beaten on the road in program history. The last time the Wolverines beat a top-five team on the road was in 1964 – when Cazzie Russell was a freshman – and this was easily Michigan’s most impressive road win since January 27th, 2011 at the Breslin Center.
Michigan’s offense was nearly unstoppable for the first 30 minutes of the game. Despite a four minute scoring drought late in the second half, the Wolverines tallied 1.15 points per trip, on the road against a top-five opponent. This offense – leading the Big Ten at 1.19 points per trip – is legitimate, even if there are new faces carrying the load.
Wisconsin had no answer for Michigan’s side ball screen and dribble hand off action. Caris LeVert and Nik Stauskas combined to score 43 points and handed out eight assists, the majority of which came from the same set. The Badgers played with a soft hedge and let Michigan’s wings operate in the middle of the floor, giving the Wolverines the 16-foot jump shot. There was no secret to Michigan’s success, the Wolverines did what they always do and Wisconsin couldn’t stop them.
Stauskas, LeVert, Robinson and Irvin all scored off the high ball screen while Morgan and Horford finished effectively (6-of-6) on rolls to the basket. Wisconsin dared LeVert and Stauskas to beat them, they did.
The Wolverines still have some defensive issues to correct, but their performance wasn’t awful. The Badgers scored 1.05 points per possession which is a better defensive effort than Michigan’s last two outings (against far worse offenses). More importantly it was Wisconsin’s worst offensive effort since December 4th against Virginia. There were occasional breakdowns, but the Wolverines controlled the defensive glass, forced a few critical turnovers and held Wisconsin to 46% shooting inside the arc.
Michigan’s defense buckled down to open the second half, and was the primary reason that Michigan was able to stretch its lead to 15 points. The Wolverines held the Badgers to just seven points in the first 13 possessions of the second half. That turned out to be just enough to win, but the Badgers went on to score 25 points in the final 18 possessions of the half.
This was Michigan’s third Big Ten road win in three tries, an impressive feat considering that last year’s team won just four games on the road in the Big Ten. Michigan is now up to 13th nationally in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings and should be flying high, tied for first in the conference, going into a very difficult week with a home game against Iowa and a road trip to East Lansing.
- Nik Stauskas: Stauskas is the most complete offensive player in the Big Ten. He finished with 23 points on 7-of-17 shooting (3-9 3pt), four rebounds, four assists, two blocks, two turnovers and a steal. Not to mention he scored Michigan’s final 11 points of the game to ice it. Stauskas is masterful with the ball screen and can score from anywhere on the floor. He missed a couple threes that would have helped Michigan pull away earlier, but he came through when it counted.
- Caris LeVert: LeVert played his best game of the season for Michigan. Most importantly, he played well on both ends. LeVert finished with 20 points on 7-of-15 shooting (3-3 3pt) with 7 rebounds, four assists, four steals and four turnovers in 38 minutes. Yes, he made three poor plays in a row offensively when Wisconsin was coming back, but he also had back to back baskets around the 8 minute mark to quell an earlier Wisconsin run. LeVert has improved and will continue to improve if he can eliminate two or three mistakes per game.
- Glenn Robinson III: Robinson’s 16-foot jumper is a thing of beauty. If there’s more of a ‘pro shot’ than that one, I’m waiting to see it. Robinson was 6-of-8 from the floor and every shot he took was in one his comfort zones: an elbow jumper, at the rim, or facing up on the opposite post. A goose egg in the rebounding column is disappointing, but Robinson’s offensive development over the last month has been impressive. Michigan loves to run new wrinkles for Robinson early in halves, in the second half Beilein dialed up a little ball screen for Robinson to get him an open jumper.
- Derrick Walton: Walton finished with 2 points, two assists, and two rebounds in 31 minutes but I thought he played within himself. His one make was a great finish in traffic and he didn’t turn the ball over. He also played impressive defense in the post against Wisconsin’s experienced and physical guards. Bad news: this is the
secondthird time he’s missed at the line late in a game.
- Jordan Morgan: Make layups, defend and rebound. That’s all Michigan needs Morgan and Horford to do for 40 minutes. They’ve done a hell of a job at it. Morgan and Horford are a combined 36 of 44 on 2-point attempts (82%) in Big Ten games with eight turnovers. They were each 3-of-3 today and combined for 15 rebounds and five blocks. Morgan had a put back, a tough catch around the rim and Michigan couldn’t have asked for much more from its big man duo.
- Jon Horford: Horford, like Morgan, had another strong performance. He had a great offensive play in the second half, catching the ball, pump faking, taking a Badger defender on the block and finishing over him. Horford is playing with the sort of confidence that it’s not even a huge surprise when he makes a shot like that – something we wouldn’t have said a month ago.
- Spike Albrecht: Albrecht never lacks confidence and he came off the bench firing, knocking down an open triple in the first half. He also had a steal and fast break that resulted in a point at the free throw line, but Michigan seemed to lose a step defensively when he was in the game.
- Zak Irvin: Irvin played like a freshman on the road. He was late closing out on a few shooters and didn’t have the best defensive game. However, he knocked down a great jumper off of a ball screen in the second half without hesitation.