A few days ago, a video was posted on ESPN entitled “College Basketball’s Most Under-appreciated Players”. I did not watch it; I did not even click on it. But that video intrigued me for one reason: majestically centered behind a large “Play” arrow was Michigan star Nik Stauskas. Wednesday night, Stauskas lived up to that title, pouring in a game-high 26 points effectively lifting the Wolverines over 10th ranked Iowa 75-67.
The win marks Michigan’s eighth consecutive victory, the last six of which have featured exclusively Big Ten opponents. Wednesday’s matchup pitted the Wolverines, who have been limping forward in the frontcourt, against an Iowa squad notorious for dominating the glass, ranked 3rd in the nation. Coach John Beilein emphasized the need for a strong showing on the boards, as well as defensively, yet another challenge against the Hawkeyes, who are averaging close to 90 points per game this year.
On top of everything, the Wolverines were forced to face Iowa essentially without freshman point guard Derrick Walton Jr., who was dressed but sidelined for all but roughly three minutes of the game with flu-like symptoms.
- 1. Nik Stauskas: Another plainly outstanding performance from the Beast of the Great White North. Stauskas rallied for 26 points on 57% from the field, to go along with 5 assists and 5 boards. This is the kind of consistency that the sporting world is so surprised to see, hence the negatively-charged aforementioned ESPN video title. Let’s face it: Nik Stauskas is certainly under-appreciated. A year ago he was some scrawny kid flicking up shots from well too far and running back on defense with an ear-to-ear grin, wearing goggles made out of his hands. But now Stauskas is demanding national attention, amid discussions of Big Ten Player of the Year, as he and the Wolverines continue their storm to reclaim a rightful place amongst the Top 25, which they so tragically squandered early on. One thing’s for sure: Nik Stauskas’ lethality is unmatched by almost anyone in the nation.
- 2. Jordan Morgan: A noteworthy trend that has emerged since the loss of Mitch McGary is the combination that has become of Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford. Together the two have morphed into a “super big-man”. Before Wednesday, the duo had dominated conference play, collectively averaging 16 points, 11 rebounds and almost 2 blocks on just below 80% shooting from the field against Big Ten opponents. The matchup with Iowa did not follow said trend. Instead, Jordan Morgan went off. 12 points and 7 rebounds, (Horford tacked on 3 extra boards, so call it a double-double) including two unequivocally vital offensive rebounds en route to anchoring the Wolverines defensively. A helpful JoMo block at the rim in the final seconds helped to seal the win for Michigan, and the career night for the 5th year team leader.
- 3. Spike Albrecht: It is very rare for a coach to be able to approach his backup point guard matching an arguably equal confidence level with which he would approach his starter. Luckily, John Beilein does not have this particular problem. When Derrick Walton was ruled questionable after displaying fever and other flu symptoms, Coach Beilein had no qualms in putting the point into the hands of Albrecht. Walton was eventually given the cautionary green light. Ultimately, it wouldn’t matter. The pride of Crown Point, Indiana tallied 7 points, 7 assists, 3 rebounds, and the kicker, 0 turnovers. It’s hard to find a night-in night-out starter to put up 7 assists and no turnovers from the point, let alone a backup. Albrecht did it as seamlessly and smoothly as could be.
Wednesday’s matchup was characterized by a series of ebbs and flows, for both teams. Leads disappeared, scoring runs blazed defenses, turnovers crippled momentum, and players fluctuated between hot and cold like a broken thermostat. Iowa forward Melsahn Basabe raked in 15 first-half points, only to finish with 17 after a dismal 2nd. Reliable Hawkeye scorer Aaron White was held without a shot until almost midway through the 2nd half, ultimately posting 15, thanks chiefly to an impressive run in which he scored 13 straight Iowa points with time running down. Also putting up a strong effort, despite a rather tough night shooting, was Glenn Robinson III, who finished a mere rebound away from a double-double, posting 14 and 9.
Michigan clung to the lead for most of the game, and accordingly managed the game pace throughout. They effectively straddled the line between capitalizing in transition versus consuming more of the shot clock, and characteristically surged from beyond the arc, en route to the toppling of yet another Top 10 team on the Wolverines’ home floor.
Next on tap for Michigan is a hostile visit across town to East Lansing to face the 3rd ranked MSU Spartans. Thanks to Wednesday’s Wolverine victory, the showdown between Michigan and MSU will pit the top two teams in the Big Ten, both still undefeated in conference play, against each other.