somehow we're only 124th
tim hardaway jr.
Nik Stauskas says he never followed hockey. When asked about Alanis Morissette, he looks downright befuddled.
"I don't even know who that is."
Yes, Stauskas isn't your typical Canadian. That's because he spent his youth in the backyard—not on a frozen pond, but an asphalt court—hoisting three-pointer after three-pointer.
"I've probably taken a million shots in my life. That's pretty much all I'd do when I was a kid, just go outside and shoot. It's something I'm very confident doing," he said, after leading Michigan with 20 points on 6-10 shooting (4-7 3PT) in a 79-72 victory over NC State.
Thanks in large part to the shooting of Stauskas, Michigan was able to cruise for much of the game against a talented Wolfpack squad, weathering a late 10-0 run by the visitors to give the Big Ten its first win in this year's Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
It's a testament to the balance and depth of this year's squad that Trey Burke went scoreless in the first half; taking what the defense gave him, Burke doled out nine first-half assists as the Wolverines built a 43-36 lead. Burke went into attack mode in the second half, notching his first-career double-double with 18 points and 11 assists—he also had zero turnovers, as the team tallied just six total.
The four factors tell much of the story:
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Michigan had a lights-out offensive performance with stellar shooting, great ball control, and frequent trips to the free-throw line. Glenn Robinson III had a quiet 11 points on 3-5 shooting to go with seven rebounds, while Jordan Morgan and Mitch McGary combined for 14 points while going 6-9 from the field, largely coming on open looks set up by Burke.
The Wolverines struggled to put away an athletic Wolfpack squad, however, as they couldn't protect the defensive glass in the second half—NC State scored ten points off of seven offensive boards in the final stanza. The frontcourt of C.J. Leslie, T.J. Warren, and Richard Howell poured in 46 combined points, taking advantage of the inexperience of Robinson and McGary to create several open looks.
Though the end got a little hairy, this was a game that Michigan largely dominated. Early foul trouble for Howell—who would eventually foul out—and Leslie forced NC State to go to a zone defense, which the Wolverines picked apart with ease. While Tim Hardaway Jr. had an off night from beyond the arc (1-9 3PT), he and Burke both took advantage by getting to the paint for pull-up jumpers—Hardaway finished with 16 points, shooting 6-9 from two-point range.
When Michigan most needed a bucket, leading by just five with 1:38 to play, it was Hardaway who put the game away, finding a lane and banking a shot home from just outside the paint. On a night when Burke went scoreless for nearly 23 minutes and Hardaway shot 7-18—against a top-25 ACC opponent, no less—the Wolverines had a comfortable lead for most of the game and survived a late scare.
For that, they can thank Stauskas—for growing up obsessed with his jump shot, not his wrist shot, even in Ontario.
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Michigan has now played five games this year. The closest margin of victory: 28 points.
Yes, two of those were exhibition games against Division II teams, and the regular-season competition hasn't been stellar either. Tonight's opponent, Cleveland State, had to replace four starters, and at 94th in KenPom they're by far the toughest test the Wolverines have faced this year.
Michigan wiped the floor with them, though, starting the game on an 8-0 run, finishing the first half on a 23-2 tear, and cruising to a 77-47 victory. A Wolverine team hasn't made basketball look this easy in a long, long time. I remember the LaVell Blanchard-led 2002-03 squad losing the season opener to St. Bonaventure. In Tommy Amaker's last season, Michigan had to climb out of an early hole to beat something called a "Maryland-Baltimore County" by 12. Even last season, the Wolverines won against Saginaw Valley State—a team they beat by 28 last week—by just nine points. I'm pretty sure one of Brian Ellerbe's outfits found a way to lose the intrasquad scrimmage.
Through five games, Michigan is playing basketball on a different level than their opponents—and any Wolverine team in recent memory. Daniel Horton has nothing on Trey Burke, whose first-half hesitation crossover in transition broke ankles in the upper bowl—he finished with 12 points and seven assists without appearing to break a sweat. Manny Harris never rounded into the complete, efficient wing that Tim Hardaway Jr.—once again stuffing the box score with 17 points (7-12 FG, 3-6 3P), six rebounds, and four assists—has become. Nik Stauskas (15 points, 3-4 3P), well, let's just say he wouldn't be out-shot by Gavin Groninger. I can't even think of a suitable player comparison for Glenn Robinson III, who had an off-night (2-7 FG) and still managed to contribute nine points, seven rebounds, and solid defense, including spiking a layup attempt off the glass.
After covering four games in five days, three of them laughable basketball blowouts, I hope you'll forgive the fact that my mind began to wander in the second half. While half-watching Burke effortlessly run the pick-and-roll, or Hardaway skying for a defensive rebound, or perhaps it was Stauskas drilling a three like it was Pop-A-Shot, I thought about Avery Queen.
And I laughed.
If last night's blowout of IUPUI was any indication, this is going to be a very gif-friendly team. Today's lead image, however, is not a posterizing dunk, thunderous block, ankle-breaking crossover, clutch three-pointer, or pinpoint pass. It doesn't even contain a basketball player. How does that happen? Complete and utter dedication to Gangnam Style, that's how:
Incredulous girl in the background is almost as good as the dancer himself. Almost.
[Heyyyyyyyy sexy ladies (and gentlemen, sure) hit THE JUMP for the rest of the gifs.]
Forget the five-star freshman for a moment. You know, the one that scored 21 points on nine shots. Forget the star point guard; yeah, the one with 22 points and nine assists. Forget, even, about the shooting guard, the NBA progeny that turned in another efficient all-around effort.
Jordan Morgan—yes, that Jordan Morgan—stole a pass, dribbled the length of the court, and soared for a one-handed slam. That same Jordan Morgan also split two defenders with a quick hop-step and deftly finished with a layup. He also threw an alley-oop and even crossed a guy over. The coaches had raved in the offseason about Morgan losing weight and gaining some athleticism, but they said nothing about him turning into young Charles Barkley.
That's hyperbole, of course. But man, after that game, it's tough not to be hyperbolic. A sluggish start quickly gave way to a Michigan highlight-fest, with Morgan and Glenn Robinson III and Trey Burke competing for top gif-able honors until Jon Horford came in and blew them away with a savage throwdown in traffic. It's safe to say Michigan hasn't had a team this athletic since the Fab Five days.
What's really scary, though, is that they're skilled to boot. Robinson connected on his first eight shots, including three from distance. Burke overcame some sloppy play and hit four-of-seven threes of his own while getting into the lane at will, finishing when there was space and finding the open man when the defense collapsed. Tim Hardaway Jr. continued to show off his all-around improvement, pulling down seven defensive boards in addition to scoring ten on just five shots. Nik Stauskas missed his first three-pointer, then hit his next three, finishing with ten points.
This team isn't perfect, of course. The defense left too many shooters open, especially in the early going, missing a few switches and getting beat off the dribble—Stauskas and Mitch McGary both had moments of confusion that led to buckets. The Wolverines turned the ball over on 19% of their possessions, with Burke and Robinson each coughing up the pill three times and Stauskas looking shaky putting the ball on the floor. McGary biffed an open layup off a beautiful feed from Burke and generally appears to need some refining on both ends of the floor. And yes, they played IUPUI, which isn't exactly Duke.
When watching a Michigan team that now practices alley-oops, though, and Jordan Morgan going coast-to-coast, it's tough not to get very excited for this season. The Wolverines played a Division-I team with a pulse, had an ugly first ten minutes, and absolutely crushed them in the way that precociously-talented, well-coached teams are wont to do. That's not what Michigan basketball has been, but it sure feels like that's what it's going to be.
File photo, obviously. You'll be happy to know those shoes/socks did not make an appearance.
Spike Albrecht spotted up in the corner and launched a three. Swish.
Albrecht split a double-team, then kicked it out to Glenn Robinson III at the top of the key. Swish.
Albrecht split two defenders again, banked in a layup, and got the foul. His free throw, naturally, swished.
After two more threes—from Tim Hardaway Jr. and Robinson—and a Matt Vogrich layup, Michigan held a 17-0 lead less than four minutes into the 2012-13 season. Though the shooters would cool off a bit, the team never looked back, cruising to an 83-47 exhibition victory over an overmatched Northern Michigan squad.
With a suspended Trey Burke watching in street clothes, it was the freshman point guard, Spike Albrecht, stepping to the forefront to lead the way to victory. The diminutive Indiana native finished with 16 points on 4-7 shooting (3-6 3-pt) with six assists to just two turnovers, knocking down open jumpers, moving the ball with confidence, and showing that unlike last year, Michigan has a backup point guard.
If tonight's game was any indication—and in an exhibition against Northern Michigan, grains of salt are of course recommended—this Wolverine team will spread the ball around with a variety of players putting the ball in the basket. Freshman Nik Stauskas led all scorers with 17 points (5-8 FG, 4-6 3-pt), coming off the bench and netting his first career points on a corner three off an inbounds pass mere seconds after entering for the first time. Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III each chipped in 13, with Robinson providing some high-flying acrobatics and Hardaway stuffing the box score with eight boards—all defensive—and five assists.
To the delight of the crowd, John Beilein inserted all five true freshmen—Albrecht, Stauskas, Robinson, Mitch McGary, and Caris LeVert—into the game in the first half; he'd admit post-game that was unintentional, and actually the first time he'd played all five together (though they did team up in a well-publicized offseason scrimmage). In a hopeful sign of things to come, Albrecht was the heady floor general, Stauskas the dead-eye shooter, Robinson the all-around offensive force, and McGary the energetic madman (5 points, 6 off. rebounds, 2 blocks, multiple floor burns). Only LeVert failed to hit full stride in his debut, hitting just one of five shots in ten minutes, though he still managed to connect on a three-pointer as the freshmen combined for 54 of the team's 83 points.
The story of the game will undoubtedly center around Albrecht admirably filling in for Burke; it could just as easily be about a total team effort—the Wolverines had 17 assists on 27 made baskets, swinging the ball around the perimeter in dizzying fashion until a shooter found an opening. Even when Burke returns on Monday, it's clear this team will be far more balanced than they were last season, less reliant on Burke and Hardaway to lead the way night in and night out.
- It's obvious that Hardaway worked hard in the offseason to turn himself into a more well-rounded player. Even though he only shot 3-of-9 from the field, he distributed the ball well—Beilein said he actually had to tell him to play more selfishly—and attacked the basket (7 free throw attempts, of which he hit 5) in addition to playing solid defense and really cleaning up the glass.
- The defensive effort all around, even given the opponent, was encouraging given the team's youth. Robinson executed a switch on a pick-and-roll on the first NMU possession, then stuck with his man before Jordan Morgan came away with a block. NMU shot just 19-for-59 from the field, rebounded just 10 of their 40 missed shots (a few of those coming late with the main rotation players pulled), and only got to the free-throw line for four attempts.
- Morgan and McGary didn't see the floor together, but if they do Michigan could be very difficult to keep off the offensive glass—in addition to McGary's six offensive boards, Morgan hauled in five (of his 12 total) on that end. Beilein noted after the game that Morgan has slimmed down since last season, and he appears to have a little more explosiveness off the floor.
- One area McGary will need to work on: free-throw shooting, as he went just 1-for-5 from the charity stripe. While it's nice that he was able to grab offensive rebounds after two of those misses, he can't be a liability in that regard or opponents will know the formula for stopping him, and Beilein will be limited with his late-game lineups in close contests. Beilein mentioned that he's still working into shape, as well, after an offseason foot injury hampered his conditioning; it wasn't a surprise, then, that Matt Vogrich earned the starting nod tonight with Robinson playing the four.
- Given the distribution of minutes tonight, as well as individual performances, expect a lineup of Burke-Hardaway-Vogrich-Robinson-Morgan on Monday, with Stauskas and McGary getting big minutes off the bench. Albrecht should see a fair amount of time spelling Burke, and Beilein mentioned the potential for playing both in the same lineup, but LeVert could have a tough time finding minutes when the season comes around—he's got skill, but he's clearly pretty raw and had some trouble with defense and rebounding due to his very thin frame.
- Overall, with opponent caveats acknowledged, this went about as well as one could hope for the team's first exhibition game. There's clearly more talent on this squad than Beilein has had at Michigan, and quite possibly at any point in his coaching career, and for a freshman-heavy team they really played well together—I'm sure it helps that McGary, Robinson, and Albrecht played AAU ball with each other. If Stauskas can continue to knock down just about every open jumper, this team also has a lights-out shooter that they haven't quite had yet under Beilein, which could really make this offense lethal. It's early yet, of course, but the potential is apparent.
"Bright youth passes swiftly as a thought." — Theognis
There is no "next year."
Not in today's college basketball, where Kentucky wins a national championship starting three freshmen and two sophomores, the NBA draft age limit creates a one-year holding pen for the sport's brightest young stars, and no graduating senior was selected in this year's lottery. It's not a new reality—as Michigan, home of the Fab Five, should well know—but one that's reaching its apex in the Age of Calipari.
This year's Michigan squad is no exception. The star of the show is sophomore point guard Trey Burke, who nearly exited for the pro ranks in April and, if all goes well, won't be back the next time around. A pair of precocious freshmen, Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III, will start and hopefully star—three more newcomers should play prominent roles. The grizzled veteran of the team's core, junior swingman Tim Hardaway Jr., is still unable to legally imbibe.
John Beilein is building for the future, and a bright future it is. After sharing a Big Ten title last season, however, and then pulling in Michigan's finest recruiting class since the Ed Martin era, the Wolverines carry a top-five preseason ranking and expectations to win now. While the hype may be slightly overblown, anything less than the program's first Sweet Sixteen appearance since 1994 would be considered a disappointment.
How the team reaches that point is still very much in question. Hardaway, plagued by a balky jumper, ceded the role of lead dog to Burke as the season wore on in 2011-12; if he regains his stroke, he could emerge as the top scoring option. The presence of Jordan Morgan, McGary, and a healthy Jon Horford up front gives Beilein new-found depth and versatility with his lineup—Beilein spoke at media day of an offseason spent studying NBA film to see how the pros utilize two post players, a luxury he hasn't been afforded during his time in Ann Arbor. For their part, McGary and Robinson must live up to sky-high recruiting hype if this team hopes to deliver on their potential.
The extent to which the Wolverines miss Zack Novak, Stu Douglass, and Even Smotrycz depends largely on another freshman, Nik Stauskas, and his ability to connect from the outside. Yet another freshman, Spike Albrecht, will be called upon to replace "timeout" as Burke's backup. One more first-year guard, Caris LeVert, has earned rave reviews in practice and could provide scoring punch off the bench.
Despite the inexperience and uncertainty, this team represents Beilein's surest bet to take this program to the next level, and could very well be his best shot for a long time. That may sound rash, but the Wolverines have been close to the leap before, only to fall back: the Amaker tenure crumbled despite early promise, the 2009-10 squad faltered despite making the tournament with the same nucleus the year before, and even last year's team tripped up against 13-seed Ohio in the Big Dance. Trey Burke probably isn't walking through that door next year. There's no guarantee Tim Hardaway Jr. will, either. For that matter, Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III have one-and-done potential if all goes well (too well, perhaps).
As the season tips off tonight in a refurbished Crisler Center, there's a distinct sense of urgency—not just to prove that this program is going places, but that they've already arrived. If the season goes according to plan, there won't be need for talk of next year, and that will truly signal the new age of Michigan basketball.