Big Ten Geeks: Oh, Canada!

Michigan survived a tough test against Florida State, a team whom not many thought much of coming into the season. This was, after all, a bad team last year that was losing its best player in Michael Snaer. But sometimes, weird things happen. In the Seminoles’ case, the player wearing the #30 jersey is clearly someone pretending to be Ian Miller.

Throughout his career, Miller has been a so-so outside shooter with not much to contribute when inside the three-point line. This season, however, Miller is not only a deadeye outside shooter (44 percent on threes), but he’s been a terror everywhere else, too (68 percent on twos, 93 percent on his frequent free throw attempts).

FSU proved it was for real when it steamrolled VCU, and out of the gate against Michigan the Seminoles took immediate control. FSU built its lead to 16 points early in the second half, and the game seemed all but over with a little over four minutes remaining, as Florida State led by 8. But Michigan was able to get a couple of key steals in the final minutes, and mounted an impressive comeback. In overtime, Nik Stauskas called his number time and time again, and really established himself as Michigan’s go-to player this season.

Indeed, Stauskas has led Big Blue in scoring in every game this season (and was one point behind LeVert against South Carolina State), and he’s scoring very efficiently as well. Of course, that’s nothing new, as the Canadian guard was uber-efficient last year as well, especially in non-conference play. The difference this season is that Stauskas’ usage is well up over last year.

Year

Offensive Rating

Usage

13-14

134.3

24.2

12-13

122.8

16.2

And I know that analysts last year loved to proclaim that Stauskas was “not just a shooter,” but that wasn’t really the case, unless they were being especially pedantic. Stauskas attempted over 50 percent more 3s than 2s, had a fairly pedestrian free throw rate, rarely created for others, and didn’t play a lick of defense. This season, just about everything is different:

Year

3PA/2PA

Assist Rate

FT Rate

13-14

1.43

20.7

66.1

12-13

1.57

7.6

29.2

While Staukas is still shooting a lot of 3s (for good reason—he’s making 52 percent of those), his game is definitely more well-rounded this season. Except for the defense part. That’s still not his bag.

These numbers will change, obviously, as we get into conference play. And Mitch McGary will probably shake off the rust to become a solid interior option as well. But I’m pretty convinced that this is Stauskas’ team this year.

Of course, the weekend ended on a sour note, as the Charlotte 49ers upended the Wolverines on a wide-open layup—so wide open, that it was easily rebounded after it was missed. Terrence Williams put back his miss, and Michigan’s comeback bid fell short. Watching the last play a few times, it looks like there was some miscommunication between Mitch McGary and Zak Irvin, and neither guy ended up defending Williams, who stood alone under the hoop. That’s a bad time for a defensive breakdown.

For his part, Stauskas was once again solid, with 20 points on 13 shots. The rest of the team managed to put up just 41 points on 47 shots. Michigan just couldn’t throw the ball in the ocean (38 percent on 2s, 22 percent on 3s). It didn’t help that Glenn Robinson III injured his back, forcing freshman Zak Irvin into extended minutes. This experiment did not end well (8 points on 3-14 shooting). Stauskas also rolled an ankle and was hobbled in the second half.

Still, the team managed to cobble together a comeback and looked like it might escape without any real damage being done to its resume. Alas, it goes down as a loss. This is one of those games—Sunday night in Puerto Rico, competing against the NFL for eyeballs—that no one will remember come March. It has all the looks of a fluke performance, and I don’t expect Michigan to struggle against opponents like Charlotte—especially on a neutral floor—very much this season. But the Committee will probably nonetheless drop the Wolverines down a seed on Selection Sunday because—hey, these guys lost to Charlotte? It’s not fair, but it’s going to happen anyways.

Indiana’s loss to Connecticut presents a half-full, half-empty choice. On the one hand, the Hoosiers took a pretty good Huskies team to the wire on a neutral floor. The Hoosiers played outstanding defense, harassing UConn into 17 turnovers. That’s the optimist’s take. The pessimist would point out that UConn is normally a very good outside shooting team, and IU happened to run into Kevin Ollie’s team on a cold night (6 for 19 on threes). And UConn wasn’t especially good from the free-throw line (11 of 17), though this afflicted the Hoosiers as well (15 of 22).

Frankly, I’m not sure where it all shakes out on defense. All I know is that Indiana has to get more production out of Noah Vonleh (10 minutes, 0 points, 4 turnovers, 4 fouls). Thus far on the season, Vonleh has probably been IU’s best player, and the team desperately needs his work on the glass. I know it’s early, but Vonleh’s  hat should be considered in the ring as the nation’s best rebounder. I don’t know whether Friday’s performance is emblematic of this IU defense or not—but I do know that the offense did not look pretty when it was kept off the offensive glass (0.85 points per possession).

Elsewhere, the Frank Kaminsky Train keeps rolling (21 points on 16 shots), while Keith Appling continued his excellent play this season (27 points on 12 shots). Even better was Michigan State holding a solid offensive team in Oklahoma to under a point per possession.

The Thanksgiving tournaments continue this week, as Minnesota will get a tough test against Syracuse in the Maui Invitational at 5:30 ET Monday. Given the Gophers’ perimeter attack so far this season, and the propensity of Orange opponents to hoist long-range shots, I’d put the over/under on 3-point attempts somewhere in the neighborhood of 30.

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