Jan. 8, 2014
By Jenny Herstein, U-M Public & Media Relations
Michigan has won four straight games and improved its record to 10-4 overall, most recently with a 74-51 home win over Northwestern. The Wolverines currently sit at 2-0 in the Big Ten.
As the Wolverines continue on into the Big Ten season, the key for Michigan's young squad is each player learning how to expand his role and improve his knowledge of the game.
Nik Stauskas has become a leader this season, and he leads U-M in scoring (17.8) and has six straight double-figure scoring games. However, he has added another facet to his game as well, leading U-M in assists the last two games (5.5 apg), including a career-best seven at Minnesota.
"At 6-6 as a guard he can see things that Spike and Derrick can't see," said head coach John Beilein. "He can make hook passes, and he can go underneath. He's learning how to do things better as he goes along. If you have a guy who can shoot like that and be able to drive and pass it really is good for us and good for his future."
Freshman point guard Derrick Walton Jr. has also taken major strides in Big Ten play. By attacking the basket in the first two Big Ten contests, he earned 12 trips to the free throw line (9-for-12, 74.0 percent) and is averaging 9.0 points per game.
"We give him as much as we think he can handle -- and then some more," said Beilein. "As he will tell you, the game's slowing down for him. The information will continue to come in. As long as you're playing point guard, as long as you're playing quarterback, the information's going to continue to come in. He's got to absorb all that. But the more that (he plays), he'll see trends, he'll see things earlier. Even though there might be a slight change, he'll go 'oh yeah, I remember that from the other game.' In basketball right now, the game is so diverse he's going to see a different type of defense almost every night."
The Wolverines are also learning what combinations work well on the floor against different opponents. Against Northwestern, Walton and sophomore point guard Spike Albrecht spent several minutes on the court together.
"We like playing both together, depending on what we're seeing from the other team -- what the matchups are, the size difference, etc." said Beilein. "Both of them make us better in different ways. When both of them are in the game, we feel confident that the ball's in good hands."
And while it may be more difficult to recognize on the court, the development of the scout team -- many of whom are freshman -- is also critical to Michigan's success.
Assistant coach LaVall Jordan has also begun to play with the scout team, which Beilein believes has been a tremendous learning opportunity for his guards.
"Putting LaVall Jordan on that team really helps us," Beilein said. "He really sees the game. When LaVall's out there playing, I'll put Spike or Derrick next to me and say 'just watch him offensively and defensively -- what he's doing, how engaged he is.'"
Michigan's next conference matchup will be on the road Thursday (Jan. 9) at Nebraska.
Nebraska is 8-6 overall and 0-2 in Big Ten Conference play under second-year head coach Tim Miles, having fallen on the road at Iowa (67-57) and Ohio State (84-53) in its first two conference games. However, the Cornhuskers are a perfect 7-0 at home this season in their first year playing at the new Pinnacle Bank Arena.
"Looking at Nebraska right now, we're seeing a team with incredible potential and talent," said Beilein. "Tim (Miles) has done a great job of putting his roster together -- it's a collection of transfers, junior college players, foreign players, that really are as talented as I've seen."
The Cornhuskers are led by 17.3 points per game from redshirt sophomore transfer Terran Petteway, sixth best in the Big Ten. Sophomore Shavon Shields also scores in double figures for Nebraska at 11.9 points per contest.
The Cornhuskers average 7.8 steals per contest, tied with Michigan State for second in the Big Ten. Yet, Nebraska's opponents are shooting 43.5 percent from the field -- the highest mark in the conference.
Nebraska is in its third season as a member of the Big Ten. The Cornhuskers finished tied for 11th in the league in 2011-12 (4-14) and finished 10th last season (5-13).
Michigan holds an 8-2 all-time record against Nebraska and a 1-2 road record. The Wolverines have won their last four against the Cornhuskers, including the first two games since Nebraska joined the Big Ten. Two seasons ago, U-M recorded its first win in Lincoln, Neb., 62-46, in a game which saw Zack Novak become just the 28th 1,000-point/500-rebound player in program history after leading the Wolverines to a win over the Cornhuskers with 14 points.
ESPN2 will televise the contest starting at 8 p.m. CST (9 p.m. EST).