Jan. 22, 2014
By Jenny Herstein, U-M Public & Media Relations
Michigan has won its last seven straight games and is one of only two teams, along with Michigan State, that retain a perfect record in the Big Ten. The Wolverines return to Crisler Center after a 77-70 win over then-No. 3 Wisconsin, the team's first win in Madison since 1999.
"I was excited to be able to get a win there," said graduate student co-captain Jordan Morgan. "I didn't want to finish off my career without winning there once."
Not only did the victory snap Michigan's 11-game losing streak against the Badgers, but it rates as the highest-ranked road win in school history.
In addition to the team's success, Nik Stauskas was named Big Ten Player of the Week for his performances against Penn State and Wisconsin. In those two games, the sophomore averaged 22.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 4.5 assists. He shot 48.3 percent from the field (14-of-29) and 90.9 percent (10-of-11) from the free throw line.
The highlight of Stauskas' week was a step-back three-pointer in the closing seconds against Wisconsin that helped seal the game for Michigan. According to head coach John Beilein, Stauskas' maturation from a role player to one of the team's leaders has earned the sophomore guard the chance to take charge in late game situations.
"During the year, he has been growing since day one," said Beilein. "He looked around with no Tim (Hardaway Jr.) and Trey (Burke) out there to hand the ball to. We get lots of shot-clock situations in practice. He's maturated to that -- where he understands he may have the ball at that time. I wouldn't say it was overnight. It's not like we came in Oct. 1 and said 'Nik -- you're the man. You're going to get it.' He's earned this opportunity."
Michigan's big men have showed steady improvement as well. Since the start of Big Ten play, Morgan and junior Jon Horford have combined to average 16.0 points, 11.2 rebounds, 1.8 blocks and shot 77.3 percent (34-for-44). Individually, Morgan has shot 85.0 percent (17-for-20) and averaged 8.0 points and 4.8 rebounds, while Horford has shot 70.8 percent (17-for-24) and averaged 8.0 points and 6.4 rebounds.
"The clean catches we've made and the clean finishes we've made are really a positive direction," said Beilein. "(Assistant coach) Bacari (Alexander) has worked so hard with these guys (Morgan and Horford) on those aspects. The game doesn't have to be real complex. Catch the ball and get it in the basket. Get your body on the man. Keep the ball away from them. And just put it in, whether it's two feet away, or Jon had a little bit of a fade-away where he was 10 feet away. Both of them have embraced that role on the team."
With the win in Madison, Michigan returns to the national polls after a five week absence. The Wolverines were ranked No. 21 by the Associated Press and tied for No. 25 in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches' poll.
Yet, Michigan has no time to celebrate last week's successes with a matchup against another top-25 team on the horizon.
No. 10 Iowa comes to Ann Arbor with a 15-3 record and a 4-1 mark in Big Ten play. The Hawkeyes' three losses have come on an average of just 4.0 points -- a five-point overtime loss to Villanova (88-83) in the championship game of the Battle 4 Atlantis, a three-point loss at Iowa State (85-82) and a four-point loss at Wisconsin (75-71).
Key to Iowa's success is the experience of its players. Last season's squad made it to the championship game of the NIT tournament, where they lost to Baylor, 74-54. The returning Hawkeyes have not only improved, but they are determined to keep their program moving forward.
"We have our hands full. They returned that whole team, virtually, and they've gotten better," said Beilein. "The parts that they've added right now are really good as well. This is a high powered team that's coming in here with six juniors and seniors that are very hungry to get Iowa to the NCAA Tournament."
Among those veteran players are senior Roy Devyn Marble, who averages 16.3 points and 3.3 assists per game, and junior Aaron White, who averages 14.0 points and 6.4 rebounds. Senior Melsahn Basabe leads Iowa with 6.8 rebounds per game.
In addition to their experience, the Hawkeyes have a deep rotation, consisting of 11 players. They play a fast-paced style of basketball, ranking fifth nationally in points per game (86.8) and have outscored their opponents by 20.2 points per game, second best in the country. In conference play, the Hawkeyes are averaging a Big Ten-best 81.8 points with two 90-plus point games.
"They're going to test our discipline," said Morgan. "They're really trying to score and score quickly. So we've got to be really good in transition. And they're really bent on attacking the rim. So we're going to have to be really solid defensively."
Assertive play at the rim has given the Hawkeyes numerous opportunities at the free throw line. Iowa leads the Big Ten in free throw attempts, averaging 30.6 per game (552 total). Overall, they rank sixth in free throw percentage (72.5).
"They draw a lot of fouls, and we don't like to foul," said Morgan. "It's going to come down to a battle of wills."
The Hawkeyes are also a long, athletic team, who rank seventh nationally in rebounding margin (+9.7).
"Our goal is to not let them get too many offensive rebounds," said sophomore Glenn Robinson III. "I think we did a great job of stopping Wisconsin last game."
"They get stretch rebounds. They send guys to the boards. It's going to be difficult to keep them off there, because they're coming at you in droves," said Beilein. "It's so much of a transition game, and it's really hard to block out in transition. We've got to group rebound, without question. Where Wisconsin only sent one or two guys to the boards, more guys will be in there. We're going to have to not only box out, but don't leak out, get possession with two hands. Then, if they crashed all those guys to the board, you should have an advantage going the other way."
Iowa's length, rebounding ability and knack for running the ball in transition is similar in style to what Michigan faced when it played No. 1 Arizona (Dec. 14) at the Crisler Center. Michigan's players and coaches believe that the vital lesson to take from the loss to the Wildcats is the importance of getting defensive stops and preventing easy baskets.
"I think we played a pretty good game against Arizona," said Morgan. "I just think we had a few lapses here and there defensively, especially down the stretch that we couldn't close that game out. They're (Iowa) going to be basically just like Arizona was. They've got a lot of size, the same way Arizona did, and they're really looking to attack. Hopefully that game prepared us for what we're going to see."
Wednesday's (Feb. 22) game is the first of two meetings this season between the Wolverines and Hawkeyes. U-M will have a return game in Iowa City on Saturday, Feb. 8.
Michigan leads the all-time series with Iowa, 90-58, with a 50-22 record in Ann Arbor. U-M has won 10 of the last 12 meeting, including the last four straight at Crisler Center. The Wolverines and Hawkeyes met only once last season, with U-M claiming the 95-67 victory on Jan. 3, 2013.