5 Things We Learned: Puerto Rico Tip-Off

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By Daniel Feldman, Daily Sports Writer
Published November 25, 2013

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico —

1. Nik Stauskas is this team’s only consistent offensive threat right now.

This is an easy one to see. After averaging a tournament-high 23.3 points per game, leading to a tournament MVP honor, it’s clear that Michigan is relying on the sophomore guard a lot.

The first glimpse was seen Thursday, when Stauskas scored 24 points on 7-for-10 shooting. The trend carried over to Friday, when Michigan (4-2) trailed by as many 16 in the second half against Florida State.

Despite a cold first half in which he scored just three points, Stauskas was central to Michigan’s dramatic comeback, pouring in 16 in the second half and seven more in overtime.

And it wasn’t even from jump shots — he drove to the basket, he drew fouls and he attempted nine free throws in the game.

Michigan coach John Beilein has said that with Stauskas’s added weight and strength, he wants him to draw more fouls and take more contact as he puts the ball on the ground.

The issue is that he can’t do it all. And while it’s unfair to say that no one else is contributing for the Wolverines, it is fair to say that no one is playing on the level of Stauskas.

Looking down the road, the team as a whole will need to raise its level of play. Especially if Stauskas’s ankle injury — he appeared to twist it, though he did stay in the game — proves to be more serious than originally thought.

2. Glenn Robinson III needs to demand the ball more.

This year was supposed to be different for the sophomore forward after he averaged 11.0 points on just 7.5 shots per game while playing third — if not fourth — fiddle on last year’s squad. This year, as captain of the team, Robinson was expected to be more of a vocal and scoring leader.

But up to this point, the expectations have not materialized. Sure, he is averaging 11.8 points, but he’s only taking 1.7 shots more per game compared to last season. And upon further analysis of the numbers, we see that he’s averaging 1.5 more 3-point attempts a game.

Yes, the sample size is small, but for a player that decided to stay another year after flirting with leaving for the NBA Draft, he needs to be doing more on offense.

He’s still deferring on open looks and not showing the aggressiveness he should as the No. 1 or 2 option for Michigan.

Robinson still averaged 10.3 points in the tournament, a figure that would have been higher if not for the hard foul he took on his back on Sunday that limited him to nine minutes and four points. Clearly he’s still making an impact.

But the back injury could hinder Robinson’s assertiveness. Michigan coach John Beilein said in his postgame press conference Sunday that the team was following trainers’ advice to keep him moving. The forward did start the second half before coming out after three minutes because he didn’t feel comfortable.

If the injury becomes more serious, Robinson will lose precious time to define the role he will play this season before Big Ten play starts.

3. Mitch McGary will only get better as the season goes on.

The sophomore forward didn’t start any games in the tournament, but when he did enter, his presence was felt immediately.

Playing in just his second, third and fourth games of the season, McGary looked every bit like the All-American he was picked in the preseason to be. After playing just 14 minutes in Michigan’s win against Long Beach State on Thursday, McGary played 33 on Friday as he battled against a tough front line from Florida State.

Knocking down bodies, making outlet passes and dribbling the ball in transition, the forward looked in mid-season form in Michigan’s win.

Against Florida State, McGary attempted 15 shots, well above his average of 5.7 last year.

Going forward, Michigan will need to run more of its offense through McGary to establish more of an inside game. In the tournament, Michigan attempted 77 3-pointers – 10 more than the next team, Virginia Commonwealth. The Wolverines also made the most 3-pointers, and finished with the second-most points in the tournament. But going forward, Michigan needs to rely less on the long ball and design more plays for McGary at the hoop for success.

McGary aside, both of Michigan’s other big men — redshirt junior forward Jon Horford and fifth-year senior forward Jordan Morgan — played well in limited minutes.

Morgan looked especially good on Sunday, snagging nine rebounds — five on the offensive end — in 13 minutes.

“Jordan Morgan went in there and played his tail off,” Beilein said. “He had five offensive rebounds, he worked so hard. He had a big bucket for us and two huge foul shots. I’m really happy for him because finding playing time with Mitch in there is tough.”

While it remains to be seen how much Morgan will play going forward, it’s promising to see him play well while McGary works his way back to full health.

4. Zak Irvin isn’t afraid to shoot, and he shouldn’t be.

Against Charlotte on Sunday, Michigan shot 8-for-34 in the first half. Nothing was falling for the Wolverines, who essentially live and die with the jump shot.

With sophomore guard Caris LeVert — Michigan’s surprising second-leading scorer — on the bench with two early fouls, the Wolverines had to rely on freshman guard Zak Irvin to score.

And he tried to fill the void as best he could, attempting nine first-half shots. But only one would fall, a 3-pointer with less than 20 seconds that cut Michigan’s deficit to two. While it was his first make, it was encouraging to see him trust his shot.

Coming off the bench, Irvin’s role is to be a shooter. At 6-foot-6, the swingman should be looking to be a sparkplug, especially when the offense becomes stagnant.

In Michigan’s first two games in Puerto Rico, there were times when Irvin took shots early in the shot clock that weren’t necessary. But in those moments, Irvin wasn’t seen as one of the go-to options on the floor. That’s why those shots looked bad.

On Sunday, with LeVert out and Robinson out in the second half, it was appropriate for Irvin to attempt 14 shots, even if he missed 11 of them.

“We had pretty good looks,” Beilein said. “Unfortunately, many of them were Zak Irvin’s looks and you know he’s a heck of a shooter. So he’s going to have nights like that, and we’ll tell him to keep shooting.”

5. Bold Prediction: Stauskas will average 20 points in non-conference games.

Stauskas averaged 39.3 minutes in the tournament, and while that number will drop off with some cupcake games on Michigan’s schedule, his scoring won’t.

At the moment and for the foreseeable future, Stauskas will remain the Wolverines’ No. 1 scoring option.

With an expanded game, Stauskas needs to be on the floor, especially for a team that loves to drive and kick the ball out for three.

He went 8-for-19 in the tournament from deep and with McGary back in the middle for the Wolverines, more fast breaks and outlets will result.

Yes, the guard could struggle against Duke and Arizona, but you know full well that, he along with the rest of team, will be up for those games.

With Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway gone, the ball runs through Stauskas. Until another player steps, that will remain the case.