Directionless offense flails with Stauskas gone missing

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By Neal Rothschild, Daily Sports Editor
Published February 8, 2014

IOWA CITY — Nik Stauskas isn’t much for expressing frustration. If he’s not playing well, he maintains an even keel and keeps from voicing displeasure. He’s not willing to show that he’s been defeated, even if the team has been.

So on days like Saturday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena with Michigan getting pummeled on the road, 85-67, you wouldn’t know from looking at the sophomore guard that things weren’t going his way.

It wasn’t that Stauskas was having an off day, but rather that Iowa wasn’t even giving him a chance to have an off day. For 35 minutes, Iowa guards Roy Devyn Marble and Josh Oglesby marked him closely. They denied the ball when he’d make a cut toward the ball, and they’d body him when he tried to cut backdoor.

Just looking at Stauskas’ stat line — 10 points on 50-percent shooting, you wouldn’t think it was a case of a star player having an off game. More like a role player playing a role-player game.

But make no mistake, the Hawkeyes knew how important it was to make No. 11 in the blue jersey look like a role player.

“We were pretty much locked into collectively going after Stauskas,” said Iowa coach Fran McCaffery.

Sixteen days after Stauskas battered Iowa for a career-high 26 points, he was unrecognizable Saturday with a new man guarding him and a new game plan from McCaffery.

Rather than sticking the big-bodied Aaron White on Stauskas, Iowa would follow Indiana and Michigan State’s lead and put its best athlete on the sophomore.

“What we did was we decided to put Marble on him,” McCaffery said. “We thought that would be a better match, and he was really good.”

Marble limited Stauskas to six field-goal attempts, zero assists and four turnovers.

“I wasn’t about to let him have another 26-point effort against us,” Marble said.

Just as Yogi Ferrell did last week and Gary Harris the week before, Marble guarded Stauskas tightly throughout, but also had the game of his season offensively. He scored 26 points with six 3-pointers, while 22 of those points came in the first half with the game still in doubt.

“You’ve got to play both ends of the court in order to be a great player,” Marble said. “And I take pride in my defense and trying to shut or contain whoever the best player on the other team is.”

When he got his hands on the ball, the tight defense, or maybe just the bottled-up frustration forced Stauskas into turnovers. His shake-and-bake dribble that had turned Iowa into rubber a few weeks ago had betrayed him. Twice he dribbled off his foot and twice he tried to make a pass to a Wolverine that wasn’t where he was expected to be.

“They made a lot of adjustments,” Stauskas said. “They did some switches on our ball screens and handoffs, which made things difficult. They denied me the ball, and then when I did try to drive, all their guys were in the gaps. They were trying to clog up the lane, which made it tough for me to penetrate.”

It’s the third straight game that Stauskas was held to 10 or fewer points after having scored at least 12 in the previous 12 games. Just as he was emerging on the scene as a Big Ten Player of the Year frontrunner, the increased attention from opponents has seemed to stymie his groove.

“I think all teams are starting to play me like that,” Stauskas said. “So it’s something I’m gonna get used to.”

If this game was played at the beginning of the season, the blame for offensive woes wouldn’t fall on Stauskas. But as he has emerged as the top offensive option, the team’s success in tough games appears to be strongly correlated to Stauskas’s performance.

In November, it seemed that Robinson would bear a heavy responsibility in the Wolverine attack, but his inconsistent play has rendered him an enigma — a player with explosiveness, but who can’t be relied on from game to game. That point was supported with his two-point performance Saturday on 1-for-7 shooting on the heels of a 23-point game in Wednesday’s blowout victory over Nebraska.

Saturday, it was a pair of guards, sophomore Caris LeVert and freshman Zak Irvin, filling the offensive void. Michigan finished with 67 points, though even that figure was inflated by late-game apathy from the Hawkeyes. LeVert was successful at dribble-driving his way to 11 free-throw attempts and 22 points, while Irvin sustained his lights-out shooting. He made seven of his 12 shots for 19 points.

But to compete with Marble and the high-octane Iowa attack, Michigan was going to need more from its star player.

“I blame myself for that,” Stauskas said. “I think I haven’t done my part offensively. I know Caris and Zak, the last couple games, they’ve done a great job of stepping up and doing their fair share. I think it just falls on me right now. I’ve just got to be more aggressive in finding ways to make it happen.”