Last March, Jon Teske sat with a towel draped over his neck and a long sleeve warm-up masking his mostly dry jersey.
Twenty feet away, Moritz Wagner terrorized the Loyola-Chicago defense as he hit a turnaround three, found Charles Matthews with a backdoor bounce pass and charged into the paint for a 3-point play, before capping the stretch with a three from the top of the key.
In four minutes, he took Michigan from a three-point deficit to the precipice of the national championship game.
“Not too many people in the country have the same skillset as Moe,” Matthews said Tuesday afternoon.
It’s a stretch that exemplifies what Wagner meant to the Wolverines. On an offense whose identity was being able to shoot from all five positions, the 6-foot-11 center paced the team with a 39.4 3-point shooting percentage and 14.6 points per game.
With Wagner now gone to the NBA, Teske, who played just three minutes in that game in San Antonio, moves to center stage.
But he’s not Moe Wagner, and there’s no hiding that. Wagner pierced the net 110 times from beyond the arc over the past three years. At 7-foot-1, Teske is an elite rim protector who adds another dimension to Michigan’s dominant defense but has never made a collegiate three. His most recent attempt came in the dying minutes of a 45-point game against UC Riverside last November.
“He’s one of a kind,” Matthews said of Wagner. “So yeah, we’re definitely gonna have to play differently.”
Had Wagner returned for his senior year, this would be a Michigan team with few question marks.
It would carry its offensive identity from last season, with sophomore guard Jordan Poole slotting in for the graduated Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman. The biggest change would be freshman forward Ignas Brazdeikis providing a different type of spark off the bench than sharpshooting forward Duncan Robinson.
In the turbulent landscape of college basketball, that would make the Wolverines one of the nation’s steadiest presences from a season ago.
But, as expected, Wagner declared for the draft and will be playing alongside LeBron James in Los Angeles next month. In his stead, Teske’s development will be key to whether Michigan’s offense can match a defense that ranked third in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted efficiency metric last season.
“Big Sleep has been doing very well in practice,” Matthews said, using Teske’s nickname. “And I think he’ll continue to grow.”
The most surprising development for Teske may come from beyond the 3-point line. Though he’s only attempted two 3-pointers in his college career, he regularly shot two or three a game in high school.
“Jon Teske has shot the ball really well (in practice),” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “Having a big man that can shoot, you all see what can happen, it made everybody else better last year. Having Jon be able to do that, … (that’s) big to get those big men that can shoot.”
Added Teske: “That (3-point shooting) is one thing that (Beilein) has seen me grow with. I’ve been showing him that I’m capable of shooting a three.”
It’s a different type of 3-point shooting than Wagner, who could shoot in nearly any situation. Teske anticipates that his looks from deep will come as a trailer in transition or off of pick-and-pops.
But after losing their top three long ball shooters, the Wolverines will take all the help Teske can give them.
Knowing that Wagner was likely leaving, Teske spent the last year studying him and learning his craft. They roomed together on road trips, allowing Teske to learn from him at every opportunity. Even now, with Wagner on the other side of the country, the two keep in regular communication by texting.
“I was just picking his brain here and there and he’s just a great guy,” Teske said. “… He’s always somebody that I look to, kind of like a big brother to me.”
Added Beilein: “Let’s face it, we lost our three top shooters. That’s a lot of threes in those three and high-percentage guys. So we have to replace that somehow.”
Believe it or not, Teske might be crucial to Michigan’s chances of doing that.
“Now that Moe’s gone, it’s my turn to step up,” Teske said. “And I think with my capability shooting the three, I can really stretch the floor and help us win games.”