Michigan basketball came up on the short of a 72-71 loss to Indiana Sunday. The loss to Indiana did help illuminate one of the most unknown facts about the Wolverines: Nik Stauskas is Michigan’s most valuable player.
Before you attack me in the comment section, let me point out that I did not say Stauskas is Michigan’s best player. That honor belongs solely to Trey Burke, one of college basketball’s most exciting players and a POY favorite.
Stauskas is having a remarkable freshman year at Ann Arbor. He is averaging 11.6 PPG on 47.5 percent shooting from the field and a blistering 45.9 percent from beyond the arc.
In the loss to Indiana, Stauskas scored 10 first-half points and ended up with 12 points, three rebounds and one steal.
If you observe Michigan’s record, it is easy to see how Stauskas’ play is directly tied to Michigan’s successes or failures.
In the Wolverines' six losses, Stauskas did not score more than 12 points.
In games that Stauskas has scored more than 12 points, Michigan is an undefeated at 12-0. This includes impressive wins over Kansas State, NC State and Illinois.
Why does Michigan receive such as boost when Stauskas scores well?
The answer is twofold.
When Stauskas is playing his best, he is a third elite scoring option for Michigan.
Michigan can rely on Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. for 25 PPG, and when Stauskas is playing well, Michigan is receiving close to 30 PPG from its backcourt. With their greatest weakness being in their frontcourt, the Wolverines rely on their backcourt to be explosive.
When Stauskas is scoring, there is no better backcourt in all of college basketball.
Furthermore, when Stauskas is shooting well from beyond the arc, he stretches the defense and opens lanes for Burke to exploit.
When Michigan was playing its best against Indiana, Stauskas was able to pull the Hoosier defense from the lane, and Burke was able to take advantage of his access to the lane to the direct benefit of himself and his teammates.
Burke finished the game with just 20 points and four assists, but his impact was far greater than that.
Michigan’s offense is so much more potent when Burke gets into the lane and they are not relying on the long ball to beat defenses. When the Wolverines are able to run their ball-screen action and send backdoor cutters through the lane, they are able to mask the lack of production they get in the post by scoring inside.
As Michigan moves into March Madness, it will rely on Stauskas to help carry it toward Atlanta.
Teams will continue to focus their attention on Trey Burke, and if Stauskas does not stretch the defense, teams will have a much easier time smothering the quick guard.
If Michigan is to make its first Final Four since the Fab Five, it will have to be due to the great play of Stauskas, because he truly is the most valuable Wolverine.