Nik Stauskas has to be in top form for Michigan to top Stanford.
Saturday's Brooklyn Hoops Holiday Invitational features the Michigan Wolverines and Stanford Cardinal, two teams off to relatively unexpected starts. The former was ranked inside the Top 10 of both major polls to start the 2013-14 campaign,but has since fallen out after four losses. The latter boasts an 8-2 record and scored a signature victory at No. 10 Connecticut on Wednesday night.
This is set up to be a clash of styles as well. Stanford loves to pound the rock inside with versatile, athletic big men Dwight Powell, Josh Huestis and Stefan Nastic. On the other hand, Michigan will look to play an uptempo brand of basketball and rack up points in transition.
At times, the Cardinal have been difficult to figure out. A home loss to Brigham Young and a 21-point defeat at the hands of Pittsburgh are now a bit surprising given their performance against the Huskies earlier this week.
The Wolverines have looked like two different teams until recently. They decimated opponents from outside the major conferences by an average of 36.2 points. Against Charlotte and teams from the power leagues, head coach John Beilein's club is 1-4.
Both teams are looking to make a statement with a neutral floor win leading into conference action.
All that being said, let's take a look at how these two match up with one another.
There are few frontcourts in the country with an ensemble of forwards like Stanford's. Powell averages 14.6 points and 8.1 rebounds per game, but he is far from a statue in the post. In fact, the 6'10", 240-pounder will spend some time out on the perimeter. He will not shoot it from deep very often (1.4 attempts per game), though, his arsenal of skills is diverse enough to pull opposing bigs away from the basket and still attack the rim.
Same goes for Huestis, who is similar to Michigan's Glenn Robinson III. At 6'7", 230 pounds, he is more of an oversized small forward than a true power forward. The Great Falls, Mont. native is not afraid to go to work on the block, though.
Nastic only plays about 18.9 minutes per contest as Powell's immediate backup. However, he is still efficient when called upon and averages 7.1 points on 52.1 percent shooting.
At the other end of the floor, the Wolverines will need to get more production out of Jon Horford and Jordan Morgan than they have up to this point.
Beilein informed reporters start power forward Mitch McGary is dealing with a "variety of nagging injuries," which will definitely affect his play on Saturday, according to Brendan F. Quinn of MLive. Per Quinn:
Right now, Mitch cannot go 100 percent. ... He's a high motor guy, an energy guy, but when your body cannot do that, for a variety of reasons, it's going to hold him back...So we've got to keep working and working and working to get him healthy and get him in superior shape.
Horford and Morgan do not need to be dynamic scorers. The duo simply need to be effective on the glass, keep the Cardinal big men from piling up offensive boards and prevent them from dominating the paint.
Arizona is built a lot like Stanford, and it managed to grab 17 offensive rebounds in its victory over Michigan. A repeat performance for the Wolverines will spell doom this weekend.
Robinson must play like he did against the top-ranked Wildcats in order for the Maize and Blue to have any shot at taking this game. The sophomore small forward finally looked aggressive en route to knocking down eight of nine attempts for 20 points in 37 minutes of action.
Once the Cardinal start packing it in offensively and score in the paint consistently, opposing defenses start to collapse and leave guards Chasson Randle and Anthony Brown open looks.
Against Connecticut, Randle converted eight of 16 shots, including four of six attempts from beyond the arc. The results were 22 points and an upset victory on the road.
Brown did not have a great night (five points), but his averages are a better indication of how talented he is. The junior does it all for Stanford. He scores 15.2 points, nabs 5.6 rebounds and hands out 2.3 helpers. Nik Stauskas will have a tough time slowing him down, which could be problematic for the Wolverines.
The only mystery in Michigan's backcourt is at point guard. Derrick Walton has struggled with turnovers and looks overwhelmed at times by the speed of the game. This is not uncommon for a freshman, but it does not help the Maize and Blue out at all.
Sophomore reserve Spike Albrecht looks to be the best option at the 1 for the time being, despite his struggles defensively.
Caris LeVert needs to continue to attack the basket and create opportunities for others. Ditto for Stauskas. The two have combined to score 32.2 points and 5.5. assists through 10 games. Getting Stauskas some open three-pointers will be key, seeing as he is knocking down 48.1 percent of his shots from distance.
Michigan will need the duo to come through with efficient and high-scoring performances against Stanford given McGary's status.
The Wolverines looked like they finally turned a corner in their near-win over Arizona. The offense managed to hang 70 points on a stout defense and did so with just eight treys. Robinson turning it on was the biggest difference. As long as he is on his game again, Stanford is going to have its hands full.
However, if the Cardinal are able to score at will on the interior, they could very easily close this one out down the stretch, much like Arizona.
The X-factor for the Wolverines is their hunger. They came within minutes of a marquee victory and know this could close the wound a bit.
Stanford's huge win over Connecticut may have done more bad than good leading into this matchup. Powell, Randle and Brown all played the full 40 minutes. Huestis was on the floor for 38 minutes. With only two days off, it is reasonable to assume the group will be a bit worn out.
Final Score: Michigan 75, Stanford 69
Want to talk more Michigan basketball? Follow me on Twitter @Zach_Dirlam.