January 4, 2013
Borton's Blog: Many hot hands
John Beilein has always loved the three-pointer. That's why it seemed so incongruous in his first years at Michigan, when his shooters at times threatened small children in the front row at Crisler more than the net.
Those days are gone now - long gone. And it's no coincidence that the Wolverines are sitting near the top of the college basketball world.
Those hot hands were never more in evidence than in the Big Ten opener at Northwestern, even given the wind chill from the hottest of them all. Michigan destroyed an admittedly banged-up bunch of Wildcats, 94-66, on a night when freshman Nik Stauskas found himself in a virtual shooting Iditarod.
Stauskas went 2-for-7 from three-point range, colder than a dip in Lake Michigan for the Big Ten's best long-range bomber. Despite hitting the ice patch, Stauskas is still leading the conference in three-point shooting, his 41-for-76 effort (53.9 percent) better than anyone else in the league in makes or percentage.
While he experienced a mild tremor in the three-point force, others were stepping up to go bombs away on Fake Conan and the helpless 'Cats.
There was sophomore point guard Trey Burke, acting like he was auditioning for national Player Of The Year honors with an assortment of double-take worthy drives, along with 4-for-6 from three-point range on his way to a game-high 23 points.
There was junior Tim Hardaway, Jr., coming off an ankle injury that made some wonder if he'd even take the court, nailing 5 of 6 threes, while his five-time NBA All-Star dad and grandfather chortled in knowing fashion. There were the Wolverines as a team, going 13-for-22 from three-point range, on the road, in the Big Ten opener.
That's a ways from the chuck-no-luck early days of Beilein basketball in Ann Arbor.
As a team, the Wolverines lead the Big Ten in three-point shooting, at 42.1 percent. Only Indiana has connected at above 40 percent, and half the Big Ten teams are under 33.
Beilein can get people behind defenses, especially with Burke in charge, and with the better depth among the big men and wings. He can do so times 10 when other teams know the sharpshooters aren't going to be building a second version of The Big House with their offerings from long range.
Stauskas still leads the pack, although he's grumbling a bit about lagging behind his accustomed 60-percent pace. Burke stands at 40.9 percent, and freshman Caris LeVert 42.9 after nailing his only two threes in the Big Ten opener. Hardaway moved up to 38.5 percent, with freshman Glenn Robinson III at 37.0 and freshman backup point guard Spike Albrecht at 38.5.
Beilein calls the freshman class a "we group," meaning the rookies know it's not about them as individuals but Michigan as a team. The head coach marvels at Burke's growing maturing, pointing out how he barked at teammates to ignore officials' calls and just play ball.
There are a lot of elements that go into 14-0, ones that reach way beyond shooting the basketball. But if Beilein were to look at old video of shooters from his first year in Ann Arbor - 31 percent from long range - and fast forward to now, it would be hard to hide the grin.
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