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November 21, 2013

Stauskas becoming U-M's go-to guy

Who will replace Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway in crunch time?

That was one of the questions Michigan head coach John Beilein got most frequently in the preseason, and in Thursday night's 85-61 win over Long Beach State, sophomore Nik Stauskas showed he just might be the guy.

Long Beach wouldn't go away, twice cutting 18-point deficits to single digits, once in each half. When it got to nine under the 10-minute mark, Stauskas dropped a 21-footer from the top of the key - off the dribble - to help the Wolverines pull away.

"Given the inexperience on both teams, there's going to be runs," Beilein said. "They made a great run, but then … Nik made a big, big, big shot. That's probably one of our first big shots of the season, because it was going the other way quick. He made a huge one. That wasn't part of a play; that was Nik doing what he does.

"A couple of things we saw during their run - we thought our spacing was bad, it had crept back so we shrunk the court for them. We didn't think we ran very well. And then our defense at times, it was just really bad. We just showed a lot of inexperience."

But some good things, too, similar to a 77-70 loss at Iowa State. The Wolverines didn't block out at times, but they still held Long Beach eight below its average on the offensive glass (seven) and won the rebounding battle, 35-28. Sophomore Caris LeVert heated up for 20 points after a slow start, and freshman point guard Derrick Walton, Jr. hit a couple of triples to loosen things up for Stauskas and LeVert, U-M's most reliable scorers in hear early season.

Big man Mitch McGary, who will no doubt be a bigger part of the offense when he's in game shape, added six points and four rebounds and continues to be a presence.

Stauskas, though, has elevated his game in all facets. He's become more physical after being more of a finesse guy last year.

"I wouldn't say Nik has taken over, but when we feel he's got it going - in the last couple games he did a good job," Beilein said. "We've got a set of plays we run through him, and what I like is he's finding open people. I don't think he forced a shot today. The one pass to Caris late in the game really sealed the game. He's becoming a complete player, guarding rebounding better, a lot of things."

The young Wolverines continue to show unselfishness in the early going, too, looking for the hot hand. If that continues, the 2013-14 Wolverines will be a tough out in Big Ten play - and in the NCAA Tournament. Stauskas, though, should be the catalyst.

"Guys were just doing a really good job of getting into the lane and finding me when I was open. Caris and Glenn (Robinson III) had a couple of really good passes to me today," Stauskas said. "Any time I can get open shots, I hope I can knock them down.

"Trey was National Player of the Year so, and Tim was a first-round pick so it's kind of tough to replace that. Me and Caris put in a lot of time this off-season working out. We're just trying to do our best, and we're just happy we have this opportunity right now."

Florida State Michigan's next test

Michigan remains the only ranked unbeaten team in the field following Florida State's win over No. 10 VCU. FSU's size should challenge the Wolverines in tonight's game (5:00, ESPN2). The Seminoles held VCU to just 29 percent shooting and scored 38 points in the paint.

Michigan, of course, should be a bigger challenge.

"It's not all about Michigan," FSU head coach Leonard Hamilton said. "It's about who we are and what we are and how we're going to play to ourselves. They've got a great program and there's absolutely no way we'll be able to come up with a scheme to change, to make it anything other than what we have done all along. We're going to be as sound fundamentally offensively and defensively and play to each other."

"They have a tremendous system and they've got great shooters and they've got an All-American center. We've got our hands full. We have a healthy respect for them. The fact that they went to the Final Four last year, they got everybody's attention, including ours."

FSU will work inside for its point, sporting a trio of players with 7-2 wing spans. They average only 11 three-point attempts per game. Beilein, meanwhile, has Michigan rolling with perhaps its best offense since he's been in Ann Arbor, while Florida State scores but turns it over 20 times per game.

It's an interesting contrast in styles that should be fun to watch.

"He has a way of just getting it done, just a tactician," Hamilton said of Beilein. "Destined for the Hall of Fame, he's been a builder of programs. His system is hard to deal with. The challenge for us, we know they're going to execute. We can't turn the ball over 25 times against them. ... They're going to do what they do and I'm not sure anybody knows what we're going to do. We're still trying to find ourselves.

"They have all the ingredients of being able to get back to the Final Four again. It's the kind of teams we face in the ACC on a night in night out basis anyway so it can't do anything but help us prepare for the ACC race playing them."

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