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January 14, 2014
Young backcourt finding its niche
Michigan sophomore shooting guard Nik Stauskas wasn't brought to U-M to be just a shooter, despite the fact that he's one of the best three-point men in the country. Few, though, could have expected him to evolve the way he has a sophomore.
Stauskas and freshman point guard Derrick Walton Jr. were the catalysts in the Wolverines' 80-67 win over Penn State, the two reversing roles from what was expected of them before the season.
Stauskas was supposed to be the scorer and shooter, Walton the driver and disher. Head coach John Beilein said Walton had some of the best vision he'd ever seen from a guard Walton's age, in fact.
On Tuesday in Ann Arbor, they switched roles. Walton started the game with the first eight points, including two triples from the corner. Stauskas took over in the second half with a number of tough drives, finishes and assists on the pick and roll in showing his all around game.
"He's a really good driver, finds his people, Jon Horford and Jordan Morgan," head coach John Beilein said. "He has a great combination that people rarely have. He can't just shoot - he can really shoot. We know he can drive as well and pass, and if you look at his assist numbers right now - and now a five assist, zero turnover day - he's showing he can really play the guard position because of his height, his shooting, his feel - it's really been good for us."
Walton, meanwhile, continues to work on taking it to the rim.
"We want him to get there," Beilein said. "I thought when they got it down to two [47-45], he made a huge basket for us in a shot clock situation. He was shooting it well, but one of his turnovers was made after he hit two threes and drove it after. But he can get in there, and finding people is what he's getting better and better at."
The Wolverines managed 18 assists against only six turnovers, playing an outstanding floor game offensively. They scored 80 points on just over 50 shots, a number Beilein will take any day.
Walton was a big part of it, scoring a career high 16 points. He, like his teammates, made the extra pass repeatedly in an unselfish display of basketball.
The defense still has a ways to go, though Robinson III stepped up and did a number on PSU's D.J. Newbill down the stretch, but there's no disputing the offense has made significant strides. The guards are a big reason why.
"Derrick is getting better and better all the time," Beilein said. "Trey Burke had Stu Douglass, a senior, playing next to him. For Derrick it's Caris, who is seeing his first real minutes for the first time.
"These are slow steps he's making running our offense and all the stuff we do, and it can be confusing. But we had quarterback club today and we can see it slowing down and him getting better."
Not Trey Burke quite yet, but more than sufficient for a team starting to find its groove on offense.