Michigan’s long absence from basketball’s preeminent perch had caused much of the passion for the program to lie dormant, but in the span of a few short weeks it has all come rushing back. After helping shoot Michigan into the Final Four last week, freshman Nik Stauskas has been on the receiving end of his fair share of it.
“It’s unbelievable and it hasn’t happened in over 20 years, going to the Final Four,” said Stauskas. “We just understand that we’re part of something special right now, and we just want to have fun and take advantage of this opportunity.“
“I haven’t been here the last three or four years, so I don’t know what the vibe was around tournament time… but there’s a lot of excitement around campus right now. We have a lot of people, surprisingly, who are going to make the trip down to Atlanta. I have a lot of friends who said they’re going to come, so it’s just great to know we’ve got the support from them.”
Even celebrities are jumping on the Maize & Blue bandwagon.
“Glenn’s favorite rapper… his name is Meek Mill,” said Stauskas. “He tweeted us after the game, and Glenn like went crazy about that.”
Back to the Business at Hand
While it’s clear that the Wolverines are excited to be playing on season’s final weekend, they aren’t satisfied. They’d like to be playing on the season’s final Monday, but they’ll have to get past an extremely stout Syracuse defense to make it there. Thwarting the Orange’s vaunted 2-3 zone will be easier said than done, but Stauskas believes his team has the weapons and the game plan to do it.
“I think first of all, we are really good shooters,” he stated. “We have a lot of guys who can shoot it, but I think we also showed especially against Florida that we can be really effective against the zone defense when we move the ball and stuff.”
“(Shots against the zone) can come from pretty much anywhere,” he later added. “That’s the thing… I think with the zone defense it really allows you to kind of roam around and pick your own spots, so I’m really just going to be reading the defense and seeing what kind of shots I can get.”
Some of his best looks could come when the Wolverines beat the zone down the floor. That means how well Michigan’s play defense could be one of its biggest offensive keys.
“I think that’s been the message the whole year long,” Stauskas said. “If we can get stops and we can just go out and run, we don’t have to worry about anything else, really. So if we can really lock up against them and scout them out well, their zone defense isn’t really going to be a factor because we’re going to just go out and run get easy layups some times in transition.”
“If we can get stops out there and just run in transition that’s our game. “That’s what we love to do, and you saw that against VCU or anyone who really tries to press us. When we can get out and run we’re a tough team to stop. If we can do that tomorrow against Syracuse, that would be great.”
The McGary Effect
That the Wolverines will face their share of half court set-defense is inevitable. Trey Burke is an obvious option when it comes to finding the gaps in the Syracuse’s zone, but Mitch McGary will certainly be another. The attention the freshman phenom now commands creates openings for his teammates, and Stauskas may well be one of the primary beneficiaries.
“I think his progress kind of simulates or translates to our progress as a team,” said Stauskas. “You kind of saw his first game of the tournament, he started playing really well and our whole team kind of turned around the way we were playing. The whole energy he brings is great because we all feed off that when he’s screaming and diving on the floor for loose balls and stuff like that, so we all feed off him.”
“I know on Sunday against Florida, pretty much all the looks I got were because of him. He was requiring a lot of attention down low, rolling to the basket and the guys were forced to help out on him and I was open in the corner, so a lot of what we do offensively, it really works well when we’ve got a big who’s down in the post and really demands the ball.”
Last weekend the Wolverines heard pregame slights from both Kansas and Florida. This week Syracuse has decided to follow suit. This time the primary culprit was Syracuse junior guard, Brandon Triche.
"We think we have mismatches at every position.”
"Whether (Burke) is the #1 player or not, he's probably not the #1 defensive player."
"C.J. (Fair) is definitely going to go at (Stauskas). That's what we did with Jordan Hulls. With him being a 3-point shooter, we just went at him every play, he got a few fouls and they had to sub him out."
Triche’s backcourt mate, Michael Carter-Williams also got in on the act.
“(Burke) has got a lot of pressure on him to come off player of the year and hold up expectations and such. I have no pressure, so I’m just going out there, playing freely and enjoying myself.”
Stauskas conceded that he takes such talk as slights, but he and his teammates plan to let their games do the talking.
“I don’t think there is any pressure on Trey,” Stauskas stated. “Even if there was, this whole season he has kind of fed off of big match-ups or pressure being on him. We’re confident in Trey that he’ll do the right thing out there and he’ll make the right plays.
“From what everyone has been saying so far (the Syracuse players) seem like they haven’t really paid a lot of attention to anything we’ve done, but that’s up to them. They can look at us however they want. We’re confident in our abilities and we’re going to come out and play our game.”
For video of Friday’s Final Four chat with Stauskas, press play below.