Michigan’s offense struggled mightily against Duke in the Wolverines’ 79-69 loss at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Tuesday — excluding the final two minutes of the game, Michigan managed a paltry 0.86 points per possession. This was due in a large part to Duke’s face-guarding and ball denial of Nik Stauskas, Michigan’s most potent offensive weapon this season. (Photo: Dustin Johnston)
Stauskas only took two shots in the loss and missed both, something entirely out of character for the sophomore. During a press conference on Friday, John Beilein described what Stauskas was up against.
“There’s not much you can do. They just face-guarded him in the corner. It’s a box and one with man-to-man principles,” Beilein said, describing Duke’s defensive strategy. “They’re going to want you to play four-on-four. There’s very little you can do for him at that time. We screened for him a couple times, and we have some things we can do, but you play 4-on-4. And we weren’t able to play 4-on-4 until the second half. If they’re face-guarding a guy and saying, ‘you’re not going to get the ball,’ there’s very little you can do because they’re not going to play help defense (off Stauskas). If they’re not going to play help defense, then there are pockets where you can score.”
It’s true — Duke never helped off Stauskas and packed its defense into the paint, not allowing for much driving opportunity. Michigan not hitting outside shots played right into the hands of the Blue Devils.
However, the way they overplayed Stauskas on the perimeter led to the obvious question: what about some backdoor cuts? Beilein said Stauskas tried that, but Duke completely took it away.
“They were just sitting on him,” Beilein said. “They were saying, ‘we’re not going to let you get the ball but we’re really going to overplay the backdoor,’ and our timing isn’t great in that right now, but that’s what they were able to do. It was just a complete face-guarding, don’t let him get the ball. No regard for help defense.”
Beilein added that this sort of defensive focus is something Stauskas will have to expect as the season wears on, and added that it’s up to both Stauskas and the coaching staff to adapt.
“Absolutely (he has to adapt) and we have to find a way to use him as a screener or get more screens for him and we did do that a couple times,” Beilein said. “We had some action that just blew up on us because our timing was off.”
The rest of Michigan’s offense must step up when Stauskas is taken out of the game
The way Duke played Stauskas on Tuesday was essentially a dare: we’ll take away your top scorer, now make somebody else beat us. Michigan, unfortunately, was unable to answer, other than a late push by Caris LeVert.
What’s frustrating for fans is seeing all of the talent Michigan has on the court — Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary in particular — while watching the offense fall apart without one player. John Beilein said the team needs that talent to step up when one player is the focus of the defense.
“We have some very good players,” Beilein said. “We have six or seven guys out there — if people are keying on anybody, if they won’t let Mitch get the ball, they shut down the point guard, they won’t let Caris get the ball — they can’t shut down all five. Other guys have to sort of feel their way into their timing, find openings and play in space. It’s harder than it seems.”
Specifically, the great mystery of the season has been the lack of production from Robinson. As a projected lottery pick in last year’s NBA draft, Robinson returned for his sophomore season to prove he had ballhandling skills and the ability to create shots for himself. So far, he hasn’t shown that.
Beilein preached patience and noted that Robinson, who’s normally an above-average shooter, isn’t shooting well from long range, and that has affected his production.
“First of all, he’s a very good shooter and he hasn’t shot the ball well … and that’s a thing that he will fix. Duke left him wide open, guarded Nik and left their man in the paint and said ‘we’re going to make Robinson beat us from the outside.’ Those are opportunities he’s got to take advantage of, and we’ve got to find him as well,” Beilein said. “Glenn has been a residual player since the day he walked in here. He gets things. He is Megatron. He can run around and make things happen all the time. But there are still areas he’s still working on so we can actually go to him. We do it as much as we can do it, but it’s not as if all of a sudden he’s going to become this immediate ball-screen player … He’s working at it, and he won’t stop.”
LeVert could potentially see more action at the point
Late in the game on Tuesday, LeVert was handling point guard duties for Michigan. That lineup was pretty effective, even though it’s safe to say the game was largely decided at that point. Could Michigan fans see more of LeVert at the one?
Beilein is certainly leaving it open as an option.
“(LeVert playing point guard) is a thing we’ve messed around with before,” Beilein said. “He understands, he’s a year ahead of Derrick as far as knowing the schemes that we’re running. It’s great to have that option. You could leave him with Derrick and put him off the ball, or you can end up putting Nik at the off guard. We’re sort of melting it together. But it’s certainly an option.”
For his part, LeVert said at the press conference that he is fine with playing point and expected to see some action there this year.
“I’m pretty comfortable playing point guard,” LeVert said. “I know a lot of the spots in Beilein’s offense and I’m comfortable with then. I’m pretty comfortable handling the ball and things like that.
“I played there a little bit last year, but obviously with Trey leaving and Derrick coming in and being new to the offense, I knew I would be forced to play a little bit of point guard this season.”