During the brief pre-game analysis offered by the experts prior to Thursday’s second-round matchup between the University of Michigan and Wofford College, Wolverines sophomore Nik Stauskas was again the main topic of discussion as a giant graphic of the confident guard floated by in the background and various methods to limit the Canadian were outlined.
Placed as the No. 2 in the Midwest region, the Wolverines cruised to an easy 57-40 win over the Terriers behind an efficient 5-of-9 shooting performance from Stauskas. But beneath his 15 points, the effect he had and will continue to have on his opponents going forward is undeniable. Yet, as offensively dangerous as he’s become and aside from last season’s run in the NCAA tournament, this is a situation that Stauskas never thought he’d be fortunate enough to be in.
Just like every other young hopeful that ever aspired to hoop among the absolute best, it was likely thoughts of moments like these that kept Stauskas warm on the countless frigid nights he spent perfecting his jumper on a backyard court generously provided by mom and dad.
In his first year in the NCAA, Stauskas found a role for himself on the Wolverines as a deadly accurate 3-point specialist who often hesitated to create off of the dribble. As the team’s third or fourth offensive option however, the proud basketball junkie learned quickly to absorb what he could from the experiences he was having, and then added them to his arsenal when the time came.
With over 30 minutes of playing time per game, the once-skinny kid from Mississauga, Ontario teamed with current NBA rookies Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. as a freshman last season to lead Michigan to an appearance in the national championship game.
But the Wolverines weren’t able to bring the national championship back to Ann Arbor just yet, and after what he felt was a poor performance during the tournament, a newly determined and sharply focused Stauskas spent the summer transforming into the player we now see today.
Armed with an extra 20 pounds of muscle and added explosiveness to his vertical, it has now become just as common to see highlights of the 6-foot-6 guard finishing off a drive with a two-handed dunk in the face of an opponent as it is to see the Canadian hit one from the corner as the clock runs out.
In 35.4 minutes of floor time per game, Stauskas has averaged a very impressive 17.5 PPG this season. He leads the Big Ten with 13 games of at least 20 points. Despite losing Mitch McGary to an injury prior to the start of the regular season, Stauskas also led Michigan to a 26-8 overall record that includes a 15-3 mark in the Big Ten, falling just short of the conference tournament title last weekend against Michigan State.
Next up for Stauskas and the Wolverines will be the seventh-seeded Longhorns from the University of Texas, who Michigan will face in the Round of 32 on Saturday.
Ty is a writer for Rantsports.com. Follow him on Twitter @abovethefoldty