NOAH TRISTER, AP Sports Writer
ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — There was never much doubt that Nik Stauskas would be back at Michigan this season.
His freshman campaign was impressive enough, but while four of his teammates faced big decisions on whether to turn pro, Stauskas still had a lot of improving to do.
And now the Wolverines are reaping the benefits.
“I just try to do what I do out there,” Stauskas said. “Just play basketball, and whatever I can do for this team to help us win, whether that’s just shooting 3s or that’s doing everything on the floor, I’ll do whatever it takes.”
Michigan lost national player of the year Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. to the NBA after last season’s Final Four run, and although Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III decided to return, McGary, a preseason All-America, is out indefinitely because of a back injury. The Wolverines have struggled at times in 2013-14, but they are still unbeaten in Big Ten play heading into Tuesday night’s game against Penn State.
Stauskas is a big reason why.
The 6-foot-6 guard is averaging a team-high 17.4 points per game, and he leads the Wolverines in assists. He is shooting 46 percent from 3-point range and has shown an ability to get to the basket that is resulting in more trips to the free throw line.
In all, he’s been Michigan’s most consistent offensive player.
“He’s driving the ball more than he has, and he’s got the ball more than he had last year,” coach John Beilein said. “If you looked at Tim and Trey last year, they had the ball a lot, and he was playing off of that. Now we’re playing off of him a great deal.”
Stauskas was impressive from the start last season as a freshman, fitting in seamlessly in Michigan’s perimeter-oriented offense. The high point was probably his 22-point effort when the Wolverines routed Florida in an NCAA regional final. Stauskas made all six of his 3-point attempts that day.
Stauskas is a well-rounded offensive player — to the point that the phrase “not just a shooter” is applied so often to him that it’s become a running joke among Michigan fans. His height and athleticism enable him to finish around the rim, and this season he’s been impacting games by drawing fouls.
An 82 percent free throw shooter since arriving at Michigan, Stauskas has attempted 92 foul shots in 2013-14 after shooting only 87 all last season. His 51 assists are only one shy of his season total for 2012-13.
“I’ve always been a guy who sees the floor pretty well and can distribute the ball,” Stauskas said. “With the positions Coach is putting me in, how I can be a little more aggressive getting to the basket, naturally I’m going to draw more double teams.”
The next step may be for Stauskas to improve at the defensive end, but Michigan (11-4, 3-0) has needed his offense this season. Robinson has played well of late despite an ankle problem, but McGary’s absence puts more pressure on the rest of the lineup.
“Everyone loves Mitch, in the locker room and on the court,” Stauskas said. “Coach just stressed leadership from everyone.”
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