By Ashley Dunkak
ANN ARBOR (CBS DETROIT) – Nebraska is not ranked in the Top 25. In fact, the Huskers are not even receiving votes. Michigan defeated Nebraska when the teams met earlier this season, and the Wolverines (16-5, 8-1 Big Ten) have since defeated Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan State, all ranked in the Top 25 at various times this season.
When one considers the Big Ten’s most dangerous teams, Nebraska likely does not top the list.
Michigan coach John Beilein, of course, breaks that mold.
Beilein said Tuesday that the 10th-ranked Wolverines had to play well to grind out a 71-70 nail-biter in Lincoln back on Jan. 9, and he expects Wednesday’s game against the Huskers to be just as much of a challenge.
“They’re playing as well as anybody in the league right now,” Beilein said. “[Terran] Petteway might become the best player in the league. And then with [Ray] Gallegos, the way he can shoot, this is a tremendous basketball team, so we were very fortunate to get that win there.
“Talent is never enough,” Beilein added. “You have to have chemistry. You have to have timing. You have to have a lot of great things. Each game that they play, all this great talent that [Nebraska coach] Tim [Miles]’s brought in, is getting more and more comfortable with what he’s trying to do, what he and his staff are trying to do, and that’s been a big difference for them.”
For the Wolverines to play well, by and large, sophomore star Nik Stauskas needs to play well. In the 14 games in which Stauskas has put up 15 points or more, Michigan’s record is 12-2. In the six games in which Stauskas has scored 14 or fewer points, the Wolverines are 3-3.
The most recent such scenario came Sunday, when Michigan lost 63-52 to unranked Indiana and Stauskas produced only six points. The other losses in which Staukas failed to score big came against Top 25 teams Duke and Arizona.
Beilein said Stauskas is simply adjusting to being the focal point of other team’s defensive game plans. Previously, Stauskas has been able to operate relatively freely because of the presence of even more impressive teammates. Now, his coach said Tuesday, Stauskas is the one getting all the attention.
“When I look back at this, his career here, there was Tim [Hardaway Jr.] and Trey [Burke],” Beilein said. “Even his career at St. Mark’s, there was [Kaleb] Tarczewski and Eric Murphy. Now there’s Nik Stauskas’s name is out there, and he’s a marked man. That’s a different mentality that he’s learning about. He’s really doing a good job handling it.”
Beilein said the team as a whole – including Stauskas – need to find ways to help Stauskas be effective. As a group, the Wolverines look to bounce back against Nebraska (11-9, 3-5 Big Ten). The Huskers have won three of their last four, including an upset victory against then-No. 17 Ohio State.
The Wolverines had won 10 straight before losing to Indiana on Sunday. They have not lost two in a row all season, and they are determined to avoid consecutive defeats now.
Beilein said he does not know how the players will respond but says the staff has to strike a balance between criticism of what caused the loss and encouragement about what comes next.
“You just try to hit them between the eyes a little bit with, ‘Okay, here’s what happened, and here’s what we’re going to do about it. Let’s go,'” Beilein said. “At the same time, you’ve got to make sure you pat them on the back and give them a good source of confidence.”