You know this win felt good for Michigan.
The last time they were in this building, the then-No. 3 Wolverines thought that they had landed their first win over Wisconsin in the Kohl Center since 1999 as they watched Ben Brust’s halfcourt heave soar in and force overtime.
The Wolverines would lose in the extra frame, so you can imagine their panic as they once again saw a lead evaporating in Madison.
A 14-2 Badger run cut what was once a 15-point Michigan lead to 68-67 with just under a minute left when Nik Stauskas buried a nasty, step-back jumper to put the Wolverines back up four, and after he hit six free throws down the stretch to ice the win, the Wolverines escaped Kohl with a 77-70 win over the No. 3 team in the country.
It’s the second straight loss for Bo Ryan’s ballclub, the second straight game in which they were carved up by penetration from the perimeter. For a team that started the season 17-0, that’s a bit of a concern. The Badgers have given up more than 70 points in four straight games as well.
But whether or not it’s time to be concerned about Wisconsin is a different discussion for a different day, because this is all about Michigan.
The Wolverines were written off as a Big Ten contender when Mitch McGary’s season came to an end a month ago. There were even folks who questioned whether or not Michigan could make the NCAA tournament without McGary. I guess the Wolverines didn’t like that kind of speculation, because they’ve been dominant since then.
Michigan’s record since McGary went out is 7-0. They’ve won their first five Big Ten games, and while it’s fair to question just how impressive it is to beat Minnesota, Nebraska, Penn State and Northwestern, there is no questioning a win at Wisconsin.
So what’s changed? Well, Derrick Walton has been better protecting the ball. Glenn Robinson III is being more aggressive offensively. Caris LeVert is continuing to do Caris LeVert things as one of the nation’s most improved players. And Nik Stauskas is developing into an offensive centerpiece, a guy that Beilein can structure an offense around.
Michigan misses Trey Burke, who was an uber-efficient playmaker at the point guard spot. In the last seven games, Stauskas is averaging 4.6 assists and has committed just 10 turnovers. Burke had the ball in his hands in a big moment last season. Stauskas scored the last 11 points on Saturday, including a pair of huge jumpers in the final two minutes. He made the big plays down the stretch against Minnesota and Nebraska.
The Wolverines needed a supporting cast for Stauskas, but the reason they’re thriving is that Beilein is allowing Stauskas to be “the man”.
And he’s delivering.