Michigan Backcourt Preview

Texas will face one of the country's most loaded backcourts Saturday when the Longhorns take on the Michigan Wolverines.

* Unless otherwise noted, statistics are pulled from KenPom.com and Hoop-math.com.

When Michigan made its run to the 2013 NCAA Tournament Final, the Wolverines did so with a stellar backcourt, including National Player of the Year Trey Burke, leading the No. 1 offense in Adjusted Offensive Efficeincy.

But with Burke and fellow star wing Tim Hardaway Jr. off to the NBA, the Wolverines figured to see a drop-off in production from those spots. Instead, Michigan has put up the No. 3 most efficient offense, in large part thanks to a bevy of 6-6 wings that can score (Michigan has four of them, including Glenn Robinson III, who mostly plays the four in Michigan's four-out offense).

Of course, replacing Burke would be, and is, impossible. But while freshman Derrick Walton (6-1 185) has done an admirable job at the point guard spot, the main area of growth has been Nik Stauskas's emergence into an All-American.

A classic shooting wing at 6-6 205, Stauskas was a hyper-efficient scorer as a freshman with a 122.8 rating. This year, the sophomore has become the rare player who saw a slight uptick in efficiency even as his usage rating went up. He uses a team-high 23.8 percent of possessions, which isn't overly high (though 7.6 percent higher than last year), but his 123.8 rating and sweet stroke have allowed him to average 17.4 points per game despite playing in one of the country's slowest offenses (Michigan ranks 329th in Adjusted Tempo).

How good a shooter is Stauskas? He's better than (and in some cases way better than) the NCAA average at every spot on the floor. He shoots 70.1 percent at the rim, a rate often reserved for bigs. The Division I average is 60.9. His 38.1 percent on two-point jumpers is higher than the 35.7 D1 average. And he makes an amazing 45.1 percent of his threes*, while taking more than 50 percent of his shots from out there. He also makes 82.2 percent of his free throws. And lest you think he was a one-trick pony, Stauskas has dished out a team-high 105 assists this year to just 63 turnovers, an outstanding rate for a non-point guard. And his free-throw rate of 52.0 percent is excellent.

* Basically, Stauskas shoots threes as well as Brady Heslip, while also handling the ball extraordinarily well and creating his own shot. If anyone screams "put Texas guard Demarcus Holland on this guy," it's Stauskas. Put another way, Stauskas's offensive rating is higher than Burke's was a year ago.

Speaking of point guard, Walton has started 33 of 34 games this year, and while he hasn't been the most efficient player in terms of creating looks for teammates and avoiding turnovers, he has been able to perform a reasonable replacement for Burke as a shooter (albeit without teams gameplanning for him and without the gaudy usage rates). In fact, Walton's effective field goal percentage (53.1) and true field goal percentage (58.1) are both higher than Burke's numbers a year ago (53.0 and 56.9). He brings another big-time three-point shooter, making 40.4 percent of his looks from out there this year.

When he leaves the game, he's replaced by sophomore Spike Albrecht (5-11 175), who is slightly more efficient at running the offense with a higher assist rate (25.0 to 20.5) and a lower turnover rate (14.2 to 20.1). He can also be a threat from three, making 39.0 percent of his three-point looks.* Of course, many remember Albrecht from last year's title game when he scored 17 points, including a 4-for-5 night from three. That hot start allowed Michigan to take a halftime lead that the Wolverines eventually lost to national champion Louisville.

* If it seems like Michigan has 40 percent three-point shooters growing on trees, it's because the Wolverines to. Two more are still yet to come!

The team's second-leading scorer is Caris LeVert (6-6 200), yet another 6-6 wing and yes, another 40 percent three-point shooter. LeVert can score at the bucket, where he shoots 86.7 percent, and he gets three more often than Stauskas. But he also makes 40.6 percent of his threes. Technically, he plays the small forward to Stauskas's shooting guard, though they both basically act as wings, and LeVert slides to the two on the rare occasions when Stauskas goes out.

LeVert is scoring 13.1 points per game, and his 96 assists are just under Walton's 99 assists for the No. 2 mark on the team. Michigan thrives on ball movement, and all three make sure the ball stays humming around the perimeter.

That's good for the main wing backup, as freshman Zak Irvin (6-6 200) has primarily been a catch-and-shoot guy at this point. Like LeVert, he's making 40.6 percent of his threes, though 91.1 percent of his three-point makes were assisted. When he does get run off the three-point line, his main look is a two-point jumper — he rarely takes the ball all the way to the rim. Just 4.9 percent of his shots have come at the rim, and two-thirds of those have been assisted.

Irvin will also play the occasional small-ball four.

Michigan's primary danger is as an offensive juggernaut, and the main reason the Wolverines are so tough to stop is a deep backcourt packed full of shooters and guys who move the ball. Of course the flip side to that is, if the Wolverines can be held down offensively — like when they were bumped from the Big 10 Tournament by Michigan State while shooting 6-of-23 from three — they don't really have the defense to fall back on.

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