Ann Arbor — What’s going on with Michigan’s offense?
It’s a pertinent question after the Wolverines have waded through mud and posted two of their lowest-scoring and worst-shooting games of the season against Wisconsin and Minnesota.
But the last two games have also prompted another thought: Where would this team be without junior center Jon Teske?
While seemingly every Wolverine has been stuck in some sort of a rut, Teske has been chugging along and stringing together one impressive all-around outing after another.
Over the last two contests, Teske has shot 66.7 percent (12-for-18) from the floor and 60 percent (3-for-5) from 3-point range while tallying 30 points, 12 rebounds and seven blocks.
The rest of the Wolverines? They’ve combined for 83 points while shooting 31.6 percent (31-for-98) from the field and 14.3 percent (5-for-35) on 3-pointers.
On top of that, Teske is the only Wolverine to post a positive plus-minus rating against both the Badgers (plus-1) and Gophers (plus-14).
“I’m so happy that we have another way to score with him. His effort area is great,” Michigan coach John Beilein said after Tuesday’s 59-57 win. “He’s learning that, boy, I have some talent here. He’s really trending in the right direction. He’s a defensive force.
“That little shot from the porch from the left of the key that he made (late in second half), that was a big shot. We were struggling at that time.”
And if these past two games have amplified anything, it’s how different Michigan looks when Teske is on the floor and how much of a struggle it becomes when he’s not.
After Teske picked up an early foul, he was replaced by sophomore forward Isaiah Livers with 18:10 left in the first half as Michigan (18-1, 7-1 Big Ten) turned to a small-ball lineup.
Minnesota took advantage with big man Jordan Murphy abusing Michigan in the post. Without Teske’s size and shot-altering presence, the Gophers scored their next five baskets in the paint and drew two fouls at the basket to open a 16-8 lead.
When Teske eventually checked back in at the 12:24 mark, he promptly scored on an offensive putback and did much of the damage during a 13-4 run with two layups, another putback and a 3-pointer to tie it at 23.
Then in the second half, Teske was on the court for the majority on Michigan’s 23-3 run that turned a seven-point deficit into a 13-point lead. Teske’s defense played a key part throughout the stretch where Minnesota missed 13 of 14 shots and had two shots batted away at the rim.
“He’s good,” Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said. “He’s really, really big. He’s a lot bigger in person than on film, and he rebounds the ball well. Obviously makes shots, so he’s tough.”
There was a similar noticeable difference last weekend at Wisconsin when Teske, once again, picked up a foul before the under-16 timeout and was relieved by redshirt sophomore center Austin Davis.
While the interior defense held up at first and Davis was able to get a defensive stop on Wisconsin star Ethan Happ, it didn’t last. Happ eventually had his way with Davis and scored three layups under the basket that gave the Badgers their largest lead of the first half.
Then just like against Minnesota, it was Teske’s impact on both ends that helped Michigan pull ahead in the second half over Wisconsin by blocking two shots and lifting the offense with five straight points.
And throughout the game, Teske made Happ, a preseason All-American, work for his buckets. Happ finished with 26 points but needed 22 shots to do so, the third-most field goals he’s attempted in 123 career games.
“Watching film on him prior to the game the biggest thing you notice is his ability to stretch to floor a little bit more,” Happ said of Teske. “He had a big 3 that he hit down the stretch and his post presence on defense has really come a long way since that time I met him as a freshman.”
The scary thought is that, according to Beilein, Teske still has a ways to go.
“Him becoming another offensive option for us is really key,” Beilein said last weekend. “We’re not afraid to have him pop out on a ball screen, we’re not afraid to throw the ball to him in transition like we did. Now the next option — and he’s still got time to do this — is we’ve got to throw it in the block for him more. He has done a great job at commanding that space and we’ve got to do a better job as coaches making sure he gets it inside.
“It’s been a great evolution for him right now.”