Michigan basketball coach John Beilein speaks to the media after the 62-60 win over Northwestern on Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018, in Evanston, Ill.
Orion Sang, Detroit Free Press
EVANSTON, Ill. — After No. 5 Michigan basketball‘s 76-57 win over Purdue on Saturday, Purdue coach Matt Painter told reporters that Jon Teske “has come a long way” and has “bypassed a lot of people he competes against.”
“We tried to recruit him,” Painter said of Michigan’s junior center, who scored 17 points and grabbed eight rebounds against the Boilermakers. “He wouldn’t let us.”
Northwestern coach Chris Collins had a similar message Tuesday night after the Wolverines pulled out a 62-60 win over the Wildcats in which Teske recorded eight points and 10 rebounds.
“He’s a big factor for them. He’s a very good defender. He knows his role, great offensively on those rolls where he rolls to the basket and gets those layups,” Collins said. “He’s a good pick-and-roll defender, he’s a good post defender. I’m very impressed with him. I always was in high school, I was a big fan of him.
“The development he’s made this year has really added to their weaponry, so to speak. They don’t have many holes. That’s why they’re 9-0. That’s why they’ve beaten everybody by 30 points except for us.”
This might’ve been hard to fathom two years ago.
As a freshman, Teske played just 61 total minutes, scoring five points and pulling down 12 rebounds. Last season, as the backup center, he averaged 12.3 minutes per game to go with 3.4 points and 3.3 rebounds.
But now, Teske played 32 minutes against Northwestern, his fourth consecutive game of at least 30.
He has developed into an irreplaceable member of a top-five team.
Teske rebounds well, averaging 6.6 per game this season. He’s consistently impactful on defense and can defend smaller players on the perimeter if needed – a crucial skill in today’s game.
On offense, he understands where to be at all times. The 7-foot-1 center is a good screener who rolls hard to the rim and knows how to make himself open, averaging 8.1 pointer per game.
When he was on the court in Tuesday’s game, U-M played like a different team on both ends of the court – reflected by his game-high plus-minus rating of plus-15.
“Wow,” said freshman forward Ignas Brazdeikis when relayed the stat. “He’s our backline of defense. He’s our motor on the offensive end. He means so much to us. He makes the right plays all the time and he sacrifices himself for the team.”
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Teske’s importance was never more clear than in the second half on Tuesday.
After Michigan jumped out to a 45-32 lead, thanks to a 9-2 run to open the second half, Teske picked up an offensive foul.
It was his third of the game, and the first time all season he has been in any real foul trouble.
He left the game, joining Charles Matthews, who also had three fouls, on the bench. Northwestern promptly ripped off a 13-2 run to cut U-M’s lead to two, changing the tenor of the game from a likely blowout to a back-and-forth contest.
“(Teske’s) big. (Northwestern center Dererk) Pardon had a great first half and he’s really crafty. He’s a good player. But Jon in the second half was really good on him,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “He’s gotten so physical, and then his weakness going into this year was defensive rebounding in a crowd. And he’s getting his body on people. His hands are up.
The Wolverines would do well to develop a contingency plan for when Teske isn’t in the game.
The Wolverines had success earlier in the year with a small lineup featuring sophomore forward Isaiah Livers at center, but haven’t used it as much or with the same effectiveness in recent games.
Teske’s backup, Austin Davis, has not played much, either. He saw a combined four minutes against North Carolina and Purdue. And against Northwestern, he racked up a minus-9 plus-minus in just seven minutes.
Freshman Brandon Johns, a highly-touted recruit, has played just 29 minutes all year but could be close to breaking into the rotation, according to Beilein.
But Teske has become the type of player who can’t be taken off the floor.
Who could’ve seen that coming?
“He’s huge,” Matthews said. “He’s the anchor for the team, man. He’s really helping us to these wins.”
Contact Orion Sang: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @orion_sang.