Big Ten Sophomore Spotlight: Michigan’s Zak Irvin

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 23rd, 2015

Many sophomores in the Big Ten have a significantly greater role this season than they did as freshmen. That is to be expected, of course, as the offseason between their first and second years is often when players make their biggest strides in development. Some highly-recruited guys, however, continue to disappoint, while others who may not have been so highly regarded have by now become viable contributors for their teams. This series of posts is meant to check in on a few of the different sophomores in the league to determine whether they have improved and what it means for their teams going forward. Next up in the series is Michigan forward Zak Irvin.

Zak Irvin has to produce now more than ever with Caris LeVert done for the season due to an injury. (Leon Halip, Getty)

Zak Irvin has to produce now more than ever with Caris LeVert done for the season due to an injury. (Leon Halip, Getty)

  • 2013-14: 15.4 MPG, 6.7 PPG, 1.3 RPG, 0.2 SPG, 43.4% FG, 42.5% 3FG, 59.2% eFG, 19.4% Usage, 117.8 Offensive Rating
  • 2014-15: 34.6 MPG, 13.7 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 0.8 SPG, 39.6% FG, 35.9% 3FG, 48.4% eFG, 21.6% Usage, 100.6 Offensive Rating

Things just got real for Irvin. Caris LeVert is now out for the rest of the season with a foot injury, so in following the “next man up” theorem throughout sports when a superstar gets injured, all the signs point to Irvin as the new main option for the Wolverines. To this point in the season, however, Irvin’s play has to be considered a mild disappointment. His general offensive productivity has declined as he has significantly increased his minutes and shot attempts commensurate with the team’s focus. Like Michigan as a team, things started out pretty well this season for the Indiana native, as he averaged 20.4 PPG on 43.4 percent shooting from deep in the first seven games of the season. Beginning with the Wolverines’ catastrophic loss to NJIT, however, his numbers dropped to 11.3 PPG on 30.8 percent shooting from three. Five of his first seven games exhibited offensive ratings above 100, but he has only managed to hit that number three times in his last 12 outings. He has somewhat made up for it in Big Ten play with better rebounding (4.7 RPG), and getting to the free throw line (3.4 FTA), but Irvin is on the floor to make shots from the perimeter, which he hasn’t been doing nearly enough lately.

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Caris LeVert’s Injury Could be Season-Ending for Michigan Too

Posted by Eric Clark on January 19th, 2015

Michigan head coach John Beilein is an outstanding head coach, and if he can lead his current group of Wolverines back to the NCAA Tournament for the fifth consecutive season, he should be dubbed a miracle worker. In Saturday’s 56-54 win over Northwestern, Beilein lost his best player, junior Caris LeVert, for the remainder of the season after he suffered an injury to his left foot. LeVert had surgery on the same foot last May and will undergo another operation on it this week.

Caris LeVert suffered a season-ending foot injury in Michigan's 56-54 win over Northwestern (Gregory Shamus, Getty).

Caris LeVert suffered a season-ending foot injury in Michigan’s 56-54 win over Northwestern (Gregory Shamus, Getty).

LeVert’s injury is devastating to Michigan’s already-slim chances of making the NCAA Tournament, as the junior leads the team in scoring (14.9 PPG), rebounding (4.9 RPG) and steals (1.8 SPG). His experience, on-court leadership and productivity are virtually irreplaceable for a program that has lost so much talent in the last two years. Junior Spike Albrecht along with sophomores Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton Jr. will now be asked to pick up the scoring slack, but they’ll have more to worry about than just getting buckets. LeVert played in 89.3 percent of Michigan’s minutes this year and carries a team-high 24.7 percent usage rate. Finding a new offensive rhythm will prove difficult for the rest of the team, especially with the injury coming in the midst of the Big Ten season.

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Introducing the Big Ten Point Guard Title Belt

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 8th, 2015

Point guard play has been the difference in many games involving Big Ten teams this season, but if fans who follow the league were asked to name its best floor general, several different answers would be given. Do you value a scoring guard like Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell or do you fancy a pass-first type like Ohio State’s Shannon Scott. Each team around the conference has a point guard who impacts the team’s bottom line by how or well or poorly they play on a given night, so how do you determine which player is the best? It’s a tricky question, but one that I’ve decided to tackle here. Per KenPom’s metrics, considering all point guards who have played at least 50.0 percent of their teams’ available minutes, there are 18 eligible Big Ten players. That group was then rank-ordered into five categories: free throw percentage; assist-to-turnover ratio; assist rate; effective field goal percentage; and steal rate.

Shannon Scott is one of the best point guards in the B1G, but is he the best?(AP)

Shannon Scott is one of the best point guards in the B1G, but is he the best?(AP)

These five metrics could arguably be tweaked or weighted by importance, but each represents a valuable commodity for someone who has the ball in his hands for a good portion of the game. Good point guards need to make free throws; they are expected to get their teammates involved; and they have to either be a capable shooter from behind the arc or get into the lane for high percentage shots. Defensively, a point guard needs to be able to pressure and irritate their assignments, and while steal rate isn’t a perfect indicator, individual defensive metrics are notoriously difficult to compare. Keeping in mind that statistics are only one part of the equation in evaluating players, after compiling the rankings, the top five came out as follows (in no particular order):

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Big Ten M5: 12.12.14 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on December 12th, 2014

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  1. Michigan has had as bad a week as you could have after consecutive losses to inferior opponents, first to NJIT on Sunday followed by Eastern Michigan on Wednesday. Yesterday, it came out that Spike Albrecht has been dealing with an unspecified lower body injury since the offseason. This on top of the toe injury to point guard Derrick Walton. As John Beilein said, “when your two point guards are banged up, it could impact you.” Albrecht says he’s been playing through the pain all season and it has not affected his play, but Wolverines fans must hope that’s the case because things won’t get easier for them as they face Arizona in Tucson Saturday.
  2. If Michigan had the worst week, Nebraska may be a close runner-up after they dropped a home game to Incarnate Word on Wednesday, losing 73-74. The Cornhuskers were shorthanded against the Cardinals as senior Moses Abraham did not play due to a broken hand suffered in practice the day before. Nebraska now has three losses on the season, including two at home which is more than they had all last season. With Terrran Pettaway and Shavon Shields already carrying a disproportionate amount of the scoring, losing an experienced big man like Abraham is only going to put more stress on them. They’ll need to figure out how to remedy their offense quick, as Cincinnati and their Top 40 defense come into town this weekend.
  3. Over on the east coast, Maryland is also going through its own health issues with two of their starters, Dez Wells and Evan Smotrycz, out for an extended period of time. Unlike the Cornhuskers, the Terrapins have been able to navigate through their injuries due to the excellent play of their freshman point guard, Melo Trimble. One of the best traits of the first-year player is his ability to get to the free throw line. On Wednesday’s 67-56 win over North Carolina Central, Trimble was perfect from the free throw line and scored eight of his total twelve points from the charity stripe. It’s his ability to generate points even during an off-shooting night that makes him so valuable and keeps this Maryland team afloat despite injuries to key personnel.
  4. On Tuesday, Indiana lost 74-94 to Louisville in large part due to their poor rebounding – the Cardinals out rebounded the Hoosiers 52 to 34, which includes grabbing 26 offensive rebounds. Indiana has been dealing with their deficiencies in rebounding since the loss of Noah Vonleh to the NBA Draft during the offseason. As Tom Crean and company contemplate how to fix their rebounding woes, an obvious starting point would be for the lone true big man in the starting lineup, Hanner Mosquera-Perrea, to be more consistent in his effort to grab boards. Indiana still has challenging opponents in its non-conference schedule, such as Georgetown, and they’ll need to improve their rebounding performance, otherwise they’ll be relying on getting hot from the three point line to win games.
  5. Finally, Ohio State may have found another offensive weapon on their roster with the impressive performance of Kam Williams in their 97-43 win over High Point. The freshman guard scored a career-high 23 points on 8-of-10 shooting including 4 three pointers. The Buckeyes already have an arsenal of weapons with D’Angelo Russell, Marc Loving, and Sam Thompson. So, Thad Matta won’t need a scoring output like this from Williams every night, but it must be nice to know that he has another potential high-scoring wing waiting on his bench.
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Can Michigan Survive This Storm?

Posted by Bennet Hayes on December 10th, 2014

Last weekend was not a good weekend for John Beilein’s Michigan team. Most notable among the afflicting issues was a ground-shaking loss to NJIT, the biggest upset by point spread (NJIT was a 24.5-point underdog) in college basketball in over seven years. If that wasn’t bad enough, Oregon and Syracuse both lost convincingly at home, rendering the Wolverine’s two biggest wins of the young season that much smaller. It was about as traumatizing as a December weekend can get for a Big Ten team in the Top 25, but come Monday, it was only the pain of the weekend that was over. We found out on Tuesday night that the mini-nightmare was in fact just beginning when the Wolverines sputtered to 42 points and yet another embarrassing home loss, this time to Eastern Michigan. The second loss was the lowest point total submitted by a Michigan team since the season finale in Beilein’s first season at the helm. With many things clearly unsettled and a trip to #3 Arizona on tap for this weekend, the Wolverines find themselves at a crossroads. Will this unsightly string of four days prove to be nothing more than a surprising blip on the radar, or is it the first sign of a team incapable of matching the standard set by its recent predecessors?

After A Weekend Loss To NJIT, Caris LaVert And Michigan Didn't Think Things Could Get Any Worse. They Did On Tuesday.

After A Weekend Loss To NJIT, Caris LaVert And Michigan Didn’t Think Things Could Get Any Worse. They Did On Tuesday. (AP)

At some point, personnel losses have to take their toll. In the last two offseasons, Michigan has waved goodbye to all five players who took to the Georgia Dome floor for the opening tip of the 2013 National Championship game. Trek Burke, Nik Stauskas, Tim Hardaway, Glenn Robinson, Mitch McGary: all gone, all with eligibility to spare. That gives the Wolverines more early entrants in the last two drafts than any other program in America, Kentucky included. Caris LeVert, Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton currently form a nice perimeter-based nucleus for Beilein’s squad, but there isn’t a program in America that wouldn’t feel the effect of those unplanned defections.

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Big Ten M5: 11.17.14 Edition

Posted by Eric Clark on November 17th, 2014

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  1. Former Indiana coach Mike Davis will make his first return to Assembly Hall tonight since he resigned from the head coaching position at Indiana in 2006. Upon his hiring in 2000, Davis was immediately met with animosity from Bob Knight apologists, setting the tone for his tumultuous six-year tenure as the Hoosiers’ head coach. Indiana played for one national title under Davis in 2002 (losing to Maryland), but his teams went 42-38 in his final three seasons at the helm. Currently embattled head coach Tom Crean said he hopes Davis gets a “tremendous reception” tonight when he brings Texas Southern (0-1) to Bloomington – but Davis is guaranteed to be greeted with plenty of audible heckles as well.
  2. Michigan State skated by Navy on Friday night by a score of 64-59, raising a few eyebrows around the college basketball community. But according to Lansing State Journal‘s Graham Couch, that kind of close win could be beneficial for the Spartans in the long run. Tom Izzo inserted three new starters in his lineup (Travis Trice, Alvin Ellis III and Matt Costello), but he only got double-figure scoring from Trice and Branden Dawson. Head coach Tom Izzo said he needs to see more production from his returning starters, Denzel Valentine and Dawson, but it’s an absolute certainty that Izzo would much rather have the bump in the road come now than come later on in the season.
  3. Rutgers opened its season with a 17-point home loss to George Washington, getting beat in just about every relevant statistical category. Myles Mack led the Scarlet Knights with 14 points, but he didn’t get much help from his supporting cast. Freshman Mike Williams poured in 10 points off the bench, but no other Knights reached double figures. Junior Etou and newcomer Bishop Daniels went a combined 1-of-16 from the field and Kadeem Jack is on the mend, so there aren’t many positives for Rutgers fans right now – unless you count D.J. Foreman’s monstrous dunk. And that’s certainly worth something.
  4. Caris LeVert was excellent in Michigan’s season-opening win over Hillsdale on Saturday, notching 20 points, nine assists and eight rebounds in the Wolverines’ 92-68 victory. LeVert and point guard Spike Albrecht were both relatively unknown recruits coming out of high school, but the two are now Michigan’s permanent team captains for the 2014-15 season. LeVert was one of three Wolverines to score more than 20 points on Saturday, whereas Albrecht came off the bench to score four. Head coach John Beilein said Albrecht and starting point guard Derrick Walton Jr. will be on the court together a lot this season, a rare dual-point guard situation that you should keep your eye on.
  5. Purdue’s Vince Edwards, a true freshman, introduced himself to the Boilermakers faithful in a big way this weekend, scoring 13 points and grabbing eight rebounds in his debut before turning around and dropping 26 points in a win over IUPUI on Sunday. Kendall Stephens shined alongside Edwards on Sunday, pouring in 24 points with six three-pointers as Purdue shot 50 percent from the field. The Boilermakers host Grambling State on Thursday before facing Kansas State in Maui on November 24. Purdue’s going to need more out of A.J. Hammons sooner than later, as the talented but enigmatic big man gathered a total of seven rebounds and scored only 11 points in his first two games.
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Is Michigan Better With Nik Stauskas at the Point Guard Position?

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on November 21st, 2013

Halfway through the 2011-12 Big Ten season, Trey Burke was still a freshman and was more comfortable playing off the ball instead of focusing on learning the art of playing point guard. As a result, Michigan head coach John Beilein inserted Stu Douglass into the starting rotation to play the point in the half-court. It was a position that didn’t naturally come to Burke during his first year, and even though Douglass was not a traditional one by any means, he was comfortable handling the ball with either hand and he understood Beilein’s offensive system very well. This subtle but meaningful change catapulted the Wolverines over the last six weeks of the season.

Nik Stauskas (Left) should be able to handle point guard duties until Derrick Walton is ready. (USA TODAY Sports)

Nik Stauskas (Left) should be able to handle point guard duties until Derrick Walton is ready. (USA TODAY Sports)

Flash forward to the present and Beilein might find himself in a similar predicament. Derrick Walton Jr. is an excellent guard who will eventually figure out the art of playing the point guard position, but for now, he may be more effective playing off the ball and doing what he is most comfortable with — putting the ball in the basket. There is no need for the Wolverines to panic after just three games including a road loss at Iowa State, but based on what we have seen so far, Nik Stauskas may be the only player confident enough to take on the team’s new leadership role. Against the Cyclones, the Wolverines were limited to a three-point shooting squad that couldn’t find decent looks from the perimeter. Michigan shot 8-of-29 (28%) from beyond the arc and Stauskas contributed four of those eight long-range buckets. Once Mitch McGary is completely healthy and can adequately man the post, that dynamic may change, but in the near-term – specifically the non-conference season – Stauskas appears to be the one who will carry the Wolverines’ offensive burden. Read the rest of this entry »

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Otskey’s Observations: Episode II

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on November 20th, 2013

Is there anyone out there who still thinks Marcus Smart made a poor decision in returning to Oklahoma State for his sophomore season? Smart is the star player on a team capable of making the Final Four and showed last night that he’s taking his commitment to improve all aspects of his game seriously. Remember, Smart was just a 40 percent shooter overall last season and an anemic 29 percent from three-point land. His talent is obvious but fine-tuning those skills are imperative if he wants to be successful at the next level of basketball. Consider last night’s 39-point performance against an overwhelmed Memphis squad a terrific start. Smart and his Cowboys blitzed the Tigers from the opening tip while the OSU guard enjoyed perhaps the hottest 10-minute stretch of basketball I have ever seen. Smart still has to prove he can hit jumpers with regularity and work on making better decisions, but he made significant progress last night, despite some ill-advised, quick shots and a couple of poor passes. Don’t forget about him: College basketball is not just all about Wiggins, Parker and Randle.

Marcus Smart was terrific against Memphis last night.  (AP Photo).

Marcus Smart was terrific against Memphis last night. (AP Photo).

It was interesting to note that John Beilein benched freshman point guard Derrick Walton Jr. down the stretch of Michigan’s 77-70 loss at Iowa State on Sunday. Instead, Beilein went with sophomore Spike Albrecht at the point as the Cyclones managed to pull away and pick up a big win. Beilein is a highly-regarded coach but this was a questionable decision. In a November game in a tough environment, I’d prefer to see the freshman in there to get that experience, good or bad. Nobody is going to be Trey Burke so what’s the harm of seeing what your young point man can do in a pressure spot? Yes, Albrecht is still young too but Walton Jr. seems like the point guard of the future for the Wolverines. I don’t think this decision cost Michigan the game but it was something I noticed immediately. Beilein should have let it ride with his promising freshman in that situation.

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Big Ten M5: 11.07.13 Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on November 7th, 2013

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  1. In the first regular season contest for Nebraska in its brand new arena, the Cornhuskers’ leading returning scorer won’t be playing due to a suspension. Head coach Tim Miles announced yesterday that senior Ray Gallegos has been suspended for two games for a violation of team rules. Miles said he learned of the infraction before Monday’s exhibition game, but that Gallegos did not play in that game because of a hip injury. The suspension length was a coach’s decision and has Gallegos missing the season opener against Florida Gulf Coast tomorrow and Tuesday’s game against Western Illinois. The opening game loss of Gallegos, along with guard Deverell Biggs serving a three-game suspension for a DUI, could provide a problem against “Dunk City” and returning guard Brett Comer. The Eagles have a new coach, but some of the players who helped them get the moniker and upset top teams last season are back. It certainly doesn’t help Nebraska to be without its top returning scorer against a team that likes to score and run.
  2. There seems to be a consensus about the top teams and players in the Big Ten this season. NBCSports came out with its preseason report on the conference yesterday and Michigan State and the Spartans’ Gary Harris were seen as the top team and player. It also sees at least six teams–Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Iowa and Indiana–joining the Spartans in the NCAA tournament and potentially up to nine with Purdue, Illinois and Minnesota on the bubble. The most interesting question this piece raises, though, is whether Indiana‘s Yogi Ferrell might be the most important player in the conference. Ferrell certainly will play a big role in the Hoosiers’ success or struggles this season, but the team will also need improvement and solid play from guys like Will Sheehey and Jeremy Hollowell. Plus, there are lots of guys coming back to teams that have vastly bigger roles or need to have huge seasons for their team to be successful (see: Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III for Michigan just to start).
  3. Thad Matta has something new this season in his 10th year of being Ohio State’s head coach. Not only will he have to find some different scoring threats, but he’ll also have an experienced squad. Of course, this is something Matta is more than happy to have, as he exclaimed, “Thank god, huh. Two seniors! We’ve got two seniors this year!” With big question marks surrounding exactly who will score for the Buckeyes this season, it certainly helps to have guys around who have been in the program for years to fill that void. Outside of the two seniors in Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith, Jr., Ohio State also has seven juniors on the roster. This is the most experienced squad Matta has ever led, and we will get a good assessment of how far experience can go in helping a team without a surefire NBA lottery picks on its roster.
  4. Illinois has a young and new team, with only five players returning from last season’s squad. With this influx of freshmen and transfers, it appears John Groce is finding leadership and consistency from one of the newcomers. Graduate student Jon Ekey, a 5th year transfer from Illinois State, has proved he can provide the squad with an example on the court and in practice for the freshmen and others to follow. Ekey, a 6′ 7″ forward, is a career 36.5 percent 3-point shooter, so he shows versatility on the court, but his ability to help the freshmen adapt to the college game could be his biggest asset to this team. He wasn’t a star at Illinois State, averaging 6.4 points per game last season, but his ability to play multiple positions and lead will get him time on the court. With a lot of question marks surrounding exactly how much this team will need to grow and improve, it certainly is a good sign they have a player others can model themselves after.
  5. From unknown to hero to footnote, Spike Albrecht had quite a game in the NCAA Tournament Championship for Michigan. Now, following up his 17 point first half barrage, the Wolverines sophomore is trying to follow-up his momentary celebrity status by earning a starting spot in Michigan’s lineup. He’s currently in a battle with top-40 freshman Derrick Walton to see who gets the starting nod as both started one of the exhibition games. It’s tough to see the Spike the sensation maintaining the starting position over a potential All-Big Ten Freshman, but if he can provide leadership, push Walton and give solid minutes of the bench once again, Albrecht will have a chance to make some other memorable moments.
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Where 2013-14 Happens: Reason #9 We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on November 4th, 2013

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Here we go… headfirst into another season heralded by our 2013-14 edition of Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball, our annual compendium of YouTube clips from the previous season completely guaranteed to make you wish games were starting tonight. For the next three weeks, you’ll get two hits of excitement each weekday. We’ve captured what we believe were the most compelling moments from last season, some of which will bring back goosebumps and others of which will leave you shaking your head in astonishment. To see the entire released series so far, click here.

#9 – Where Spike Wolf Happens.

We also encourage you to re-visit the entire archive of this feature from the 2008-092009-10, 2010-112011-12, and 2012-13 preseasons.

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What is Spike Albrecht’s Role This Season?

Posted by Brendan Brody on October 25th, 2013

If someone missed the first half of last season’s National Championship Game and was posed the following question — which Michigan player went 4-of-4 from the three-point line and scored 17 points in the first half, the most common guesses would more than likely have been Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., or Nik Stauskas. But the answer surprisingly turned out to be Spike Albrecht. The 5’11” sophomore guard only averaged 2.2 points and 8.1 minutes per game last year for the national runner-ups, but he turned in a memorable performance that kept Michigan in the game even after consensus National Player of the Year Trey Burke was saddled with first half foul trouble. After losing Burke and bringing in highly-rated recruit Derrick Walton, the question that remains to be answered is, how does Albrecht fit in this season?

Spike Albrecht will look to prove he is more than a one-hit wonder this season. (Getty)

Spike Albrecht will look to prove he is more than a one-hit wonder this season. (Getty)

By all accounts Walton is going to be very good. He averaged 26 points, seven assists and seven steals per game last season at Detroit’s Chandler Park High School. One would have to assume he will handle the majority of the play-making duties, using his quickness to get to the basket and dish to outside shooters. John Beilein‘s offensive philosophy has always been pretty reliant on shooting the three, so Albrecht could be one of the major perimeter weapons along with fellow sophomore Stauskas. Going small with a lineup of Walton, Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III, Mitch McGary, and Albrecht could be very effective offensively with Walton penetrating and working with ball screens and McGary drawing double teams in the high post and kicking it out to open shooters. One would think having Albrecht on the court when the Wolverines need shooting and floor spacing would be optimal. He also proved in short spurts last year that he can handle running the show when he took over for Burke in limited minutes. He will need to cut down on his 21.4 percent turnover rate, but with another year of familiarity and experience, this could very easily happen.

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Best of the Best: Big Ten Season Superlatives

Posted by jnowak on April 18th, 2013

There’s so much to look back on from this season’s Big Ten, and who doesn’t like receiving an award? So we decided to hand out a few more. Forget Class Clown. Our superlatives are a real honor:

Where does this moment stand against the best of the year?

  • Best game: Indiana at Michigan — We’ll get to the climax of this contest in a minute, but this was a heavyweight battle. After Indiana dealt then-No. 1 Michigan just its second loss of the season in Bloomington a few weeks earlier, the Hoosiers came to Ann Arbor with a Big Ten title on the line. If the Hoosiers won, they’d claim the conference championship outright. If the Wolverines won, Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State all had the chance to join the Hoosiers on the championship podium. Michigan led by three at halftime before the Hoosiers outscored the Wolverines by four in the second half. And that final play… well, you’ll just have to keep reading.
  • Best play: Ben Brust’s half-court three to force overtime and eventually beat Michigan — If Victor Oladipo had been able to finish this dunk in the aforementioned game against Michigan at Assembly Hall, it’d be my choice. But since that shot ends up on the score sheet as just another missed field goal attempt, we’ll go with a shot that actually went in. It looked like Michigan was going to escape Madison after Tim Hardaway, Jr. hit a huge three-pointer with three seconds to go, giving Michigan a 60-57 lead. But Wisconsin took a timeout, and Mike Bruesewitz hit Brust in stride. Brust took one dribble across the half-court line and drew nothing but net. The Badgers went on to win in overtime, with Brust also hitting the game-winner with 43 seconds left in OT.
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