NICHOLAS BAER'S TRACKS VS. MICHIGAN
2-5 FGA, 1-4 3PA, 1 rebound, 1 assist, 1 steal, 7 points
AND THE BAER-OMETER SAYS:
Just like the Malayan sun bear, Nicholas was notable in this game for his remarkable agility, his ferocious intensity in defense of his territory, and his voracious appetite for honey, with honey here defined as timely rotations on three-point shooters. Fran McCaffery gave the redshirt freshman extended run against Michigan, largely due to the fact that he had the quickness and size to rotate out on the Wolverines' terrific shooter Duncan Robinson and actually deter him from taking shots. Baer's thin frame often makes him vulnerable to post-ups by opposing big men, but as Michigan had little interest in posting their big men up, Baer wound up being almost the ideal defender to battle their scheme. Baer is not exceptionally strong, but he's tall, smart in his rotations, and surprisingly quick. In a previous era of basketball, he might have struggled to find a role as an undersized four, but in the new three-heavy era, it turns out there is a valuable niche for defenders who are essentially agile scarecrows with brooms for arms.
BAER ESSENTIAL PLAY OF THE NIGHT
You could go with a dozen close-outs by Baer, but a play of his on offense seemed quintessentially Baer-like. Michigan threw a zone at Iowa in the first half, and Iowa responded by having Baer essentially play center, serving as the hub of the offense. The guards would dump the ball in the middle to Baer, who would attract three swarming defenders and then pass it out to the shooters on the wing. On one possession, the ball went in to Baer at the elbow, and Michigan's defenders, anticipating another quick kick-out, gave Baer just a split-second before closing in on him. Baer took that split-second and, using his surprisingly quick release, canned an 18-footer without hesitation. Given all the traffic around him and the limited window of time where the shot was open, it was an impressive shot to even consider taking, let alone making.
AHMAD "WAGNER" OF THE NIGHT
Iowa played well throughout, but it's important to remember that the team was only up 51-49 with 11:25 left in the game and Jarrod Uthoff heading to the bench. A front court of Dom Uhl, Baer and freshman Ahmad Wagner came on at that point, and if things had gone poorly, it's easy to imagine a darker timeline where a still-winded Uthoff would have been forced back in and Iowa might have lost control of the game. Instead, the bench mob played great defense, Peter Jok lit the Wolverines up from distance, and the lead was 10 when Uthoff finally came back in with six minutes to go. That crucial padding was in part due to the sound play of freshman Wagner, who held the back line of the zone and even slipped to the basket for a nifty layup off a pass from Anthony Clemmons.
It was a strong performance by the promising newcomer, and it occasions the natural question: which role from the filmography of famed actor Robert Wagner did Ahmad's play most resemble?
And the answer is...
ROBERT WAGNER IN "HART TO HART"
Like Bob Wagner as Jonathan Hart, Wagner was smooth, sophisticated, and part of a dynamite team. Just as Wagner easily handled the mixture of mystery, drama, comedy and suspense that was Hart To Hart, Wagner (the other Wagner) handled the myriad demands of running Iowa's zone on defense and playing the pivot on offense.
But mainly it's because that layup of his was, like Robert Wagner, so, so smooth.
THE BAER FACTS
The sun bear has an exceptionally long tongue — 7.9-9.8 inches — which it uses to extract insects and honey from trees. It is the smallest of the bears, at only 47-59 inches long and 60-176 pounds, and has long, curved claws that make it well adapted for climbing trees. The bear has naked soles, presumably for climbing, and an exceptionally strong bite force.