Jan. 31, 2014
By Jenny Herstein, U-M Public & Media Relations
Throughout the season, Caris LeVert has been a difference maker for the Wolverines. Yet, LeVert's contributions to the game do not always appear in the boxscore. Whether he's deflecting passes or guarding the opposition's best player, the sophomore guard's impact on Michigan's success can pass by unnoticed. But when the opportunity presents itself, LeVert can make his presence known. Thursday night (Jan. 30) against Purdue was one such occasion, as the LeVert recorded his first career double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds.
"Caris throughout his career has always been a multidimensional player, in a sense that he can get deflections that lead to steals for his teammates, he can get clean rebounds," said assistant coach Bacari Alexander. "He's a guy that understands defensive rotations to disrupt the flow of opponent's offenses. He's one of those type of guys who has a high offensive and defensive IQ that bodes well for his stat sheet stuffing."
"He's a good player," said Purdue head coach Matt Painter. "He's very versatile. He understands angles. He can score the basketball. I know his high school coach pretty well. He just worked. He wasn't a player early in his high school career, and those are some of the best guys you can have in college because they appreciate things, they've had to work for everything. He's a guy who puts a lot of time into his game, and you can tell. He has a midrange game, he can shoot threes, and he can drive it."
Because of his high defensive IQ, one of LeVert's most important roles this year has been guarding the opponent's best player -- be it Iowa's Roy Devin Marble or Michigan State's Gary Harris -- a role that he has come to embrace.
"Locking on the (other) team's best player, I really take pride in that," said LeVert. "I've got to have great endurance, great stamina."
"Caris is one of our more intelligent defenders, so we can always give him many different assignments," said Alexander. "I think what happens in those situations (when guarding another team's best player), his tremendous length allows him to be very disruptive, which makes it very hard for teams to see. Caris is kind of a one-man wrecking crew, if you will, defensively, which gives him the ability to be all over the court and take in a lot of different assignments."
This is just one of LeVert's many roles that have been critical in the Wolverines' 10-game win stretch. Against Purdue, the sophomore showed that even as a guard, he could be dominant on the glass, grabbing nine rebounds for Michigan in the first half.
"Caris is a beneficiary of one of our strategies, which suggests our big guys' job is to block out their men. If they can't secure the rebound, because we have a size disparity or a strength disparity, our guards come in and clean up the glass for us," said Alexander. "Caris has done a great job of relishing that role. And it's a role that we're going to need him to do each and every night for us to be successful on the defensive and offensive glass."
"I got some of them that came right to me, but we knew (Morgan) and Jon (Horford) would be tied up all night with Hammons, so we knew I would have to rebound -- Derrick (Walton Jr.), as well," added LeVert of his performance.
Against a Purdue team known for its ability on the boards, LeVert's 11 rebounds helped Michigan to stay in control of the game. While the Boilermakers grabbed 16 offensive rebounds for 19 second change points, the Wolverines were competitive on the glass, only being outrebounded 32-30 against the Big Ten's best rebounding team.
While keeping the Boilermakers off the offensive boards was a challenge, Michigan's biggest obstacle in the game against Purdue was turnovers. The Wolverines, typically disciplined ball handlers, gave the ball away 16 times over the course of the night. Fortunately, Michigan was able to record as many points off turnovers as Purdue (12). LeVert helped force the Boilermakers to give up the ball, recording three steals on the night.
LeVert embraced each of these subtle but critical roles against Purdue as he has every night, making small plays that contribute greatly to hotly contested Big Ten matches. Further demonstrating his versatility, the sophomore also added two assists and two blocks to his tally for the night.
But where LeVert's performance against Purdue stood out from his usual count of defensive and hustle plays was in his ability to score the basketball.
With Purdue's defense keyed in on sophomore stars Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III, LeVert found space to drive to the basket.
"Everyone's going to think about Stauskas and Glenn Robinson," said Painter. "Your worst defender goes on him (LeVert). I think he enjoys that."
"There's going to be some nights where teams focus in a little bit more on me, and that's going to give opportunities to other guys to go out there and score and be effective," said Stauskas. "I think Derrick and Caris specifically have been doing a great job of stepping up and scoring when we need them to."
"It's the same thing we've seen with Caris in practices last year, when we said 'we've got to burn this redshirt,'" added head coach John Beilein. "He's playing off residual action, much like Glenn did last year. He just finds spots. There are very few things called for him other than he's in space where he can attack and get open for threes."
LeVert added that he took it upon himself in the second half to exploit those openings in the defense to drive to the basket aggressively, rather than to settle for other shots.
"I think in the first half I was settling a little bit for midrange jump shots instead of getting all the way to the rim," the sophomore said. "Coach Vall (LaVall Jordan
) talked to me about that at halftime. In the second half, I got to the rim a lot more."
"I think he was doing a great job of reading the pick-and-roll, and he was just trying to be extremely aggressive," Stauskas added. "When he's aggressive, he's playing his best ball."
LeVert's role may differ from night to night, depending on what strategy the opponent choses to play against the Wolverines. Some games may lead to a high scoring performance, while, in others, the sophomore's contributions may be quieter. Yet the more one pays attention to LeVert's play across the floor, the clearer it becomes: no matter what will or will not appear in the box score, Michigan's guard can find a way to contribute.
Game Recap: LeVert Tallies Double-Double; U-M Silences Boilermakers