Dec 3, 2013, 11:26 PM EDT
DURHAM, N.C. — Caris LeVert is a good basketball player.
In fact, I’d go as far as to say that there aren’t five players in college basketball that are more improved than No. 22 Michigan’s 6-foot-6 sophomore, and nothing about the 24 points he had against No. 10 Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Tuesday night changes that opinion.
He was awesome, sparking a stagnant Michigan offense and keeping the Wolverines within striking distance as the Blue Devils slowly but surely vented their frustration stemming from last Friday’s tough loss to Arizona at Madison Square Garden. He beat Duke to the rim time and again in the second half, enough so that Duke’s defense changed who they were keying in on.
Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski agreed.
“He was terrific,” Coach K said. “Instead of just shooting outside, he drove it. He gave them a huge lift. They were having a hard time scoring and he just put them on his back.”
But LeVert’s performance touches at the heart of just what ails this Michigan team. When your roster includes names like Nik Stauskas, Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III and a kid that was supposed to be a redshirt last season is the focal point of your offense, that’s a problem.
Looking over the box score of Duke’s 79-69 win over the Wolverines, it wouldn’t be difficult to assume that the Blue Devils have officially cured the defensive woes that nearly cost them wins over East Carolina and Vermont. They held the Wolverines to 30.8% shooting and just 22 points in the first half. With 1:59 left in the game, before Michigan’s late flurry, the Wolverines were shooting 39.1% from the field and had all of 50 points. Two of their three threes came in the final 1:59, when the game was already decided. Simply put, Duke executed their game-plan to perfection.
But that only tells half the story. John Beilein is an offensive mastermind. I never saw him coach when he was at the NAIA or the Division II level, and I never saw him when he was the head coach at Canisius, but I watched him at Richmond and West Virginia before he made his way up to Michigan, and I think it’s safe to say that he’s never had a team that had this much trouble running offense.
“We didn’t get a lot of easy shots,” Beilein said. “We did get a few early that we missed that could have kept it where it wanted to me.”
“We had a couple turnovers there from young players. They learn from it. It’s difficult, I don’t care if you’re home or away, you’re playing a really good team. They’re guarding you, and you’re going to make some mistakes. We made some mistakes in areas where you don’t get those possessions back.”
We knew this would happen, but the degree to which Michigan misses Trey Burke this season cannot be overstated. Losing a player Burke’s caliber, the National Player of the Year and a lottery pick, would hurt any team and any program in the country. Players with that kind of ability don’t come around often, and it doesn’t matter whether you reside in Ann Arbor or Lexington or Durham, taking a piece like that out of the equation is not an easy thing to overcome.
But Burke was so much more to the Wolverines. He was their go-to guy and their primary ball-handler. He was the leading scorer, the guy that initiated the offense and the guy that every offensive possession ran through. He was an excellent pick-and-roll point guard playing in an offense built around the pick-and-roll. And most importantly, he made each and every player on the floor better, whether it was by getting McGary open looks at the rim or Robinson wide-open rhythm threes.
They don’t have a replacement for that this season.
Derrick Walton is the guy that was expected to take over for Burke, and he is talented. He wasn’t ready for this kind of atmosphere. He needs more seasoning than a well-done steak from Costco. Robinson’s supremely athletic, but he either doesn’t have the confidence or the ability to be more than a spot-up shooter and a finisher in transition. He disappears on the offensive end far too often for a guy that is supposed to be a lottery pick. McGary is a double-double waiting to happen, but he’s not the kind of low-post scorer that commands a touch every possession; he’s not Julius Randle or Joshua Smith, and that’s a problem for a guy that’s essentially a below-the-rim player.
The most talented player on Michigan’s roster, the guy that they need to run their offense through, is Stauskas, but between being hobbled by a bad ankle and the kind of defensive pressure that he faced from Tyler Thornton and Matt Jones all night, he was completely ineffective.
“We were missing Nik’s normal game,” Beilein said of his star guard who finished with four points and three turnovers on 0-for-2 shooting from the floor in 34 minutes. “We had trouble scoring points without him.”
Stauskas clearly wasn’t at 100%, but he’s going to have to find a way to be effective when defenses are keyed in on him. He’s going to be the focal point of every opposing coach’s game plan going forward, and if he can’t be a playmaker, if the offense can’t run through him, than we should be very concerned about the Wolverines.
Mar 10, 2014, 9:44 AM EDT
Florida is still No. 1. Wichita State is still No. 2. How does the rest of the Top 25 shake out?
Mar 10, 2014, 8:30 AM EDT
Wichita State is unbeaten, but would they get the nod over the Gators when Selection Sunday rolls around?
Mar 10, 2014, 7:30 AM EDT
Doug McDermott is on the list, but who joined him on the first team?
Mar 10, 2014, 1:16 AM EDT
We know Joel Embiid’s back is bothering him, but should we be worried about whether or not he’ll be healthy for the NCAA tournament?
Mar 10, 2014, 12:10 AM EDT
Three more teams earn automatic bids to the NCAA tournament, Nebraska strengthens its resume and two regular season champions fall in conference tournaments.
Mar 9, 2014, 11:09 PM EDT
Catch up on all of today’s bubble action. Is Nebraska a lock after beating Wisconsin? Can St. Joseph’s still dance after losing to La Salle?
Mar 9, 2014, 10:22 PM EDT
Picked to finish last in the Big Ten’s preseason poll, Nebraska moved closer to its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1998 with a win over No. 9 Wisconsin.
Mar 9, 2014, 9:26 PM EDT
William & Mary beats Towson, moving to within 40 minutes of their first NCAA tournament berth.
Mar 9, 2014, 8:50 PM EDT
No. 22 Michigan State’s late-game execution left much to be desired on Sunday.
Mar 9, 2014, 7:39 PM EDT
LaQuinton Ross finally found his scoring touch, but that wasn’t the main reason the Buckeyes won.
Mar 9, 2014, 7:38 PM EDT
Did she say yes?
Mar 9, 2014, 6:31 PM EDT
Top-seeded Fightin’ Blue Hens will play William & Mary (7 p.m., NBCSN) with an NCAA tournament berth on the line.
Mar 9, 2014, 5:16 PM EDT
Get to know the fifth entry into the 2014 NCAA Tournament field, the Mercer Bears
Mar 9, 2014, 5:01 PM EDT
The Missouri Valley Conference had an unfortunate mistake in the t-shirts that they gave Wichita State for winning the conference tournament.
Mar 9, 2014, 4:54 PM EDT
Wichita State Shockers will head into the NCAA tournament at 34-0, the first team to be undefeated on Selection Sunday in 23 years.
Mar 9, 2014, 4:49 PM EDT
Winner gets a chance to earn an automatic bid to the Big Dance.
Mar 9, 2014, 4:27 PM EDT
Does this give the Orange a chance at a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament?
Mar 9, 2014, 4:08 PM EDT
Jordair Jett helped snap a three-game losing streak while also delivering Saint Louis the Atlantic 10 regular season title with a last-second win over UMass.
Mar 9, 2014, 3:33 PM EDT
Ex-Secretary of State was in town for a fundraiser.
- College Basketball Talk’s Latest Top 25 1
- Bracketology: Florida in driver’s seat for overall No. 1 seed 3
- NBCSports.com’s 2014 College Basketball All-Americans 3
- Bubble Banter: Nebraska’s marquee win, St. Joseph’s problematic loss 0
- Turnovers help Ohio State beat No. 22 Michigan State in regular season finale 1
- Wichita State will head into the NCAA tournament 34-0 as a No. 1 seed 10
- Jabari Parker, Rodney Hood score 54 in No. 4 Duke’s win over No. 14 UNC 0
- Wichita State will head into the NCAA tournament 34-0 as a No. 1 seed (10)
- No. 7 Syracuse falls to Georgia Tech in a shocking home loss (9)
- College Basketball Talk’s latest Top 25 (6)
- Assigned Reading: Dean Smith’s health continues to deteriorate (6)
- No. 1 Florida’s undefeated SEC season not just a by-product of their league (6)