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Our weekly feature tracking the performance of Michigan players performance over two game segments of the season. (Photo: Dustin Johnston)
Caris LeVert: 9 (Last week: 7.5)
Over Michigan’s past two games, Caris LeVert has been Michigan’s best player — and it’s not close. The sophomore scored 15 points on seven shots against Coppin State, but more importantly, he was the player Michigan’s turned to when its offense was flailing against Duke. With the Blue Devils shutting down Nik Stauskas, LeVert stepped up big in the second half, finishing with 24 points, four rebounds and two assists in the loss. The talented wing scored his points mainly by dribble penetration to the basket and showed an ability to finish through contact. LeVert is steadily becoming an offensive force, something Michigan desperately needs alongside Stauskas. One interesting tidbit from the past two games: LeVert did not miss a free throw, going 11-for-11 from the charity stripe.
Zak Irvin: 7 (Last week: 2)
Michigan’s talented freshman made a big jump this week, mainly because of his flaming-hot shooting performance against Coppin State. Zak Irvin led all scorers with 24 points and made six 3-pointers in Michigan’s blowout victory. More important than the point total was the confidence that game gave Irvin going forward — it seemed as though he had been struggling with getting into the flow of the offense, and needed a breakout game. Against Duke, Irvin played 14 minutes and after some so-so decisions early rose up confidently to hit some shots late.
It’s no secret that the start of Michigan’s 2013-14 campaign has been disappointing. The Wolverines have already dropped three games and their two projected first-round draft picks have yet to find top-gear. (Photo: Dustin Johnston)
McGary missed time early on in the season with a back injury and is still rounding into form. McGary is averaging 9.3 points and 8.8 rebounds per game but hasn’t looked like the big man that dominated the NCAA tournament last season.
Robinson has struggled to display improvement to offensive game and is shooting just 25% from three-point range on the year. He hasn’t been aggressive offensively and his production has decreased without Trey Burke passing him the ball. His play appeared to hit rock bottom in a high profile game at Duke on Tuesday, totaling just 8 points in 34 minutes.
Various mock drafts are starting to reflect the early season trends.
Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix updated his mock draft with Mitch McGary slotted at No. 18 and Glenn Robinson III at No. 20. He’s a bit more bullish on McGary’s chances of rising.
A lower-back injury kept McGary out for the first two games of Michigan’s season, and the rust of not playing clearly showed in the first month of play. But there are signs that McGary is shaking it off. He posted 14 points and 12 rebounds in an overtime win against Florida State last month and on Tuesday had a 15-point, 14-rebound effort in a loss to Duke. For now, McGary slips a little on the Big Board. But as he gets healthier, his production — and draft stock — should keep improving.
Whether it was because of the ankle injury Nik Stauskas sustained against Charlotte in Puerto Rico, just plain great defense, or a little of both, we don’t know. What we do know: Duke shut down Nik Stauskas Tuesday night in its 79-69 win over the Wolverines at Cameron Indoor Stadium. (Photo: Adam Glanzman)
The sophomore attempted only two field goals, both in the first half. He scored four points, all on free throws (and two on a technical foul against Duke). Compared to his normal output, Stauskas was invisible on the offensive end.
And as a result, for much of the game, so was Michigan.
“One of the keys for us was trying to limit Stauskas,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said after the game. “Stauskas, we thought going into this game, was the best two guard we’ve faced so far this season. … In the halfcourt, there was a big emphasis on trying to keep the ball out of his hands and putting him away from his normal operating area. I thought Tyler (Thornton) and Matt (Jones) really did an outstanding job of that.”
That they did. Thornton and Jones split time guarding Stauskas and both were very effective. Duke’s strategy against Stauskas wasn’t rocket science: essentially, it came down to deny, deny, deny.
1) Michigan looks shaky out of the gate
This was Michigan’s biggest game of the season to date. That combined with the fact that the Wolverines were playing in one of the most hostile environments in college basketball makes the early-game nerves understandable. Michigan missed its first three shots, which in and of itself isn’t significant — it was how they missed them that made it obvious the Wolverines were dealing with some big-game jitters. On Michigan’s first offensive possession of the game, Mitch McGary dominated the ball, going one-on-one against Josh Hairston. After some dribbling and an attempt at a spin move, McGary missed the layup badly. It seemed as though, for much of this game, McGary was trying to do too much, forcing the issue and laying out of control instead of letting the game come to him. On the second play of the sequence, after an extended possession Glenn Robinson III makes a nice up fake to get open and takes one dribble in. Unfortunately, he air-mails the open two. McGary gets the offensive rebound, but Derrick Walton would miss a three later in the possession. Finally, McGary receives the ball just inside the 3-point line at the free-throw line extended. After a few pivots and with two Duke players surrounding him, McGary fires the long two and airballs it. Those three poor offensive possessions would set the tone for the rest of Michigan’s offense for the majority of the first half.
Michigan made just four field goals in the first 17:44 of the first half at Cameron Indoor Stadium but the Wolverines were able to remain within striking distance despite their anemic offense.
While the resiliency was impressive, it was clear that the Wolverines were no match for the Blue Devils. After Michigan had cut the lead to just six points with 9:01 to play, Duke pulled away thanks to two huge threes from Andre Dawkins off the bench. The Wolverine deficit would never reach single digits again despite a foul-filled final two minutes that saw Duke make 13-of-14 free throws.
Whenever John Beilein’s group was able to fix one problem, something else seemed to go wrong. The Wolverines were searching for answers while the Blue Devils had a winning formula. Duke stars Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood both had their moments but needed 27 shots to score 29 points. It was Duke’s complementary stars that doomed the Wolverines. Dawkins hit the big threes, Quinn Cook tallied 24 point sand nine assists, and Tyler Thornton and Matt Jones didn’t allow Nik Stauskas to make a single field goal.