Caris LeVert poised for a breakout season

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Since Caris LeVert stepped foot on campus and throughout last season, Michigan’s coaches have sung the praises of the sophomore’s defensive ability. Citing his long limbs and quick feet, John Beilein and his assistants felt as though they had a player who could guard any perimeter position.

As a rail-thin freshman last season, LeVert wasn’t bad defensively in his limited role, but he wasn’t that good, either. This year, with over 20 pounds of added muscle and a full year of experience under his belt, LeVert is expected to play a major role for the Wolverines. And defense where the coaches expect his presence to be felt the most.

When John Beilein was asked about who would take on the role of “defensive quarterback” for his team this season, he was effusive about LeVert’s ability to fill that position.

“Caris has really taken on that role,” Beilein said at Michigan’s Media Day on Thursday. “If you see Caris for a few minutes, you’ll see what he’s doing. Last year I think he played 6-to-10 minutes, and this year he’ll play a lot more minutes than that. You could put a defensive team out there that is really good. So when we do that, we better be better, because you act like you may give up some offensive things, who knows? We can put four or five guys out there that can really guard people.”

So what is it that makes LeVert such a threat defensively? Simply, he’s a matchup nightmare. There has been talk of LeVert playing some lead guard this season — if he can keep up with opposing point guards defensively, and the coaches believe that he can, then he can make life very difficult as a 6-foot-6 perimeter player.

At the same time, his long frame allows him to guard bigger players and use his quickness to stay in front of them. Michigan assistant LaVall Jordan thinks LeVert will be tasked with guarding a wide range of positions.

“The first thing is that he’s long. He’s got long arms,” Jordan said. “Maybe they just look longer because he’s slim. But he’s long and he’s got really quick feet for his size, so he can guard smaller guys. And he’s tough. He can guard some bigger guys at a bigger position.”

There are plenty of players to be excited about this season — notably Michigan’s two likely lottery-bound sophomores, Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III — but at Media Day it was difficult to find a player around whom there was more buzz within the program. Players and coaches alike are excited about LeVert and the progress he’s made.

John Beilein sounds almost giddy when he talks about the lineup possibilities LeVert presents.

“You look at our two-guard set, I mean we’ve had years where the off-guard had more assists than the point guard,” Beilein said. “Whether the forwards are mirrors or the guards are mirrors, it depends on who you’re playing, what the pressure is like, who we would put in there. You could go out there with a 6-6, 6-6, 6-6, 6-6 and a big guy, that’s very possible.”

On the topic of LeVert playing the one, what many people forget is that LeVert played point guard for the majority of his high school career. LeVert had a growth spurt later in high school and was then moved to the off-guard or forward positions. His basketball career started as a point guard and there were points when he would take over lead guard duties for Pickerington Central high school as recently as his senior year.

“Caris was a small guard his freshman and sophomore year,” Jordan said. “He was a point guard, and then he grew in the middle of his high school career and then he had to play some point in late-game situations as a senior. You knew he had the ability — at least it wasn’t foreign to him. And now, based on what we do, could he handle those duties and responsibilities? Last year, every now and again, when he was on the second team, we messed around with it and saw how he did. Obviously he talked to Trey a lot and Tim, who played up there. It’s just developing a comfort level, one, and then developing an understanding of what coach Beilein wants, knowing where everybody’s supposed to be, knowing his responsibilities and theirs, that’s the next-level progression.”

The progression of Caris LeVert will undoubtedly play a huge role in Michigan’s success this season. If the hype surrounding his game is justified, it opens up all sorts of tantalizing possibilities for Michigan, both offensively and defensively.

We didn’t get to see much during practice on Thursday, but there was one drill in which LeVert sprinted from the free throw line to provide help defense on a driving Sean Lonergan. LeVert pinned Lonergan’s two-handed dunk attempt against the backboard and the rest of his team went nuts. It was a first-hand look at what LeVert is capable of, and though it was just a glimpse, it could be a sign of good things to come.

The players have certainly taken notice. At least Robinson has noticed a welcome trend when LeVert is on the court.

“He’s gotten a lot stronger, quicker,” Robinson said of LeVert’s progress. “He’s gotten tremendous confidence in his game. He’ll definitely help this team out a lot this year. I’m excited to be on the floor with him.

“Every time he steps on the floor, our defense tends to become better.”

  • Fab 5 Legends

    glad to hear about LeVert, I was definitely doubting his size last year in the Big Ten – thought he should be red-shirted….but playing him was right move…he will get better every year at Michigan…not sure if he will breakout this year (maybe junior-senior year) but I can see him contributing

  • Champswest

    Might we see him start at the 2 tomorrow? It would not surprise me.

    • DingoBlue

      I think it’s highly likely unless Beilein wants to give Donnal some time at the 4 before he has to consider redshirting him. The most likely lineup I would say is:

      Albrecht
      Levert
      Stauskas
      Robinson
      Morgan

  • kam

    With Mitch being hurt i could easily see Glenn sliding to the 4 again tomorrow and Morgan or Jon playing the 5, and Caris playing the 2! Also I’m interested to see who starts at PG.. I think it may be spike for tomorrow

  • Chezaroo

    The Chezzer has been on the LeVert bandwagon for a LONG time. I still believe this team will be much less dependent on the high ball screen to initiate the offense this year. As everybody remembers our success in the NCAA was predicated on transition basket opportunities spearheaded by our D. Granted, getting away from the plodding pace of the conference facilitated those chances, as teams like VCU and Florida played right into our hands, but sometimes D is your best O. It’s so difficult to score in the half court, that you have to maximize your run out opportunities. The more, the better. It’s hard for me to believe that we won’t need contributions from all the PG options to be successful, but Caris will see a lot of PT this year regardless of his role.

    • kam

      you truly have been on his bandwagon for awhile! and i agree he will be a key contributor

  • Chazer

    The progression of Caris will certainly impact this years team and the future. I noticed a more refined and structured shooting stroke from Caris in the videos.

    His shot looks typical of a John Beilein historical jump shooter, with the elbow in, forearm vertically aligned and the left hand repositioned for better ball balance. His shot appears to have evolved over the past 6 months from where he was last year. I could be wrong but his follow through and release look better. We’ll see more tomorrow how he shoots the ROCK!

    I wonder if the 2014 recruits were at any of the practices because Nick and Caris certainly will get time in the rotation. We are deep at the 2 and 3 though JB has said he will play small if that’s his best team. I wonder if the future SG’s think they could beat out Caris and Nick next year? We may be too deep.

    Thanks to the UMHOOPS team for all the content…..i got my fix!

    Game on….Go Blue!

  • Dr_ZC

    Even THJ had good things to say about Caris. I have to say that I did not think of him all that much, but too much noise is created around the progress he has made. Hard to ignore hit…. This, can create a logjam for the wing players. You have 4 legit starters in Stauskas, GR3, Irving and Caris to compete for 2 spots. I see JB playing GR3 at 4 again, while find ways to fit the rest at the 1, 2 and 3 spots. Which can make things very interesting, for Booker or Blackmon, should one chooses Michigan.

    • kam

      Irvin* lol but i think Glenn will normally play the 3, but will play some 4 so we can get the best players on the court