With LeVert’s status in limbo, Michigan prepares for No. 22 Indiana

Zach Shaw

For the past two weeks, no one outside of the Michigan basketball team has known Caris LeVert’s injury status. But for the past two weeks, it hasn’t mattered, either.

Playing Minnesota (14th out of 14 teams in the Big Ten standings), Nebraska (ninth), Rutgers (13th) and Penn State (11th), the Wolverines have somewhat coasted to a four-game win streak.

They weren’t utter blowouts, and Michigan even trailed at times, but the LeVert-less team took care of business each time, and sit at a perfectly-satisfactory 7-2 at the midway point in conference play, 6-2 without LeVert.

“Yeah I would take that,” Michigan coach John Beilein said of his team’s recent play. “But I’m not naive … I know we’re going to have to play better probably, we’re going to have to play better.”

Though it appears LeVert is much closer to returning than he’s been for weeks, he’s still only made it through one practice (on Sunday). In the past, Beilein has said that he would like to see his senior guard make it through multiple consecutive practices pain-free before discussing his return to game action.

So with LeVert listed as day-to-day yet again, the pressure shifts to his teammates for the ninth game in a row. And unfortunately for the Wolverines, the Hoosiers are a substantial step up from their previous opponents.

Indiana leads the conference in eFG% and defensive efficiency, and though it has had the easiest conference schedule by far, the team still boasts plenty of talent to hang with and beat anybody.

“Because they have so many shooters, that court is wide, and they can do so many things,” Beilein said. “It reminds me a lot of our team in ’13 when Trey Burke had the ball, you couldn’t just guard him.”

Playing the role of Burke in this situation is Yogi Ferrell. The senior guard is an All-American candidate, and is averaging 17.5 points, 4.3 rebounds and 5.7 assists per game.

Though a standout defender himself, the matchup with Ferrell will likely be one of the toughest of junior guard Derrick Walton Jr.’s career.

“I know he’s really fast, he handles the ball well,” Walton said. “He’s involved in a lot of what they do.”

Added Beilein: “He’s going to get his points, he’s going to get to the foul line, he’s going to get his assists. You try to not let the other guys beat you.”

In addition to Walton, other Wolverines will be expected to be at their best in Tuesday’s game. Among those will be redshirt sophomore forward Duncan Robinson.

On the short list of the nation’s best shooters for much of the season, Robinson has cooled off considerably, making just 33 percent of his shots in the last five games, including a lowly 1-for-5 performance in New York on Saturday.

“He was a little untimely,” Beilein said. “But I like that he had the gumption to shoot it.”

Robinson knows making shots is crucial to keeping pace with the Hoosiers, but knows that isn’t always so easy to control.

Instead, the focus shifts to a more controllable component of the game — transition defense. Indiana is last in the conference in turnover rate, and has proven to be even more sloppy on the road. With a strong defensive effort, Michigan knows it can flip the script on what is supposed to be an offensive shootout.

“They can get it going (offensively),” Robinson said. “But if all five (of us) are back and in our stance, that kind of changes the game I think.

“We have spells where we, I don’t want to say aren’t locked in, but we just kind of can not be as engaged as we should be and that can kind of translate over to the offense.”

And most important of all, according to the players, is sticking with the game, no matter the score. The Wolverines have yet to lose a single-digit game, highlighting a trend in which they tend to fall apart once they fall behind.

But after withstanding rallies in four straight games, Michigan feels more prepared.

“I think we found some consistent leadership, myself and Zak and Duncan and Muhammad and the makeup is just to be ready for anything,” Walton said. “Against Purdue, when we got down a little bit and things got a little hectic … I wouldn’t say we got disjointed but we weren’t as connected as we wanted to be. I feel that (connection) now.”

The Hoosiers’ rare combination of offensive and defensive execution explain their place on top of the Big Ten standings, and mean that the Wolverines will need their best performance in weeks to beat Indiana, no matter who is on the court.

“One of the ways we can do that is Caris returning,” Beilein said. “But if not, we’ve still got to make it happen.”

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  • Wayman Britt

    The team that plays the best defense will win the game on Tuesday. Walton has to have a huge game defensively. I sure hope he can keep in front of Yogi.

    • section13row15

      I agree with your statement wholeheartedly. I really haven’t been impressed with our switches defensively. We seem to get discombobulated on multiple screens and give up a lot of open threes and leave lanes open to the rim. I think Indiana can take advantage of that with how quickly they move the ball and how fast Yogi is. The other thing that doesn’t make sense to me is our wings trying to over-help in the middle too much leaving a lot of perimeter shooters open. Hopefully that’s a symptom of reading the scouting report on poor shooting teams like Rutgers, Minnesota, and Penn State who can’t hurt us in that area. We’ll see tomorrow, should be a good game! Go Blue!!!

    • Ethan

      I think Walton’s performance guarding Melo Trimble is encouraging going into the game tonight. Both of those players are extremely talented, and create for their teammates as well as score the ball themselves. Much will depend on this matchup.

  • bobohle

    I was really hoping Caris would be ready for this game.

  • A2MIKE

    At this point I would rather bring caris back for state. We can beat Indiana without him. I feel like we can’t beat state without him, so many but as well rest him a few more days.

  • MrLG

    The return of LeVert will have a distinct impact on team chemistry and leadership. In the short term, the team could be worse with Caris in the lineup. It really makes no sense for him to play against IU.

    It’s a different story for MSU. There would be 4 additional practice days to work out his role. Personally, I would not start him for the first few games.

  • Bigrange

    Indiana has not exaclty been beating the top teams either. Tonight we find out which team is for real.
    Thomas Bryant has been playing well lately. Need our bigs to stick on him and minimize his impact so defenders can stay on the shooters.
    Troy Williams is a nice player but they tend to not go to him if Byrany is playing well. Troy will still get his 8-14 points.