Michigan readies for big challenge against Purdue; Caris LeVert ‘not ready’

Zach Shaw
on

You don’t have to know much about Purdue basketball to know its strength on the court.

The 18th-ranked Boilermakers boast two 7-footers that play regular roles, have a five-star freshman big man playing the power forward, are one of a select few teams in the country to not be out-rebounded once this season and are among the best shot-blocking teams in the nation.

And after getting dominated in the post on both ends of the floor in its previous matchup against Purdue, you don’t have to tell Michigan twice.

“This is the premier low-post, post-feed team maybe in the entire country,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “(It’s) not necessarily a strength of ours if you’ve been watching our games, so it’s going to be a challenge.”

With senior guard and leading scorer Caris LeVert ruled “not ready” by Beilein in Friday’s press conference, the Wolverines will roll out the same lineup that it did in their 87-70 loss to the Boilermakers on Jan. 7.

Though Michigan remained close for much of the game, the interior presence of 7-foot A.J. Hammons, 7-foot-2 Isaac Haas and 6-foot-9 Caleb Swanigan proved to be too much for the Wolverines to handle.

“We have to orchestrate our defense so we can defend in the post enough to not give them (anything),” Beilein said. “Sometimes we overdid it last time, and they threw it over the top because we were trying too hard and they got easy, easy layups.

“Also understanding that for four years, Hammons has been posting up and posting up and posting up and posting up, and they really do a great job of feeding him.”

Added sophomore guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman: “It’s hard to prepare for size, especially when you don’t have anybody that’s 7-foot, 7-2. It’s kind of hard to prepare for that, you just prepare the best you can.”

In January’s game, Michigan was not only set back by LeVert’s absence and the road atmosphere, but by its four forwards generating a foul apiece in the games opening four minutes, negating any benefits the group’s depth could have brought.

On the offensive side, the Wolverines had one of their worst performances of the season. Except, of course, for Abdur-Rahkman. The sophomore tallied a career-high 26 points in the contest, including 16 points in the paint.

Asked what worked for him in West Lafeyette, the 6-foot-4 guard cited Friday an ability to drive the lane and play physically as his key to success.

“I think that they gave up straight line drives to the basket because they have shot-blockers,” Abdur-Rahkman. “That played into my hands because that’s what I’m better at doing — getting downhill and finishing at the basket.”

As for avoiding those shot-blockers, fearlessness was the key to both Beilein and Abdur-Rahkman.

“Get into their body,” Abdur Rahkman said. “It’s hard to block a shot when someone’s against your body and underneath the basket like that. That would be the key in the next game.”

Added Beilein: “You just can’t change your moxie if you get a shot blocked, which you see a lot of young players do today.”

Michigan literally faces a big challenge on Saturday, but with its best 3-point shooting performance in six weeks occurring Wednesday, Abdur-Rahkman’s return to offensive efficiency (16 points on five shots) and a better awareness of what Purdue presents, the Wolverines might be able to rise up to it.

  • bobohle

    Each day Coach Beilein is getting more edgy with questions about Caris Levert’s return. Before the Minn game Beilein stated it was Caris Levert’s decision. Now it’s a Caris and Coaches decision. Being so vague from the beginning has fueled this whole frustration from the fan base and media. Am I right? This is coming from someone who has been TRUE BLUE SINCE 1964 thru thick and thin.

    • Wayman Britt

      100% agree. If when Caris hurt his leg they came out and said if would take one or two months everyone would understand, but they kept telling everybody he was close to returning. It builds excitement and when he doesn’t return everybody is frustrated. The media would have backed off, if they knew it was a major injury.

      • GTFOmycourt

        I will never understand how a fan would think they are entitled to know the status of an injured player. It is difficult to project a timeline for a player to return after an injury. Why would any fan think they are entitled to an accurate timeline?

        • Mark Worthley

          Don’t strain yourself getting down from the soapbox.

          I’m not sure I agree with your characterization of the discourse as: fans thinking they are entitled to know something. Everyone likes Caris and wishes the best for him. Most understand that the best case for Caris is when he’s playing and healthy. There is nothing wrong with cheering for that outcome.

          If people are frustrated with the lack of information, it’s merely because the team has taken a strange tack with what they’ve chosen to disclose and when they’ve disclosed it. Criticizing that also seems reasonable.

          • GTFOmycourt

            I think you are being very generous when you interpret recent complaints,here and on the forum, as “cheering” for a healthy Caris. Returning from an injury involves a lot of moving parts–there is nothing “strange”, as you say, about the coaching staff being wrong about the projected timeline of Levert’s return.

          • Mattski

            This reflects my take, too, GTFO. What if–using Occam’s razor–this turns out to be a case where an injury thought to be fairly mild turned out to be more painful, complicated, etc., and remained a kind of day-to-day thing for an extended period? What if, when they thought he was almost there he turned out not quite to be? What if getting in shape when they thing was finally wearing off turned out to be pretty hard? Of course I’ll be unhappy if they have BS’d us, but until someone shows they have. . .

  • Ernie Silverthorn

    I do think you’re right, bobohle, but I really fail to understand why so many people think they have a “right” to know Caris’ status. Caris will play when he plays, it’s really as simple as that even though it may be frustrating to us fans. I’m pretty happy JB took took the high road today, and that he told the press to back off. As frustrated as we may be I can guarantee you that the coaching staff and Caris himself are even more frustrated. Believe me, I appreciate your comment because I, too, have been true blue since 1964 through thick and thin. I’m driving to the game tomorrow from GR and even though I know Purdue isn’t a good matchup for us, I just have a feeling….Go Blue!!!

  • EchoWhiskey

    I’ll just assume that we’re going to see Caris in the next game or two. If that’s the case, it could set us up to gel at a nice time. With him this team could beat anyone if the shots are falling. Without we’ll beat the mediocre teams and get smoked by decent ones.

  • Tony DeMaria

    I think this is a game we somehow need to have. RPI is 60ish now and a tough stretch coming up including this one. If we somehow win this one and at OSU we will be back to relatively safe status IMO

  • Tony DeMaria

    Caris has been pictured on Twitter “warming up” good sign

  • dingleberries1972

    I am a huge Michigan fan but Michigan with Caris wasn’t any better than they are now. They got smoked by good teams with hi and they get smoked by them without him. Michigans problem is that at the 4 and the 5 they have guys playing that could start for no other big ten team. Donnal, Doyle are MAC talent at best and Irvin is a decent 3 if he played the 3. At a 4 he can’t defend and can’t finish. Other teams once they realize it can shoot layups the entire game because Michigans 4 and 5 are no match. If Mixhigan doesn’t start getting some wins on the recruiting trail nothing will be fixed.