Caris LeVert gets a chance to shine as No. 2 Michigan routs their cross-town neighbors
By DAVE HOGGFS Detroit
ANN ARBOR -- Until Thursday,
Caris LeVert's main claim to fame at Michigan was a one-on-one victory over Trey Burke that blew up on Twitter.
Now he's got a game performance to match it. LeVert scored eight points in 16 minutes of the Wolverines' 93-54 rout of Eastern Michigan. LeVert started the season expecting to sit out as a redshirt, but his status changed at the beginning of December.
He got a spot on the fringes of John Beilein's rotation, but he struggled with the sudden adjustment to game pace. In his first five games, he scored only five points - missing seven of his nine shots.
LeVert's one-on-one battles with Burke -- the nation's best point guard -- have become a highlight of Michigan practices, and the pair was at it against before Thursday's game.
"I walked into the gym at about 6:00, and I heard a ball bouncing," Beilein said. "I looked, and Caris and Trey were playing one-on-one again. I wasn't thrilled to see them doing that just before a game, but that's the kind of players they both are -- when they have a chance to get some shots up, they are going to take them. That's a great thing to see."
Burke and LeVert both come from Columbus, Ohio and Beilein sees that as one of the reasons they have bonded.
"You've got two guys that are very proud to come from the 6-1-4 (area code), and I think that's one of the reasons that Trey had taken him under his wing," Beilein said. "It's helping both of them."
Burke acknowledged that the one-on-one games have been helping him just as much as LeVert.
"We're going hard at each other every day, and that's great for both of us," he said. "He's getting better at playing hard, and I'm getting more experience at going up against a longer guard. That's something I need getting into the Big Ten season."
Against the Eagles, Burke saw an opportunity to kickstart his buddy's season.
"I know that Caris is capable of making plays for this team, but he needed a big game under his feet," Burke said. "We got him some shots tonight, and you see what he can do. He just needs to get a little bit more comfortable and a little bit more confident, and he's going to be a big asset for us."
LeVert was thrilled with the way the night turned out, having his three of his five shots. He hit both 3-point attempts and added a fast-break dunk.
"My teammates got me open looks, and I was able to knock them down," he said. "Tonight was a lot of fun."
Fun was a pretty good description of the whole night for the second-ranked Wolverines, who had little trouble with their next-door neighbors. Eastern Michigan hit its first two shots to take a 6-2 lead, but Michigan scored the next 20 points and were never in trouble again.
Eagles coach Rob Murphy hadn't let himself get too excited by the early advantage.
"I knew they hadn't played anyone that uses a zone for 40 minutes, so it was going to take them a little while to adjust," he said. "It was nice to hit those two shots, but I knew it was awfully early, especially against a team like that. I've never coached against a team that can shoot like Michigan. They shot over 50 percent from the floor and 50 percent on threes. That's tough to beat."
The Wolverines are all heading home for a four-day break, so Beilein was happy to see them play well in their last game before Christmas.
"I thought our focus tonight was incredible, especially with all the distractions at this time of the year," he said. "This was a big game for us, because Eastern is right down the street, so you don't want to lose bragging rights. We adjusted to the zone and we took care of business. I'm very pleased."
Michigan returns to action on Dec. 29 against Western Michigan, their last game before the start of Big Ten play.