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November 12, 2013

What To Watch For: U-M vs. South Carolina State

The Wolverines play South Carolina State before hitting the road Sunday for a game at Iowa State.

1. What To Do With Hezekiah:

The Basics
  • The Teams: Michigan vs. South Carolina State
  • The History: This is the first meeting between the two programs.
  • The Place: Crisler Arena, Ann Arbor
  • The Time: 7 p.m
  • The Broadcast: MGoBlue TV
  • The Updates: Follow along with us on The Fort, @JB_Wolverine, @Balas_Wolverine and @AReid_Wolverine.
South Carolina State Players To Watch
  • Senior forward Matthew Hezekiah: At 6-11, 225, he will be tough for any team to deal with. Averaging 18.0 points and 5.5 rebounds per game.
  • Senior guard Adama Adams: Averaging 10.5 points per game, but is a bit turnover-prone, with nine in the Bulldogs' first two games.

South Carolina State isn't a great basketball team. The Bulldogs were blown out of the water by Marshall, 85-69, and won a 59-55 squeaker over some team named St. Andrews.

The Wolverines should have no problem easily dispatching South Carolina State tonight, but there is one player on the roster that could be a constant thorn in Michigan's side all night.

Senior forward Matthew Hezekiah is a beast. At 6-11, 225, the Jacksonville Community College transfer has been lighting up the post for the past two years.

In 2013, he averaged 12.9 points and 7.4 rebounds per game while shooting 55.7 percent from the floor. He's off to an even better start this year, shooting an incredible 69.6 percent from the floor in the Bulldogs' first two games and averaging 18.0 points a game.

The Wolverines, who are still playing without sophomore forward Mitch McGary, have struggled a little bit inside.

They lost the rebounding battle with Wayne State in the second exhibition game of the season, and they have surrendered at least 10 offensive rebounds in three games against teams - Concordia, Wayne State and UMass Lowell - that lacked size inside.

In its first regular-season game, Michigan barely beat out the River Hawks on the glass, 25-23.

According to Michigan coach John Beilein, McGary has begun individual non-contract drills and is working his way back into practice.

His presence in the post - whenever that become a viable option - will certainly help the Wolverines gain some leverage inside. But with games against Iowa State and either Virginia Commonwealth or Florida State in the Puerto Rico Tipoff, not to mention a trip to Duke on Dec. 3, on the horizon, the Wolverines may have to find a way to increase their post play without him.

Fifth-year senior Jordan Morgan and redshirt junior Jon Horford, who both had their seasons cut short due to injury last year, have been decent, but Michigan is still lacking a certain explosiveness inside.

2. Sophomore Guard Caris LeVert

Seriously, just watch him.

At this time last year, LeVert was a broomstick with arms, a scrawny freshman on track for a redshirt season.

He eventually earned playing time, and became a steady contributor as the season wore on, especially on defense where his deceptively long wingspan was a nuisance for opponents' ball handlers.

This year, he has packed on muscle, increased his handling ability, passing and shooting - and looks like a completely different player.

When Beilein extended an offer to LeVert - originally an Ohio commit before coach John Groce took the Illinois job - many were scratching their heads. The Wolverines already had one of the most impressive recruiting classes in the country, with McGary, Glenn Robinson III, Nik Stauskas and Spike Albrecht. Where did LeVert fit in?

Well, he's proved that he belonged last year, and he may be the most improved player on the team since the game against Louisville.

In Michigan's season-opening win over UMass Lowell, LeVert had a team-high 17 points on 6-of-11 shooting, five rebounds, two steals and an assist.

It's going to be fun to watch him continue to improve throughout this season, because even though he has already taken massive strides, he hasn't hit his ceiling yet.

3. The Point Guard Battle:

Did freshman Derrick Walton, Jr. win the job? He started the Wolverines' season-opening win over the River Hawks and player 27 minutes, compared to Albrecht's 12.

But Beilein is still tight-lipped about settling on one of them.

Regardless of who wins it, Michigan will not lean so heavily on the starter as it did last year, with National Player Of The Year Award winner Trey Burke.

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