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December 7, 2013

LeVert stepping up to solidify U-M's offense

When the Michigan basketball team walked off the court after Tuesday's 79-69 loss at Duke, the Wolverines knew they had let a win slip away for the second time in three games because of a sluggish offense.

The Blue Devils effectively shut sophomore guard Nik Stauskas and sophomore forward Glenn Robinson III out on the offensive end, limiting the dynamic offensive duo to eight total points. Stauskas was 0-of-2 from the floor and barely touched the ball. Ten days earlier, in a 63-61 loss to Charlotte in the title game of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, it was cold shooting that did the Wolverines in, hitting just 19-of-61 shots.

But there was one offensive bright spot in Michigan's loss in Durham: sophomore Caris LeVert.

After the Wolverines stumbled through the first half, trying to figure out the Blue Devils' defense, LeVert came alive in the second half, taking the ball to the rim, finishing on drives and drawing fouls.

LeVert finished with 24 points on 8-of-18 shooting and hit all seven of his free throw attempts.

With the rest of Michigan's usually reliable shooters struggling to find open looks against an aggressive defensive game plan, LeVert asserted himself and helped Michigan avoid a more lopsided defeat.

"I was pretty comfortable," LeVert said. "They did a good job of denying Nik and Glenn, so we knew at halftime that I had to step up a little bit and be the main person in the offense.

"It's an instinct, really. Coach [John] Beilein gives us all the same confidence to go out there and play our games."

LeVert credits the time he spent with strength and conditioning coach Jon Sanderson in the offseason with his increased ability to take the rock to the hole.

And with LeVert's increased plethora of offensive talents, the sophomore has been charged with leading the offense from the point guard spot on a more consistent basis.

With freshman point guard Derrick Walton still adapting to the college game, LeVert's ability to help out at point guard has smoothed the transition to the post-Trey Burke era.

"I am pretty comfortable playing point guard," LeVert said. "A lot of spots in Coach Beilein's offense I'm comfortable with. I can handle the ball and things like that.

"I played there a little bit last year. With Trey leaving and Derrick coming in being new to the offense, I knew I would be forced to play a little point guard this season."

For Walton, the presence LeVert and sophomore point guard Spike Albrecht have allowed him to take some of the pressure off. Whereas there was no other option in Burke's freshman year, Walton has been able to ease into the offense a little more.

"Coming in, I knew Spike would be a great help to me as a freshman," Walton said. "The way things are going, it's exactly as I expected. The two guys that played last year are really helping me a lot. It's taken a lot off me.

"Sitting down with [assistant coach LaVall Jordan] and watching film together, the game is starting to slow down a little bit. Sometimes in the game, I find myself moving too fast and that leads to mistakes. Overall, the game is slowing down for me game by game."

Between the three of them, Michigan has gotten impressive production from the point guard spot.

Through eight games, LeVert is averaging 15.1 points per game (second on the team behind Stauskas' 18.0 points per game). He has added 4.8 rebounds per game and 21 total assists to just seven turnovers.

Walton is averaging 8.6 points in an average of 26 minutes per game. He has posted 24 assists, though his turnovers are a little high, with 20.

Albrecht is chipping in 3.8 points per game and has amassed 19 total assists to just four turnovers.


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