Caris LeVert’s Injury Could be Season-Ending for Michigan Too

Posted by Eric Clark on January 19th, 2015

Michigan head coach John Beilein is an outstanding head coach, and if he can lead his current group of Wolverines back to the NCAA Tournament for the fifth consecutive season, he should be dubbed a miracle worker. In Saturday’s 56-54 win over Northwestern, Beilein lost his best player, junior Caris LeVert, for the remainder of the season after he suffered an injury to his left foot. LeVert had surgery on the same foot last May and will undergo another operation on it this week.

Caris LeVert suffered a season-ending foot injury in Michigan's 56-54 win over Northwestern (Gregory Shamus, Getty).

Caris LeVert suffered a season-ending foot injury in Michigan’s 56-54 win over Northwestern (Gregory Shamus, Getty).

LeVert’s injury is devastating to Michigan’s already-slim chances of making the NCAA Tournament, as the junior leads the team in scoring (14.9 PPG), rebounding (4.9 RPG) and steals (1.8 SPG). His experience, on-court leadership and productivity are virtually irreplaceable for a program that has lost so much talent in the last two years. Junior Spike Albrecht along with sophomores Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton Jr. will now be asked to pick up the scoring slack, but they’ll have more to worry about than just getting buckets. LeVert played in 89.3 percent of Michigan’s minutes this year and carries a team-high 24.7 percent usage rate. Finding a new offensive rhythm will prove difficult for the rest of the team, especially with the injury coming in the midst of the Big Ten season.

Even before the injury, Michigan’s roster was already hurting – Albrecht and freshman Ricky Doyle are battling respiratory problems; Irvin is currently on medication for a cold; and Walton has played through a toe injury since a November 25 loss to Villanova. Walton is likely the Wolverines’ second-best creator on offense but he’s been unable to get to the lane as much as Beilien would like with a bum toe. Over the past seven games, the sophomore is 4-of-28 on two-point field goals and has largely relied on his long-range game to score. If Irvin can kick his ailment soon, we’re likely to see his usage rate (currently at 21.4 percent) jump the most. He’s played in 88.2 percent of Michigan’s minutes this year, second behind only LeVert. He’s attempted the most three-pointers (120) on the team, and he’s much less likely to drive-and-dish. His turnover numbers are high; his assists are low; and he’s not nearly as good of a creator as LeVert. Perhaps an audition as the team’s go-to scorer will help to expand his game and hone his ball-security skills, but those improvements won’t come without growing pains. Expect Michigan’s offense to become even more reliant on three-pointers for the rest of the season (already at 37.8 percent, 18th-highest in the nation).

LeVert is widely projected as a first-rounder in the 2015 NBA Draft, but it’s unclear whether he’s planning to leave school after this season. Professional teams haven’t been shy about picking injured players recently (see: Julius Randle, Joel Embiid and Nerlens Noel), but those were all big men and it’s still a risky move for both parties. Michigan would love for LeVert to stick around another season to give an incredibly young roster some much-needed experience, but at this point, the only silver lining that Beilein can take from his star’s injury is the chance that he will return for his senior year.

As for the postseason, the odds that Michigan can rally to make the NCAA Tournament this season are minuscule – KenPom projects the Wolverines to lose 10 of their final 12 games. Even with LeVert healthy, the February slate already figured to be dicey. The team’s four Big Ten wins have come against opponents currently ranked 10th or worse in the conference standings, and three of those were at home. This team was going to struggle to impress the selection committee anyway, with those bad non-conference losses to NJIT and Eastern Michigan, but with LeVert now on the shelf, they’re as safe a bet as any to be left far outside the bubble this March.

Eric Clark (30 Posts)

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