PARADISE ISLAND, The Bahamas — The Atlantis Paradise Island resort has all the makings of a perfect weeklong getaway spot. Palm trees line the property, balconies overlook the ocean, and get this: the resort doesn’t just feature a lazy river — it has a crazy river, too. But don’t tell that to Caris LeVert as his team gets ready for the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament. The senior guard didn’t come to the Bahamas so the Michigan men’s basketball team could relax.
“They know we’re here on a business trip,” LeVert said of his teammates. “We know that we didn't have a great game on Friday (against Xavier), and we’re here to redeem ourselves and play a great tournament.”
Michigan’s first test will be No. 18 Connecticut, a team that, like the Musketeers did on Friday, will challenge the Wolverines’ big men down low. The Huskies (3-0) feature center Amida Brimah, who's averaging eight rebounds and nearly nine points per game.
Against Xavier, Michigan (2-1) got outrebounded, 47-29, and its bigs tallied 11 fouls and just nine points.
But Michigan coach John Beilein sees Brimah as a different kind of big man than what the Wolverines saw from the Musketeers.
“They’re not as apt to throw the ball in to (Brimah) the way that the traditional post-up that you saw with (Xavier forward) Jalen Reynolds,” Beilein said. “It’s more that he’s playing behind the defense. They’re lobbing it to him, so it’s a four (players) out, one (player) deep type of approach — very unique to what I’ve seen before.”
Beilein also knows Brimah will be a factor defensively, calling him “as good a shot blocker as there is.” The 7-foot junior is third in the country in blocked shots, averaging 4.3 per game.
Offensively, Connecticut has been led by a duo of fifth-year graduate student transfers. Guard Sterling Gibbs comes to the Huskies after playing two seasons at Seton Hall, and forward Shonn Miller opted for Connecticut after playing four years at Cornell. The two are pacing 16 and 13 points per game, respectively, and Miller has also been a force on the boards, using a 6-foot-7, 220-pound frame to grab more than six boards per contest.
“They hit the jackpot with the fifth-year guys,” Beilein said. “That’s a huge advantage to have guys that have those type of numbers and all of a sudden have for another year.”
Connecticut has also gotten major contribution from younger players in guard Rodney Purvis and forward Daniel Hamilton.
Purvis starts at guard alongside Gibbs and is the Huskies’ biggest threat from deep, shooting 47 percent from 3-point range. Hamilton, while not as consistent a shooter, poses a threat solely in his versatility.
“He’s a point guard one minute,” Beilein said. “Then he can play a ‘1,’ a ‘2,’ a ‘3’ or a ‘4’. They can go small, and he can play ‘4’ or he can play the ‘5’ even. There’s a lot of versatility that you see.”
Hamilton’s ability to play different spots makes him a tough matchup, one that will likely fall to Michigan’s best defender: LeVert. Beilein said he has ideas as to how to stop Hamilton, but didn’t specify what they were.
If Michigan’s big men underperform again, Hamilton may be the least of the Wolverines’ worries. Junior forward Mark Donnal has started at the ‘5’ in each game so far, but Beilein hinted earlier in the week that he was reevaluating that spot in the starting lineup and wanted to shorten the rotation across the board. Sophomore Ricky Doyle has been Michigan’s most efficient big and could slide into Donnal’s starting spot.
If Doyle can’t step up, though, it could be a rocky start to the Bahamas business trip.