Michigan men’s basketball coach John Beilein began his Monday press conference with an unprompted injury update on senior guard Caris LeVert and a tinge of tongue-in-cheek flare.
“You all want your Caris report, right?” Beilein asked a group of reporters. “It seems we’ve been having the injury report here for about three years.
“The injury report is less pain every day, less yesterday. We elected not to have him still practice yesterday because (we want to) let the healing try to complete itself. I’m not optimistic about (him playing) tomorrow. The longer it goes, the more he’s going to need two or three days of practice, or he won’t be ready or we can risk further injuring it. So that’s what I got to say and that’s what I prefer to say. So if you ask me anything more, I already said it — and I said it well. It was well said.”
The Wolverines (2-1 Big Ten, 12-4 overall) will likely be without their top scorer again Tuesday night when they host No. 3 Maryland. Meanwhile, the Terrapins’ most productive player, guard Melo Trimble, is coming off a 21-point performance on the road against Wisconsin on Saturday.
In Madison, Trimble showed why he was the preseason pick for Big Ten Player of the Year. On top of his game-high 21 points, he dished out five assists, and with time expiring, he buried a 3-pointer to send Maryland (4-0, 15-1) home victorious.
“He just comes down the court, there was no panic at all,” Beilein said of Trimble’s latest performance. “It reminded me of a guy we had as well. … He obviously, like Trey Burke, is a tremendous player, but he’s also got — like Trey Burke — a lot of pieces around him.”
Maryland has five players averaging double-digit scoring per contest, and plays with two true big men, Damonte Dodd and Diamond Stone — both 6-foot-11. Stone is pacing 13 points and five rebounds per game.
Add in guard Rasheed Sulaimon, who is pacing 10 points and four assists per game, and forwards Jake Layman (10.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.1 assists) and Robert Carter Jr. (12.6, 6.9, 1.8), and it makes sense that Maryland has been a popular Final Four pick.
“In the Penn State game, Diamond Stone took over,” Beilein said. “Sulaimon is a really good player. (Carter) has played really well. They’ve got a lot of people that can make good plays for them. Layman has been there for — this is his fourth year — of playing basketball in the ACC and Big Ten, so he’s gotten a lot of minutes. They’ve got seniors; they’ve got juniors. We’re down to two juniors again for the second straight year, so it is what it is.”
With LeVert sidelined, sophomore guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman has started in his place. Abdur-Rahkman had a career night on Thursday at Purdue, scoring a career-high 25 points. But despite the explosive scoring performance, he had just two assists in 39 minutes.
“That’s something you have to work on, seeing the whole floor and not just two actions or two players on the court,” Abdur-Rahkman said. “So I just want to get better at that.”
On the defensive end, Abdur-Rahkman may be more prepared than his teammates to take on Trimble. The two played together when Abdur-Rahkman lived in the Washington D.C. area from when he was nine years old until his junior year of high school, but Abdur-Rahkman said Trimble’s game has changed since when the two used to play together.
Junior guard Derrick Walton has also tried to shoulder more responsibility with LeVert injured, but he has struggled to find his touch since conference play started, going 8-for-25 from the field in the first three games of Big Ten play.
“I try to step up vocally a little more and be a little more assertive on both ends (with LeVert out),” Walton said. “With a guy that can do so many things out there, and he’s not out there, of course somebody’s got to at least pick up that slack.”
Tuesday’s game will be more than an opportunity for Walton to right his shooting funk. The game presents an opportunity for Michigan to get its first marquee win in a conference in which home wins are essential due to the difficulty of winning on the road.
“If you’re going to be in the championship hunt, if you’re going to be in the NCAA picture, you’ve got to win almost all your home games,” Beilein said.