- Paul Sherman/Daily
By Everett Cook, Daily Sports Editor
Published December 5, 2012
Caris LeVert was destined to redshirt, too skinny and too raw to see regular minutes as a freshman. Michigan coach John Beilein said he wasn’t going to use LeVert in a game this season unless he absolutely needed to, wanting to preserve the forward’s redshirt eligibility.
Freshman Nik Stauskas was also supposed to come off the bench this season, too one-dimensional and specialized to be in the starting lineup. Beilein said he needed to see more of Stauskas to put him in the starting lineup, and he wanted to give consistent minutes to his lone senior starter, Matt Vogrich.
So when Beilein stuck Stauskas in the starting lineup and put LeVert into the game less than five minutes into Saturday’s contest against Bradley, it was more than just a simple lineup decision.
It was a statement, a sign of Beilein betting on this year’s squad. In a normal year, the veteran coach would have stuck with Vogrich for at least another couple weeks, instead of just six games. In a normal year, LeVert would have stayed on the bench, his potential minutes used by Vogrich or senior Eso Akunne.
But in an abnormal year, Beilein put every chip he had available into play, making a decision for the now rather than for the later. He thinks that Michigan can compete nationally, that it can compete now.
It wasn’t like a change needed to be made for the Bradley game. The Wolverines were sitting pretty at 6-0, coming off a four-day stretch where they won the NIT Season Tip-Off and beat then-No. 18 North Carolina State in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
The change wasn’t made for now, though. It was made for March, when LeVert — already one of the team’s best perimeter defenders — will be a valuable defensive asset off the bench.
The move was made for later on, but needed to be executed now, because LeVert needs the game experience in December to be able to play in March. Beilein is wary of burning Levert’s redshirt if he isn’t going to get minutes, so combined with Stauskas in the starting lineup, this effectively bumps Vogrich and Akunne out of the rotation.
“You don’t want a redshirt playing two minutes a game,” Beilein said after the game against Bradley. “So you gotta take minutes from somewhere in order to give it to (LeVert), but the young man’s proved it and (Vogrich and Akunne) are ready if we need them.”
The move to replace Vogrich with Stauskas was due to the play of both guards. In Beilein’s offense, Vogrich’s role is to stand in the corner and make 3-pointers — that’s obviously a simplified version of it, but it’s more or less his job.
And Vogrich wasn’t doing that. He has shot 40 percent from deep on the year, on 10 attempts, and is averaging a little more than two points a game. That’s fine, but it isn’t great, especially for someone whose only job is to shoot from beyond the arc.
Stauskas, on the other hand, is shooting at a 64-percent clip from deep, which is third best in the country. The 6-foot-5 Canadian has also been more than just a shooter, as his off-the-dribble abilities have seemingly improved in every game this year.
To be fair, it only seemed like a matter of time before Stauskas would supplant Vogrich. Stauskas has an NBA-like shooting stroke, while Vogrich’s basketball career will probably end in Ann Arbor or a low-level European league.
But the fact that Beilein made the switch now, in December, shows that the coach didn’t think he could waste any time getting Stauskas as much game experience as possible before Big Ten play started.
Case in point: over the last two games, Stauskas has played 67 minutes. Vogrich has played seven.
For the first time since the Fab Five era in the early 1990s, there are multiple Wolverines with NBA-caliber talent, players who could easily leave Ann Arbor before their senior years. That’s exciting, but that’s also why Beilein isn’t taking his time with this team.
Preseason All-American Trey Burke almost left for the NBA after last season, and probably will at the end of this one. Junior Tim Hardaway Jr. could join him. Freshman Glenn Robinson III and McGary might not be far behind. Even Stauskas might not be at Michigan long enough to be called a senior.
And yes, Michigan has talented recruits coming in, but recruits are recruits. The highest ranked player in this year’s class was McGary, who has so far been the third-best freshman on the team. Who knows how guys are going to pan out.
And who knows who will stay, and who will go.
Maybe next year everyone will come back, and the rotation will stay the same, just with an added year of experience. Maybe.
But I don’t think so, and Beilein doesn’t think so, and that’s why Stauskas is starting and LeVert is on the court.
There is no playing for the future anymore.
— Cook can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter: @everettcook.