Increased offensive role hurting LeVert’s defense

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By Daniel Wasserman, Daily Sports Editor
Published February 10, 2014

If there was one Iowa player Michigan couldn’t afford to lose sight of, it was Roy Devyn Marble.

Marble, the Hawkeyes’ leading scorer, should’ve been the focal point of the Wolverine men’s basketball team’s defense, the first one to be picked up in transition, and perhaps even shadowed and defended the way opposing teams have been forced to treat sophomore guard Nik Stauskas.

But there he was on Saturday, time and time again, racing down the floor in transition unmarked and open for uncontested 3-pointers. He sunk six of them in total, each in the first half, for 22 first-half points — more than enough to suck the life out of Michigan.

Marble — who grew up in Southfield, Mich., about a half hour from Ann Arbor — was held to just four points after halftime, but the brunt of the damage was already done against the team that passed up on the local product, as Michigan folded, 85-67.

It was the third consecutive weekend that the 15th-ranked Wolverines could do little to slow an opposing team’s leading scorer; for the second-straight weekend, it landed Michigan in the losing column.

Two weeks ago, Michigan State guard Gary Harris went off to the tune of 27 points, though the Wolverines pulled off an impressive come-from-behind win in East Lansing.

The following weekend, Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell took his turn scoring 27 points, shooting a lights-out 7-for-8 from beyond the arc in Michigan’s first Big Ten loss of the season.

If there was a defensive bright spot in the stretch, it was the Wolverines’ stifling of Nebraska guard Terron Petteway, who averages close to 18 points per game but was held to just five points in Michigan’s blowout win last Wednesday.

But on Saturday, the Wolverines again were unable to contain the player who was presumably at the top of their defensive keys to victory. For sophomore guard Caris LeVert, Michigan’s best perimeter defender, Marble represented another player he was tasked with guarding who didn’t seem to miss.

LeVert, Stauskas and Michigan coach John Beilein were each quick to isolate Marble’s performance from the other two.

“I think on Yogi, we did a really good job at making him shoot contested threes,” Stauskas said on Saturday. “I think a couple times, we just missed (Marble) in transition and he got off to a hot start. That’s what got us today.”

Added Beilein: “Someone said to me, ‘It’s like Yogi Ferrell all over again.’ No, we had someone close to Yogi Ferrell. Somehow, (Marble) just got open, and we’ve got to figure out what happened.”

There’s certainly something to be said for the Hawkeyes’ transition offense — “one of the best teams in the country at it,” according to Beilein, who then called his own team’s transition defense “very average.” But Marble’s success wasn’t limited solely to the game’s up-and-down tempo. On multiple half-court possessions, he was simply given too much space, or he created it himself by utilizing the motion offense, resulting in open threes.

But in both instances, either in transition or half court sets, there’s an underlying narrative that has seemingly emerged: LeVert’s increasing role on the offensive end is seemingly detrimental to his defense. In games against the Spartans, Hoosiers and Hawkeyes, LeVert averaged 17 points per game while attempting 11.7 field goals per game, almost four more than his average in the Big Ten prior to the Michigan State game.

It’s clear that LeVert has become the Wolverines’ secondary option on the offensive end, and while Stauskas sputtered for six and 10 points, respectively, against Iowa and Indiana, LeVert was thrust into the role of Michigan’s go-to scorer. But despite a significant upgrade in the amount of time spent with the ball in his hands attacking the rim — against Iowa, he shot 11 free throws — he’s still tasked with defending the opposing team’s best player.

It wouldn’t be a stretch to question whether his propensity to draw fouls is taking a toll on his body, as evidenced his defensive matchup shooting at surefire rates in the aforementioned three games.

His 6-for-12 shooting mark in Iowa City doesn’t stand out, but considering that after each of his six misses, he had to then had to recover and attempt to mark Marble in transition — more often than not, he struggled to find him — it certainly offers another part of the story for why his defense may have slipped.

The soft-spoken LeVert is never one to make excuses — “It’s pretty frustrating,” he said, before going on to say that, “They’re all great players.” — but the numbers make it clear that going forward, Stauskas’ offense needs to pick up. Michigan can’t beat good teams by relying on LeVert to carry it on both ends of the floor.