PARADISE ISLAND, The Bahamas — It’s no secret: Caris LeVert is Michigan’s biggest threat on offense.
He’s most capable of creating open shots for himself, and he’s the most likely Wolverine to hit a jumper with a hand in his face when an open shot isn’t available. When all else fails, he’s the Michigan men’s basketball team’s obvious go-to.
LeVert scored 29 points in the Wolverines’ loss to Xavier on Nov. 21 and put up 21 in another losing effort on Wednesday against No. 18 Connecticut. In the early going, however, it seems that those games — those in which LeVert scores the most — are the games his team is least likely to win.
So even though LeVert’s 13 points in the Wolverines’ 102-47 victory over Charlotte on Thursday were a marked decline from his output in the two games prior, Michigan coach John Beilein was thrilled with his stat line.
“That was the message before,” Beilein said. “We can’t stand around and watch Caris the whole game.”
The message, apparently, hit home. The rest of the Wolverines’ backcourt chipped in to the scoring on Thursday, and there was no need for LeVert to carry the load.
Junior guard Derrick Walton Jr., who scored just four points against Xavier, doubled that output against Charlotte. Aubrey Dawkins posted five points against Xavier, six against the Huskies and 10 points against Charlotte. Junior forward Zak Irvin scored seven, two, and 12, respectively, in the three-game span.
“We want Caris to be very, very aggressive,” Beilein said. “But we don’t want the ball to stick, either. … I think everybody loves watching Caris do what he does. At the same time, we’re a better team when he’s running a play and being a player. He’s got to be selective at times, because there’s other guys out there as well.”
Some nights, though, selectivity isn’t an option. Wednesday, for instance, two of those “other guys” — Irvin and redshirt sophomore guard Duncan Robinson — combined to shoot 1-for-12 from beyond the 3-point arc, forcing LeVert into a one-man, do-or-die mindset.
It almost worked. Michigan trailed by double digits throughout the second half, but LeVert’s late heroics brought the Wolverines within eight just inside the four-minute mark.
“He’s their No. 1 option,” said Connecticut guard Rodney Purvis after Wednesday’s game. “Any time he was in the game, we definitely all had to be aware — it was tough for one person to stop him.”
Moving forward, the Wolverines will continue to lean on other sources of scoring around the perimeter. Walton, Dawkins, Irvin and even Robinson are all capable of being difference-makers on the offensive end.
Michigan is a ways away from reintroducing another backcourt fixture, however. Senior guard Spike Albrecht played four minutes against Connecticut and 10 against Charlotte, and doesn’t seem close to returning to a more substantial workload.
“I think when you’re playing in a game, when it’s a two- or three-point game, knowing his limitations, it’s probably pretty risky for our own success,” Beilein said of playing Albrecht in high-pressure situations.
Beilein said Wednesday that Albrecht had been transitioned into a rehabilitation mode after his recovery from dual hip surgeries in the offseason proved slower than the Wolverines had hoped.
But if the rest of Michigan’s ball-handlers can continue to lighten LeVert’s load, both in terms of scoring and ball distribution, Albrecht’s absence in the non-conference portion of Michigan’s schedule could prove a moot point.