Michigan men’s basketball coach John Beilein didn’t mince his words on Friday when speaking to reporters before the Wolverines game against Purdue on Saturday.
Unprompted, Beilein presented a staunch defense of senior guard Caris LeVert who has missed the last 11 games due to a lower left leg injury. Prior to Michigan’s game against Minnesota on Wednesday, Beilein had said that LeVert was cleared to play, however LeVert did not play against the Golden Gophers. This led to some speculation that LeVert was holding himself out. Beilein dispelled that notion on Friday and stepped away from saying that LeVert was cleared to play.
“I want to be clear about something with Caris. Nothing is clear,” Beilein said. “That’s what I want to be clear of. When I hear he’s cleared to play — he’s cleared to play when he feels 100 percent and I feel I am on board 100 percent. So let’s not go out there and try to just throw stuff out there. He will be cleared to play when he feels he’s good and I agree with him.
“He has a total of three practice hours now, total. If he says he’s ready and I agree he’s going to get out there. But frankly, he is not ready yet, and so he’s going to get out there when he’s ready. I want to be optimistic. I want to do all those things, but we are making sure that this young man makes the right decision for our team. If he plays in that game the other day, and he’s not ready, maybe we don’t win it. So let’s be clear of this thing.
“I need everyone to just back off, watch what happens and when he’s out there, he’s out there. Stop projecting.”
The statement from Beilein likely indicates that LeVert will miss his 12th straight game on Saturday when Michigan (8-4 Big Ten, 18-7 overall) hosts the 18th-ranked Boilermakers (8-4, 20-5). The game will be an opportunity for the Wolverines to bounce back on their own court after back-to-back home losses last week against Indiana and Michigan State.
When Michigan played in West Lafayette a month ago, Purdue’s frontcourt proved too much for the Wolverines to handle in an 87-70 loss. The Boilermakers outmatched the Wolverines down low, outscoring them 42-18 in the paint and finished with four players with double-digit point totals, including 17 from 7-foot center A.J. Hammons.
“This is the premier low-post, post-feed team maybe in the country, and that’s not necessarily a strength of ours if you’ve been watching our games,” Beilein said. “It’s quite a challenge, so we’ve got to have our defense orchestrated so we’re protecting the post enough.”
To combat Purdue’s size last time — which also includes 6-foot-9, 250-pound forward Caleb Swanigan — Michigan tried to get in a rhythm from the perimeter. But the Wolverines never got hot enough, hitting 11 of the 27 3-pointers they attempted. Part of the problem was strong defense from guard Rapheal Davis, who limited sharp-shooting redshirt sophomore guard Duncan Robinson to just two made treys.
Despite his comparatively small size, sophomore guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman had a career-best night the last time the two teams met, tallying 25 points.
“They give up lines to the basket — straight line drives to the basket — because they have their shot blockers,” Abdur-Rahkman said. “That plays into my advantage, because it’s what I’m better at doing, getting downhill and finishing at the basket.”
Purdue is coming off an overtime win against No. 8 Michigan State. Meanwhile, Michigan is looking to redeem itself after two lopsided contests last week.
“We don’t like letting down our home fans, that’s for sure,” Robinson said. “But at the same time we’re definitely more focused on inside the locker room and just proving to ourselves that we’re a lot better than what we showed last week.”