In the months leading up to the 2015-16 college basketball season, BTPowerhouse will be releasing a new series called the 'BTPowerhouse 25,' which features the Top 25 players in the Big Ten as voted by members of the staff. All players set to be on Big Ten rosters for next season were eligible during the staff vote with their top selection receiving 25 points and their 25th and final selection receiving 1 point.
Today's edition will take a brief look Caris LeVert of the Michigan Wolverines, who came in at #6 in the rankings. When LeVert went down with a foot injury in the final seconds of a victory against Northwestern, so too did Michigan's hopes of postseason play. In his final year, LeVert has a chance to make his mark as not just one of the best players in the Big Ten, but in the entire country.
‘BTP 25'- #16 Caris LeVert
- Eligibility: Senior
- Career Totals: 88 games, 2257 minutes, 823 points, 284 rebounds, 201 assists
- 2014-15 Averages: 35.8 min, 14.9 pts, 4.9 rbs, 3.7 asts, 0.4 blks, 1.8 stls
- Positional Role: Shooting Guard
LeVert came to Michigan as a 2-star recruit, #11 in the state of Ohio and the 69th best shooting guard in the country by ESPN. For context, LeVert was ranked way lower than players like Darrick Wood, who started at Community College, and Benji Bell, who played at Junior College. LeVert is far better than both of these players, and many of the 2012 recruits who never lived up to the hype. As a senior, it's LeVert's turn to do so.
As a freshman, LeVert started off slow, weighing 170 pounds soaking wet to go with his slender 6'6" frame. But as the season progressed, his confidence grew, and he played 32 minutes against Western Michigan in the final non-conference game, finishing with 9 points and 5 assists. He didn't come close to sniffing that many minutes until the first game in March, a 58-57 victory in which LeVert played 30 brilliant minutes, finishing with 8 points in a massive rivalry game. LeVert's final freshman hurrah came against Syracuse, knocking down 2 massive 3-pointers and propelling the Wolverines to the NCAA Championship game.
While LeVert was solid in this role, the departure of Tim Hardaway Jr. opened up a spot on the wing for LeVert in his sophomore campaign. LeVert relished the challenge, scoring 17 points and grabbing 5 rebounds in a blowout victory over UMass-Lowell to begin the season. His number stayed pretty steady throughout, but LeVert's two breakout games came against Wisconsin and Michigan State, scoring 25 and 23 points respectively. However, in the biggest game of the season, Nik Stauskas did all the heavy lifting, finishing with 24 points while LeVert could only muster up 9 points in a heartbreaking 75-72 loss to Kentucky. Stauskas departed, along with Glenn Robinson III, leaving the an even greater void for LeVert to fill in his junior campaign.
LeVert delivered, scoring in double figures in 8 of his first 9 games, but the Wolverines dropped crushing defeats to N.J.I.T and Eastern Michigan in back-to-back games. Instead of smooth sailing in the non-conference, the Wolverines looked like a chicken with its head cut off, looking for any semblance of hope. Michigan got off to a 3-2 start in Big Ten play, providing a glimmer of hope for the Wolverines to still make the NCAA Tournament. But that fateful Northwestern game, the one misstep from LeVert, and Caris's junior season was over. Instead of bolting for the NBA, LeVert decided to return, not wanting to end his Michigan career with a dark cloud over his head.
When LeVert is on his game, he is one of the most complete and exciting players in all of college basketball. After gaining 35 pounds since his arrival to campus, LeVert now has the strength to body up smaller shooting guards and shoot over them. This size, along with a lightening-quick first step, allows LeVert to score in a multitude of ways.
Unlike Zak Irvin, LeVert earned his minutes freshman year on the defensive end, and his defense and extreme length allows his to get easy steals and blocks that most shooting guards can't get to. LeVert's shooting touch, even out to three-point range, has improved every year, and is one of his better assets. His off the dribble shots are sometimes questionable, but he has become a wizard at making some unbelievably difficult shots in key moments.
Areas For Improvement
It's tough to criticize a three year rotation player who will likely end up on an All-American list by season's end, but there are definitely still areas of LeVert's game where he can improve. For starters, LeVert took far too many shots last season with a talented roster around him. This poor shot selection led to a 42% field goal percentage, which is disappointing when LeVert is attempting over 12 attempts a game.
Besides for shooting, this is the year when LeVert has to become more of a vocal leader. From a distance, it appears LeVert is much more of a "lead by example" type of player, but Michigan will need both LeVert and Spike Albrecht to become vocal leaders especially if this team is attempting to make a deep run through March. These are small, minor aspects of LeVert's game to improve on, but they could be the difference between a good and great Michigan team.
Like the areas for improvement, it's tough to pinpoint projections for a player of LeVert's importance to Michigan. I see him averaging about 17 points per game, 5 rebounds and 4 assists, pretty similar to last season's statistics. While stats are important, LeVert's importance to the teams as mentioned before is arguably more valuable. Leadership, getting the younger players involved and creating a balanced scoring attack fall under the responsibility of both LeVert and John Beilein, and I think LeVert is ready to step up to the challenge. If Michigan can get LeVert and a phenomenal supporting cast around him, Michigan could have a phenomenal season.
'BTPowerhouse 25' Rankings
- Players That Just Missed The Cut
- #25 - Kendrick Nunn (Illinois)
- #24 - Bryant McIntosh (Northwestern)
- #22 (tie) Rasheed Sulaimon (Maryland)
- #22 (tie) - Thomas Bryant (Indiana)
- #21 - Rapheal Davis (Purdue)
- #20 - Derrick Walton Jr. (Michigan)
- #19 - Caleb Swanigan (Purdue)
- #18 - Shavon Shields (Nebraska)
- #17 - Eron Harris (Michigan State)
- #16 - Zak Irvin (Michigan)
- #15 - Jae'Sean Tate (Ohio State)
- #14 - Bronson Koenig (Wisconsin)
- #13 - Alex Olah (Northwestern)
- #11 (tie) - Diamond Stone (Maryland)
- #11 (tie) - James Blackmon, Jr. (Indiana)
- #10 - Malcolm Hill (Illinois)
- #9 - Jarrod Uthoff (Iowa)
- #8 - Jake Layman (Maryland)
- #7 - Troy Williams (Indiana)
- #6 - Caris LeVert (Michigan)
- #5 - To be continued ...