Michigan NCAA Tournament Hopes Crushed By Caris LeVert Injury
The University of Michigan has made the NCAA Tournament each of the past four seasons and made it all the way to the regional final last year, losing a close game to eventual national runner-up Kentucky. It was widely presumed that UM would be back in the Big Dance this season and a Big Ten contender again, but both now look like long shots with the news that junior co-captain Caris LeVert will miss the rest of the season with a broken left foot.
LeVert had surgery on that foot last spring and it bothered him during the NCAA Tournament. He underwent surgery to fix the issue. However, in Saturday’s 54-52 win over Northwestern, LeVert was hurt on the final play when Wildcats freshman Bryant McIntosh had a point-blank shot to tie the game and missed. The ball bounced off the rim, LeVert leaped to tip it away, and the clock expired. LeVert landed in an awkward fashion and grabbed for his lower left leg as he lay on the floor.
“So it’s the same foot, same bone, everything, but the first fracture was not a fracture — it was stress-related thing which showed it would fracture there,” Coach John Beilein said Monday. “This time, it was a complete fracture. We’re very optimistic. Doctors have told us (there will be a) 100 percent recovery.”
LeVert leads the team in scoring at 14.9 points per game, 3-point shooting (40.5 percent), assists at 3.7, rebounds at 4.9. He also boasts a team-high 32 steals and seven blocks in 35.8 minutes per game. He is the guy with the ball in his hands at the end of games. On his way to an 18-point night Saturday, LeVert scored seven baskets and assisted on seven others, accounting for 14 of U-M’s 20 field goals.
The offense now should run more through sophomore point guard Derrick Walton Jr., the only other consistent player on the team, and freshman wingman Aubrey Dawkins. Walton will be asked to create more frequently in late-clock situations, while Dawkins figures to play much more and must shoulder a bigger portion of the scoring load at wing. Walton is third on the team in scoring at 10.3 points per game in 33.1 minutes, while Dawkins plays just 9.6 minutes per night and averages 3.1 points.
Michigan wasn’t looking all that great even with LeVert as the Wolverines are just 11-7 with two very bad non-conference losses to Eastern Michigan and the New Jersey Institute of Technology. Michigan is 102nd in the KenPom rankings and 89th in RPI.
There might be one bright spot to this injury: LeVert may have gone pro after this season as a likely first-round pick but now would seem more likely to return to Ann Arbor. Michigan is now a +50000 long shot at Sportsbook.com to win the national title. The Wolverines begin life without their star Tuesday in their first visit to Rutgers as Big Ten co-members. Michigan opened as a 1-point favorite. The Scarlet Knights (10-9, 2-4) have dropped two straight games but did upset No. 4 Wisconsin in their last home game.
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