Beard: UM lacks big gun to shoot way out of funk
Ann Arbor — Caris LeVert is treading into uncharted waters.
In his three years at Michigan, he hasn't experienced a three-game losing streak. Now, the Wolverines are in the midst of a four-game skid, following Saturday's 62-51 loss to Southern Methodist at Crisler Center.
LeVert finished with four points on 1-of-8 shooting in the loss, his second straight game in single digits, after scoring a career-best 32 points against NJIT.
UM's offense is struggling, scoring more than 53 points just once during the skid, with 70 against NJIT.
Along with LeVert, Michigan is also moving into unfamiliar territory — at least in the last four years — without a potent scorer. The last time the Wolverines had a four-game losing streak was in January 2011, when Tim Hardaway Jr. was a freshman.
UM lost its fourth straight, 62-51, to SMU on Saturday afternoon at Crisler Center.
Since that time, they've seen luminaries such as Hardaway and Big Ten players of the year Trey Burke and Nik Stauskas as primary scorers and have been able to fend off bad shooting slumps.
Through 11 games, this edition of the Wolverines is showing some warning signs that not only might they not live up to the lofty accomplishments of their predecessors, but the NCAA Tournament could be a stretch goal.
"We haven't lost (more than) two games in a row since I've been here," LeVert said. "We're at four now. We've never been through this type of adversity before."
Point guards Derrick Walton Jr. and Spike Albrecht have battled injuries and Zak Irvin — who had an outstanding showing in the summer exhibition tour in Italy — haven't been able to produce at the same clip.
Coach John Beilein had been able to count on that knock-down shooter the past few years; UM doesn't have that luxury this season and they'll just have to work around it.
"It's been big to have guys that you can count on to go 2-for-5 or 3-for-7 (on 3-pointers) every night," he said. "That hasn't happened in these four games — and that's one of the many reasons we've lost four in a row."
Irvin was projected to take on some of that role, but he went 3-of-11 on triples against SMU and is shooting 36 percent this season.
It may signal a shift in how Beilein coaches this team moving forward. But with just 10 days before the Big Ten schedule begins, with Illinois coming to Crisler, there isn't enough time to reinvent the wheel.
"On most days and in most seasons, we very rarely have a shooting day like today," said Beilein, whose team shot 4-of-20 on 3-pointers and just 29 percent overall. "That's obviously part of it, but we had some pretty good opportunities at the rim, particularly a couple in the second half and in the first half that we should be making — and we have to work at that."
Beilein has lamented losing five star players — Hardaway, Burke, Stauskas, Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III — to the NBA in two years, noting that not many Big Ten teams, nor teams in the country besides Kentucky or Duke have faced that type of attrition.
LeVert is projected to be the next in the line of early departures to the NBA, but he'll need to hone his game and get to the basket more aggressively, something he's lacked in this current skid. With the rest of the offense struggling, though, defenses are able to collapse around LeVert more and try to make others hit the critical shots.
"When we're not knocking down shots, they can key in on other people," said LeVert, a junior guard. "We were in the game. Down the stretch, we were up three with seven minutes to go. We didn't score for seven minutes, with a lot of turnovers. That just can't happen.
"Guys are overthinking a little bit — myself included. We just have to go out there and play."
SMU coach Larry Brown, who coached the Pistons to an NBA title in 2004, has seen his share of top-tier players. He complimented LeVert and the way his team was able to keep him in check.
"We held a super player in check," Brown said. "I've been watching him play and I have a bunch of my friends in the NBA that talk about him all the time.
"When you hold him to 1-for-8 and every shot he took was contested, that's pretty remarkable."
That's where Michigan's young players will have to step up and take a bigger role in the offense. Irvin can play better, but they'll need more from freshman starter Kameron Chatman and take a longer look to get contributions from reserves Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Aubrey Dawkins.
The Wolverines need an additional scorer to boost the offensive production, but Beilein will continue to lean on LeVert to try to get them out of the doldrums.
"I'm going to put a lot of things on his plate because he's a heck of a kid and a really good player and we're going to give him a lot of opportunities," Beilein said. "Our game plan won't change at all after he had a tough game today."