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SI: LeVert, Valentine among country’s top guards

The Detroit News

The strength of the Michigan and Michigan State basketball teams this season could be found in each team's backcourt.

Michigan senior Caris LeVert and Michigan State senior Denzel Valentine each earned a spot on Sports Illustrated’s list of top 20 guards in the country, along with Iowa State junior Monte Morris, a Flint Beecher product who won Michigan’s Mr. Basketball in 2013.

Players were listed alphabetically.

The 6-foot-7 LeVert missed the last 14 games of his junior season with a broken foot, and returns not only experience to a Michigan team that missed the NCAA Tournament last season, but also versatility, writes Sports Illustrated’s David Gardner.

“LeVert’s versatility — he can handle the ball well enough to play all three backcourt positions — has intrigued NBA scouts,” Gardner wrote, “but he decided to return for a final season at Michigan.”

LeVert averaged 14.9 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.7 assists in 18 games last season, while shooting 42.1 percent from 3-point range.

Gardner says the versatile Valentine — he’s also able to play all three backcourt position — isn’t getting a lot of attention, but anticipates a big senior season from the 6-5 guard after helping lead the Spartans to a Final Four appearance as a junior.

“Valentine has excellent court vision and will transition seamlessly into handling the ball fulltime for the Spartans,” wrote Gardner, who might have overlooked the fact the Spartans already have a full-time point guard in Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn Jr. “With scoring opportunities up for grabs, his excellent stats from a season ago (14.5 points per game. 6.3 rebounds, 41.6 percent from outside) are bound to increase.”

Morris, meanwhile, is “perhaps the best pass-first point guard on this list,” Gardner wrote.

“Given new coach Steve Prohm’s track record with developing point guards — he coached Isaiah Canaan and Cameron Payne at Murray State — don’t be surprised to see an even stronger season from Morris,” Gardner wrote.

Valentine and LeVert were the only Michigan and Michigan State players mentioned by Sports Illustrated, who last week came out with lists for the country’s top 20 big men and wing players.