Iowa City, Iowa — Michigan coach John Beilein on Sunday gave the first hint of positive news on the Caris LeVert situation since the star senior went down with a lower-leg injury late last month.
“He’s walking around pain-free right now,” Beilein said following an 82-71 loss to Iowa.
“If he’s pain-free, we can start practicing.”
LeVert on Sunday missed a fourth consecutive game since being stepped on by an Illinois player Dec. 30.
Beilein said LeVert will undergo medical tests in the next day or two, and if those come back clean, and if LeVert can get through a practice pain-free — walking hasn’t been the issue; running has — then the senior guard could be back relatively soon.
Beilein has said he would like LeVert to participate in at least two practices in a row before returning to games, but he did leave the door open to him possibly playing 10 to 15 minutes off the bench after one practice.
“Maybe,” Beilein said. “Who knows?”
Michigan is off Monday and has just one practice before playing Minnesota at Crisler Center on Wednesday.
Beilein has been and will continue to be conservative with LeVert, so there’s always the chance Michigan holds him out for four more games, since the next four games — against Minnesota, Nebraska, Rutgers and Penn State — are against lesser teams.
Looking for his shot
With LeVert out, Derrick Walton Jr. has struggled at times in taking over the lead guard role.
Walton made strides on that front Sunday.
“He’s not perfect, but I really love his growth right now running the team, making shots, trying to make the best decisions,” Beilein said.
Walton is a pass-first guard, but against Iowa, he took 14 shots, the most he’s taken in three years at Michigan.
He only made five of them, and just one in the first half. But you’re not going to make them all, Beilein knows.
He just wants Walton, who finished with a team-high 16 points, continue to be aggressive.
“I can tell you what I love about Derrick: I can get on Derrick and he’ll make the next jump shot,” Beilein said, liking him to a quarterback who follows an interception with a touchdown on the next drive. “Some guys can’t do it.”
Young and old
Iowa starts four seniors and a junior, and Beilein credited the experience with a big reason behind the Hawkeyes’ success early this season.
But Iowa coach Fran McCaffery isn’t as convinced.
“Well, here’s the thing: Everybody keeps talking about the experience, and obviously they’re our keys,” McCaffery said. “But we wouldn’t be sitting where we are if we weren’t getting unbelievable play from (Dom) Uhl, (Ahmad) Wagner, (Brady) Ellingson, Nicholas Baer ...”
Of those four, one’s a freshman, two are redshirt freshmen and one is a sophomore.
Uhl scored 10 points, Baer seven and Wagner played great defense.
“I said from the beginning, we would not have success this year unless those young guys came through for us,” McCaffery said.
“I don’t care what the seniors do.”
For the second time this season, Duncan Robinson was just late on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer. He made one at the buzzer at halftime, but it clearly was a fraction too late.
“Yeah, umm, I shouldn’t have taken the extra dribble,” Robinson said. “I thought it was close. I guess it wasn’t.”
... Michigan is 2-2 since losing LeVert to injury, pretty impressive, given the quality of competition —1-2 against the Big Three, preceded by a dominating victory over Penn State at home.
“The fact that he went out,” said Walton, “just gave us a little more fuel to the fire.”
... Walton said Michigan recently watched some film of the Purdue loss and noticed how deflated players got during big runs by the Boilermakers. They made it a point to stand tough when Iowa went on its big runs, and for the most part, the Wolverines did.