Beilein on LeVert's return: 'It's a privacy issue'

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

So, you're saying there's a chance ...

Michigan's  Caris LeVert  increased his practice time on Wednesday.

Caris LeVert, the heart and soul of the Michigan basketball team, has missed the last nine games with a lower-left leg injury, but he, no doubt, is itching to return.

And now. Because, look who's coming to town.

No. 10 Michigan State visits Crisler Center on Saturday, in the only scheduled meeting between the rivals this season.

"He's one of my closest friends. I'm starting to feel sorry for him, not being able to play," said LeVert's roommate, Derrick Walton Jr., who knows the pain of missing the MSU game, because he missed both last season.

"He's going to be back soon.

"His spirits are high."

Just how soon, though, is the question.

Michigan coach John Beilein has been increasingly vague about any sort of target date, and hasn't even been willing to give the exact nature of the injury — drawing a barb this week from Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, suggesting beat writers aren't pushing enough.

Beilein said Friday only that LeVert had practiced more Thursday than he did Wednesday — a day after Michigan looked, for the first time, like it was missing LeVert, during a blowout loss to Indiana.

Beilein sternly defended how he's handled the LeVert saga, saying if he makes public a target date and LeVert were to return earlier, his integrity would be in question.

"It's a privacy issue, that when he's ready to play, he's ready to play, and that's the way it's going to go," Beilein said. "I don't have any idea.

"I don't know what the weather's going to be like tomorrow, because I haven't looked at the weather. And I don't know whether he's gonna play, so how can I forecast it? So that's it."

The popular sentiment is that if LeVert returns for the Michigan State game, the Wolverines (17-6, 7-3 Big Ten) have a much better shot at upsetting the Spartans (19-4, 6-4).

But there are flaws in that thought.

For starters, LeVert wouldn't get the start Saturday, and his minutes would be limited.

"I can't put a number on it," Beilein said of the minutes. "When he's out there running and doing some of the drills, you can see he's winded very quickly.

"So, we're gonna make sure we take our time with him, because we want him at his best at the end of the season, and we want him at his best after the season, as well."

LeVert, who missed much of last season with a foot injury, decided to return for his senior season rather than head to the NBA draft. The last thing Michigan wants is to rush him back, aggravate the injury, and see his future as a professional fizzle before it even starts.

Michigan did nicely the first half of the Big Ten season without LeVert, with increased roles for Walton, Zak Irvin, Duncan Robinson, Mark Donnal and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman leading to a 7-2 start in conference play.

But the schedule was easier, and when Indiana came to town earlier in the week, the gap was incredible — as the Hoosiers went on a 25-0 run to put the game away.

The Wolverines, against good teams, are starting to see the LeVert void hinder them on the back end of the rotation, as they're only going seven deep. D.J. Wilson and Kameron Chatman haven't done enough to help there.

That said, LeVert's return, Beilein has made clear, will be LeVert's decision.

"He's starting to do some things without restrictions; that's a positive boost for some other guys to see that," Walton said. "He's going to continue to try to build on it. We just have to make sure we don't push him back too fast.

"We don't want to rush him back and then he's timid and hesitant about making a play he normally makes."

Feeling the rivalry

Walton missed both MSU games last season, because of injury.

He had to watch Michigan State sweep the season series.

"It hurt. It hurt, man," Walton said Friday. "I'll never forget that, so I'm gonna make sure I'm gonna have my presence felt tomorrow."

Adding to the vigor is the humbling loss Walton and Co. felt at the hands of Indiana earlier in the week.

"I'm really excited for the guys down the road to kind of feel the wrath of how we feel after we lose," Walton said. "I'm gonna leave it at that, pretty much."

What a fellow ... that Costello

Michigan State has the big advantage in the post, with star freshman Deyonta Davis and senior Matt Costello.

Asked about Davis, Beilein only wanted to talk about Costello.

"He's really good," Beilein said of Davis. "But the challenge is Costello. He passes, he rebounds ... Costello is the post presence that they've always had.

"They're a great screening team, and Costello sets great screens, and that's how people get open."

Look at the bright side

The Indiana loss was tough to watch.

And Beilein certainly was fuming afterward.

But he had calmed down by the time he met with reporters Friday.

"We are 7-3 (in Big Ten)," said Beilein, "so I've gotta keep reminding myself of that."

It certainly could be worse, given the prolonged absences of Michigan's two seniors, LeVert and Spike Albrecht.

Slam dunks

Walton on if the confidence has taken a hit: "The confidence doesn't waver. Sometimes, you're not going to have your best games. ... It cost us and it didn't feel good, so we're really excited to get back out and redeem ourselves."

... Beilein on the rivalry with Michigan State: "It's been tremendous ... but I don't think it determines anyone's season like it in football."

... Michigan and Michigan State have split the last 10 meetings. Since 1997, when UM and MSU have met just once in the regular season, MSU is 3-2.