Improbable Heroes May Again be Key

Michigan got a huge boost from its bench in its 61-56 victory over Syracuse Saturday. Spike Albrecht, Caris LeVert, and Jordan Morgan all stepped up with major contributions, and based upon tonight's championship opponent, there's a good chance that all three will be called upon to play similar roles against Louisville.

Sleep on Him if You Want

Heading into Michigan’s third round match up with VCU two weeks ago many observers predicted that Wolverine reserve Spike Albrecht would be conspicuous in his presence on the court -- and not in a good way.  The freshman point guard had played just five minutes versus South Dakota State the game prior. Any more than that against Shaka Smart’s “Havoc Defense” was or recipe for disaster -- or so they thought.

History would tell a different tale.  Albrecht played 15 strong minutes of basketball, scoring three points and dishing two assists, and turning ball over just once against intense pressure.  The VCU players had licked their proverbial chops upon seeing him step on the floor, but he quickly taught them a lesson about judging a book by its cover.

“If I was one of those guys seeing me out there, I’d probably go at me too,” Albrecht said laughingly.  “But when teams are pressing us, you have to make them pay. You have to stay aggressive.  You can’t let them dictate the tempo. “

The gritty youngster knows that he could be called upon for extended duty again tonight.  It’s a task he concedes will be more difficult, but also one he believes he is fully up to.

“Their guards are really really good,” stated Albrecht.  “I think they trap a little bit more than VCU. They just kind of play that helter skelter kind of basketball and they have two really good guards who can get into the paint.  We’re going to have to do a good job of containing them.”

Albrecht expects the Cardinals to lick their chops when he gets on the floor just as many other unsuspecting opponents have.  He plans to handle just like he always has.

“You’re always out there trying to prove people wrong, and this and that,” he said.  “Honestly, I’ve been an underdog my whole life. I’ve always been the little guy, so it’s nothing. I just try to play hard and whatever happens, happens.”

“There aren’t many guys like me playing division one basketball, especially on this stage at a Big Ten school --  so there was a lot of doubt over (Beilein’s) decision to recruit me.  He just knew I wasn’t going to come in and try to be a Trey Burke.  I come in and I just try to make the right plays.  He called it, ‘hitting singles.’ I just hit singles without doing anything crazy. He always said when he was recruiting me ‘you’re either going to make me look like a genius, or you’re going to get me fired.’  I didn’t want to get him fired. “

No worries on that front kid.

Bonus Production

Michigan assistant Bacari Alexander knew heading into Saturday night’s game versus Syracuse that Caris LeVert was capable of giving the Wolverines some unexpected points.

“He shot it particularly well in warm ups,” Alexander recalled.  “I was joking with him and said that’s the ‘Baby Durant’ I remember.  That’s his nickname.  Once he got to that level of youth-stress it was one of those things that just snowballed into something great.  For Caris LeVert, hopefully that’s a spark that will usher him into his sophomore campaign and not just the championship game Monday night.”

LeVert’s jump shooting proved to be much-needed icing on the cake since the wiry freshman is typically called upon for his defense.

“Caris LeVert is a match up bonus for us because he has great length,” explained Alexander.  “At 6-6, his wing span his wing span gives him the height of a 6-9 player.  Now that space that offenses are trying to negotiate to get to the basket -- he can cut them off and make them counter and do something different.  I think Caris LeVert is not just growing up, but he is also showing a great maturity and understanding of the game plan.”

His ability to guard on the perimeter could prove especially beneficial tonight against a team with a backcourt that is one of the best in the country at attacking the basket.

Staying Ready

Another of Michigan’s weapons against Louisville’s incessant basket attacks will be taking charges.  No player on Michigan’s roster does that better that Jordan Morgan.  The junior big man’s ability to step up in that regard help the Wolverines cinch their first trip to the title game in 20 years.

“Jordan Morgan is known emphatically in our locker room as the ‘minister of defense’,” Alexander said.  “Here is a guy that has taken two charges in the most significant portions of a game when a run was being made at us.  The thing that I like about basketball is when you give to game it gives back to you.  I couldn’t think of a better person to the game sealing field goal on a dunk than Jordan Morgan.  I’m really proud of him.”

That sentiment permeates Michigan’s locker room. Going from starter and a member of the Big Ten’s all-defensive team, to role player off the bench would be a tough pill for anyone to swallow.  Morgan, however, has handled it with a grace reflective of the locker room atmosphere that John Beilein & company have long cultivated.

“It speaks to our core value, unity,” said Alexander.  “It’s one of the things we talk about… lead by giving. Sometimes that might be giving up a role for a different role.  All that being said, I think that Jordan Morgan’s character shined through in the midst of his adversity and the in relishing of his success.”

“(Becoming a backup) might be hard if we weren’t playing so well,” Morgan added. “It’s about not letting myself (get down).  You can get down if you want to, but I get myself through that… and my teammates (do) too. My teammates have really been encouraging me.  (It’s about) just keeping faith and knowing that my team is going to need me at some point to step up. So if I’m not there mentally, that could be the end of our season.”

That constant readiness came in handy Saturday and could be even more pivotal tonight.  Louisville’s reputation as one of the best pick & roll teams in the country puts Morgan… the Wolverines’ best big man when it comes to defending the pick & roll… in prime position to contribute to his team’s quest to cut down the nets.

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