INDIANAPOLIS — For John Groce, watching Michigan advance to the Big Ten tournament championship game must have been like banging his head against a wall a second time. After all, Wolverines guard Caris LeVert serves as an example of what could have been for the second-year Illini coach.
LeVert turned in another all-tournament performance, scoring 17 points and grabbing eight rebounds in Michigan’s 72-69 victory against Ohio State in the semifinals Saturday.
Why should Groce care? Because LeVert could have easily been his potential all-tournament player.
According to a report from MLive.com released earlier this month, LeVert said all it would have taken for him to commit to Illinois was a phone call from Groce
That never happened.
LeVert initially signed a letter of intent to play at Ohio when Groce was the coach. When Groce left for Illinois, Ohio released LeVert from his commitment.
He didn’t hear from Groce, so LeVert committed to Michigan, where he is a key component on a team that has made a great case to be a No. 1 seed when the NCAA tournament bracket is set Sunday.
“It’s a dream come true for me getting to play against Ohio State in a big stage like this in a Big Ten tournament,” said LeVert, who was lightly recruited coming out of high school.
“This was one of the goals coming in, to win a Big Ten championship, so it feels great.”
LeVert’s performance followed a 12-point, five-rebound, four-assist effort in a victory against Groce’s Illini in the quarterfinals Friday.
LeVert’s play down the stretch, has earned him praise.
With his team up 71-69, LeVert grabbed an offensive rebound after Wolverines guard Nik Stauskas missed a three that would have sealed the game. LeVert found Spike Albrecht, who hit the front end of a two-shot foul with six seconds left.
On the ensuing possession, LeVert checked Aaron Craft, who lost the ball before getting the chance to shoot a three to tie the score.
LeVert made the kind of plays Saturday that Groce’s team could not Friday. LeVert stands as the type of player Groce needs to get — and Michigan the type of program Illinois should strive to be.
And LeVert didn’t go unnoticed by Michigan coach John Beilein. At his postgame news conference, he praised Stauskas and LeVert for making their own luck.
“You look at so many of our games down the stretch here, they’ve ended just like this and the ball keeps bouncing our way,” Beilein said.
“You only can have that type of luck when you have guys like these sitting next to me.”