The Wolverine

February 2019

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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48 THE WOLVERINE FEBRUARY 2019   MICHIGAN BASKETBALL Simpson led the Wolverines in scor- ing at Illinois and against North- western Jan. 13. In those two games, he tallied 40 combined points and showed his ability as a shooter. The Northwestern game was re- demption for Simpson. Earlier in the season, the Wildcats gave Simpson space, allowing him to shoot. He went 0 of 5 from deep at Northwest- ern Dec. 4, before going 5 of 10 from three against the same team over a month later. "This young man is really special as far as the type of grit and determi- nation he has," Michigan head coach John Beilein said. "You put a chal- lenge in front of Zavier Simpson and he's going to eventually win. Time will run out sometimes in life, but he will eventually win if there's a big challenge in front of him." Simpson knew how Northwestern was going to defend him the second time around and made them pay. "I felt like they were going to do the [same] strategy because it worked last time … what team wouldn't?" he said. "He's such a competitor," Beilein added. "He saw that as a personal affront to his ability and this time he just let it come to him." Simpson's confidence and compet- itive spirit is only one of the weapons in his toolbox. This season, he has used a skyhook shot to great success. The skyhook shot came from an open gym during his freshman year. "I did it on accident and I knew it would be a good shot if I could per- fect it," he explained. Simpson has spent countless hours doing just that and getting a feel for how to deploy it in games. When he does the shot correctly, opposing de- fenders are incapable of stopping it. He uses the skyhook when he ca- reens into the lane and gets toward the basket, but can't get all the way to the rim. When big men switch onto him, they are capable of blocking him at the rim, therefore Simpson turns to the new move. "He's used to this movement and we just started to say, 'You know what? This is a way that you can score by getting down that lane,'" Beilein noted. "He's going to find himself in that situation a lot where people will not get help, he beats his man slightly but not completely, and he's got to be able to find a way to find leverage to score." Simpson has used the shot a lot in the month of January. It changes how teams defend him — whenever he drives into the lane, defenders now have to wonder if he's going to turn to the skyhook. He said he doesn't have a specific spot on the backboard that he aims for when he shoots it, but he knows that if it's high enough, it'll go in. Junior center Jon Teske goes up against Simpson and his skyhook ev- ery day in practice. The 7-1 big man knows how hard it is to defend. "Even last year a couple times you'd see it," Teske said. "But I know he worked really hard on it to get that down. I mean, it's very hard to block. When we play in open gyms, I have trouble getting to it, so does [6-10 center] Austin [Davis]. It's so far to the side that not a lot of people can really get to it at all. "You're not really expecting it. You're kind of like, 'What just hap- pened? How'd that go in?' He's been really working on that. It's something in the offseason he really wanted to get down and he's been able to get that down." Simpson has always been an un- conventional player in today's col- lege basketball. He isn't a lights-out three-point shooter or an athlete MISCELLANEOUS NOTES • Michigan's 64-54 loss at Wiscon- sin Jan. 19 snapped its three-game winning streak against the Badgers — the Wolverines had not lost to UW since a 68-64 setback in Madison on Jan. 17, 2017. On top of that, it was the Maize and Blue's first true road defeat since a 61-52 loss at Northwestern on Feb. 6, 2018. U-M's 54 points also marked its fewest on the year, with the previous low occurring in a 56-37 victory over Holy Cross Nov. 10. • Despite standing just 6-0, junior guard Zavier Simpson's 4.9 rebounds per game were tied with redshirt ju- nior guard Charles Matthews for the third most on the team as of Jan. 21. • Michigan was committing just 9.8 turnovers per game, which is the sixth fewest in the nation as of Jan. 21. • Junior center Jon Teske's 2.3 blocks per contest led the conference as of Jan. 21. • Sophomore forward Isaiah Livers' 45.1 three-point percentage was the fourth-best mark in the league as of Jan. 21, while sophomore guard Jor- dan Poole's 43.5 was eighth. • Simpson's 5.9 assists per contest were the second most in the Big Ten as of Jan. 21, behind only Michigan State junior guard Cassius Winston's 7.3. • U-M's 74-63 triumph over then-No. 21 Indiana Jan. 6 was the club's fifth straight win against the Hoosiers — a streak that dates back to March 2016. • Livers missed the Penn State and Indiana triumphs, Jan. 3 and Jan. 6 respectively, with back spasms, but returned in the Jan. 10 win at Illinois, registering nine points (including seven of the team's first 17) and five boards. • U-M's defense was only giving up 57.1 points per contest as of Jan. 21, which was the third-best mark in the entire country. • Freshman forward Ignas Brazdeikis was held scoreless in the loss at Wis- consin Jan. 19, marking just the third time this year he had tallied fewer than 10 points in a game. • The Maize and Blue had three dif- ferent players averaging at least 31 minutes per contest as of Jan. 21 — Poole (32.7), Simpson (32.6) and Mat- thews (31.3). — Austin Fox Junior point guard Zavier Simpson's 107 assists through the first 18 contests ranked second in the Big Ten, while he led the league in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.3). PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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