The Wolverine

February 2019

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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FEBRUARY 2019 THE WOLVERINE 49   MICHIGAN BASKETBALL capable of jumping out of the gym. Instead, he's known for his defense, and now his skyhook. It's become his move. "I feel like everybody who plays basketball has something special and unique that they do," Simpson said. "Jordan [Poole] has the jab and step- back, that's been a high-percentage shot for him. Charles [Matthews] has a good post-up game. Jon Teske has good hooks. "So, everybody has something that may not be as normal but is unique and special to them." As Underwood noted, Simpson is an integral part of Michigan's success so far this season. He might not be flashy, but he's exactly what the Wol- verines need from their point guard. "We've got to continue to find ways to get the ball in his hands because it's really secure when it's in there," Beilein said after the Illinois game. "I don't know if he's ever going to be a Nik Stauskas or a Duncan Robinson out there from three, but he's going to make enough that people are going to have to play him honest." — Andrew Hussey Three Best Players 1. Junior guard Zavier Simpson He stuffed the stat sheet during Michigan's eight-game stretch from Dec. 9 through Jan. 21, averaging 11.2 points, 5.7 assists and 5.0 rebounds per contest. Simpson's best performance came in the Jan. 13 blowout of Northwestern when he exploded for a career-high 24 points, including a 5-of-10 showing from behind the arc. He also racked up two or more steals in six of the eight tilts. 2. Redshirt junior guard Charles Matthews He was incredibly consistent during the aforementioned span, averaging 14.1 points and 5.1 boards per game, scoring at least 13 points in six of the eight affairs. Matthews' best outing came in the 70-62 win over Western Michigan Dec. 15, when he tied his season high with 25 points while also tallying 10 rebounds and three steals. The redshirt junior was also crucial in the 74-63 victory versus then-No. 21 Indiana Jan. 6, recording 18 points, six rebounds and four takeaways. 3. Freshman forward Ignas Brazdeikis Although he had some poor perfor- mances between Dec. 9 and Jan. 21 (he was held scoreless at Wisconsin Jan. 19, and posted just four points against WMU), Braz- deikis enjoyed a few outstanding games as well. He logged a double-double (16 points and 11 boards) in the 68-55 win over Penn State Jan. 3, and nearly had another one during his 15-point, eight-rebound effort in the 79-69 victory at Illinois Jan. 10. The 6-7 Canadian averaged 12.0 points and 5.2 boards per outing during the eight- game stretch. Key Play With Michigan trailing Wisconsin 57-54 and only 52 seconds remaining in the Jan. 19 contest in Madison, Brazdeikis was slapped with a controversial intentional foul for swiping UW fifth-year senior forward Ethan Happ around the waist, as Badger redshirt sophomore guard D'Mitrik Trice dribbled the ball up the court. The officials' decision gave Wisconsin two free throws and the ball, and all but ended the Wolverines' hopes of a comeback. Michigan fell 64-54 and saw its perfect 17-0 start come to an end. Best Highlight Michigan led Air Force 37-28 with 15:59 left in the Dec. 22 showdown, when Brazdeikis knocked away a Falcons pass and saw the ball ricochet to midcourt. He and Air Force senior guard Pervis Louder both sprinted after it before the latter eventually fell down, allowing Brazdeikis to easily pick up the ball and enjoy a clear path to the basket. With no other Falcons even remotely close to him, the freshman threw down a thunderous reverse dunk that erupted the Crisler Center crowd. The reverse dunk was the first by a Wolverine since Tim Hardaway Jr. ham- mered one home in the Wolverines' 78-53 blowout of VCU in the second round of the 2013 NCAA Tournament. Surprise Performer This one undoubtedly belongs to freshman forward Brandon Johns for his performance in the victory against the Hoosiers Jan. 6. The East Lansing native gave the Maize and Blue a spark off the bench, scoring a career- high eight points (on 4-of-5 shooting) and pulling down a career-high eight boards in just 13 minutes of action in the 74-63 win. Prior to the contest, Johns had never tallied more than five points in a game and had never registered more than three rebounds. Although the success was some - what shor t-lived (he did not play in two of U-M's next three games), the showing against the Hoosiers displayed the massive potential the freshman possesses. Bold Prediction Michigan will drop a total of five conference games, but may still wind up being in position to grab a share of the Big Ten title. It is incredibly difficult to win on the road in league play (U-M's loss to what had been an 11-6 Wisconsin club is a good example of that), and the Maize and Blue had tough road trips left to play at Indiana (Jan. 25), Iowa (Feb. 1), Mary- land (March 3) and Michigan State (March 9). As of Jan. 21, MSU sat at 8-0 in conference play and Mary- land at 7-2. — Austin Fox Superlatives For Games From Dec. 9 Through Jan. 21 Freshman forward Brandon Johns scored a career-high eight points, making four of his five shots, in just 13 minutes of action during U-M's 74-63 win over Indiana Jan. 6. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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