The Wolverine

April 2020

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Page 72 of 75

APRIL 2020 THE WOLVERINE 73 I t's not fair that this is how it ended for Michigan seniors Za- vier Simpson and Jon Teske. It's not fair to any seniors at any school who saw their collegiate ca- reer end prematurely, but it is espe- cially unfair to Simpson and Teske. The basketball duo had built their careers on winning, particularly in the postseason, and they deserved one final shot to add to their lus- trous legacies. But they will never get that oppor- tunity again. And it disappeared in less than a day. On March 10, Michigan was preparing for its Big Ten Tourna- ment quarterfinal matchup with Rutgers. On March 11, the Big Ten announced that the remainder of the conference tournament would be played in an empty arena due to the coronavirus pandemic. Then, on March 12 as the Wolverines warmed up minutes before their tip-off against Rutgers, they were escorted off the court as the Big Ten an- nounced that the entire tournament had been canceled. Hours later, the NCAA followed suit, marking the first time since 1938 that there would be no NCAA Tournament. In an instant, it was over, and there would be no postseason. Questions shifted from whether Michigan's defense can flatten offenses with stretch centers to whether the world can effectively engage in social distancing to flatten the curve to diminish the spread of the virus and save lives. Rightfully so, too. Basketball is insignificant at the moment. Though the thrill of witnessing a buzzer beater in the midst of March is hard to top (hi, Jordan Poole), no thrill would be greater than society sac- rificing and working together to contain an infectious disease threat- ening lives. The decisions to cancel the Big Ten Tournament and NCAA Tournament were the right ones. That doesn't mean, though, that there is not deserved disappoint- ment for Simpson and Teske. The two seniors had incredible ca- reers at Michigan. They had become the winningest duo of Wolverines in program history. Their 108 career wins are the most at Michigan, and they likely would have added at least a couple of more to that record. Those wins were also built upon a defensive foundation that had not existed prior to their arrival. During their freshmen year as they played sparingly off the bench, the Wolverines were 69th in adjusted defensive efficiency. The following years as they played more minutes, the defense became elite. As a result, Michigan finished at least 20th in the national rankings all four seasons, including 16th or better in the final three. Where Simpson and Teske shined most, though, was in the post- season. In each of their first three seasons, they had advanced to the Big Ten Tournament championship game and the Sweet 16. They won two of those Big Ten Tournaments as a No. 8 seed in 2017 and No. 5 seed in 2018. They also advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16 as a No. 7 seed in 2017 before they parlayed Poole's unforgettable buzzer beater and a fortuitous path into a national runner-up finish in 2018. It was the first time in its history that Michigan had appeared in three straight Big Ten Tournament finals and third time that U-M had made three straight Sweet 16s (1964-66 and 1992-94). And Simpson and Teske had been part of all three. Now was their time to make even more history. This postseason, Michigan would have vied to be- come just the second team ever to participate four or more straight Big Ten Tournament title games (Ohio State, 2009-13), and its chances to do so were better than most expected, too. Though the Wolverines were a No. 9 seed, they had been gifted a softer bracket. They were the high- est-ranked team on on their half the bracket and would not have faced Michigan State, Mary- land or Ohio State — the three Big Ten teams ranked higher — until the championship game. They also would have attempted to be the first Wolverines to reach four straight Sweet 16s. There have been many renowned basketball players that have donned the maize and blue, and none had been able to accomplish this feat in the postsea- son in all four seasons of their col- lege career. But Simpson and Teske did not even get the chance. It will be a "what if" that lingers in the back of the mind. What if Simpson and Teske had pulled it off? What if these two flawed play- ers — Simpson and his pull-up jumper and Teske and his offensive passiveness in the paint — further cemented themselves as some of Michigan's best winners? It would have been a symbol of their talent and perseverance to overcome all obstacles. It's an answer that will remain a mystery but one that Simpson and Teske deserved to share. ❑ INSIDE THE NUMBERS   DREW HALLETT Cut Short By The Coronavirus The duo of Zavier Simpson and Jon Teske were denied the opportunity to lead the Wolverines to a fourth straight Big Ten title game and an unprecedented fourth straight Sweet 16 appearance when their senior season ended abruptly. PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN Staff writer Drew Hallett has covered Michigan athletics since 2013. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @DrewCHallett.

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