The Wolverine

February 2018

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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44 THE WOLVERINE FEBRUARY 2018   MICHIGAN BASKETBALL against Rutgers. Meanwhile, Simmons played six, nine and eight minutes, respectively, outscoring Brooks 8-0 in the same span. "Even though he didn't make his shots [against Rutgers], all of them looked good," junior forward Moritz Wagner said. "I told him to keep shoot- ing, they looked great. Jaaron is a really good player, he averaged like 18 points or something last year. I never aver- aged that many points. "We all know he can hoop. I've been impressed with the way he's handling the adversity. … That's a sign of a great teammate. He doesn't care about any personal agenda, he just plays and has been very valuable for us." Against the Scarlet Knights, Sim- mons also grabbed two rebounds and dished out an assist. He helped lead a critical first-half charge that got the Wolverines back into the game. "[Simmons is] just fighting every day in practice, getting better," senior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahk- man said. "It's tough when you come in here for one year and have to learn the offense. It's pretty complicated, it's tough. "I think he's starting to get the hang of it a little bit. He just keeps progress- ing." Simmons did not have to leave Ohio. He transferred because he wanted to make it to the NCAA Tournament, and Michigan felt like the best fit. "He's given us some things, he's playing better defense," head coach John Beilein said. "We have different rules that he was not picking up as quickly, but other than that, he's han- dled it like a champion. "I told his parents they should be so proud of him. He gave up a lot to come here to play on the big stage." Last season, the Bobcats went 20-11 and missed out on the NCAA Tour- nament. The year before, they went 23-12 and made it to the semifinals of the College Basketball Insiders (CBI) Tournament, where they were elimi- nated by Morehead State. In his first season of college basketball (2013-14), Simmons played at Houston, where the Cougars finished just 17-16. So, while he is experiencing more winning than ever before, he's also do- ing it in a role quite a bit different than he probably expected. By all accounts, Simmons has han- dled the situation as well as possible. He's been upbeat in practice accord- ing to teammates and has acted the way one would want a senior to after a demotion. With Brooks struggling, he now has an opportunity to hold on to valuable minutes with the Wolverines entering the final stretch of the season. "We needed Eli to get his confidence back," Beilein said. "It happens with freshmen all the time. In practice, in games, Eli was not himself. He was asking for permission, he was tenta- tive. With Jaaron, we put him on the scout team, and he did some really good things. We made that flip, let Eli watch the game a little bit and let Jaaron go." With only the back half of the Big Ten slate to go, Simmons can earn himself more minutes and accomplish his goal of reaching the Big Dance — something Michigan is poised to do. "I'm not playing with the ball in my hands as much as I did at Ohio," Sim- mons said. "It's a little different for me, but I like it. "That's why I came here — to chal- lenge myself mentally, challenge my- self as far as being a basketball player, and that's what I'm going to do." — Andrew Vailliencourt MICHIGAN IS PLAYING ITS BEST DEFENSE UNDER JOHN BEILEIN Under head coach John Beilein, Michigan has not traditionally been known as a defensive powerhouse. The program's offense nearly always has better statistics than the defense, which makes sense given the fact that Beilein is known as an offensive ge- nius. However, this season, Michigan is enjoying the most success it has ever had on defense by most metrics — including's adjusted defensive efficiency, which is points allowed per 100 possessions, adjusted for opponent. The website adjusts the statistic after each team's game, and only counts results from games between two Di- vision I foes. Each team typically has about 70 possessions per game, which is why the numbers look higher than what fans see scored in a game. U-M sophomore guard Zavier Simp- son has been leading the charge on de- fense this season. He understands that the Wolverines are known for offense, but figured if the team could combine that offense with great defense then the team could go even farther in the NCAA Tournament. Simpson's hope is the rest of the team buys into defense the way he has — and that message has resonated. "I feel like energy is contagious," Simpson explained. "Whether it's bad energy or good energy, it's contagious. So if I can set the tone in any way pos- sible, I feel like it can be contagious to the other four guys on the floor. "I feel like they'll buckle down and play defense, and once our defense is rolling our offense gets clicking and we're in good shape to win the game." If Michigan keeps on its current pace, it will be the fourth time in Beilein's tenure that the defense has a better efficiency rating than the offense. The other seasons were 2008, 2010 and 2011. U-M's offensive efficiency cur- rently ranks 51st in the country, at 112.2 points per 100 possessions. — Andrew Vailliencourt U-M'S ADJUSTED DEFENSIVE EFFICIENCY RATING UNDER BEILEIN Year Rating National Rank 2008 101.7 129 2009 97.5 65 2010 95.9 58 2011 95.1 37 2012 96.8 56 2013 94.0 37 2014 100.5 89 2015 100.5 100 2016 100.5 92 2017 99.2 69 2018 94.0 20 Through U-M's first 22 games, Simmons was averaging 8.7 minutes, 1.4 points and 1.4 assists per contest. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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