Michigan’s scout team gets creative simulating for Oklahoma State
INDIANAPOLIS — From a basketball standpoint, there are few things Andrew Dakich and Charles Matthews have in common.
One is a 6-foot-2 senior with great vision, passing skill and a decent jump shot, while the other, at 6-foot-6, has great athleticism and speed to get down the lane or pull up for a jumper.
The two practice squad guards couldn’t be more different, but Michigan has been using that to its advantage the past couple days.
Senior guard Derrick Walton Jr. and freshman guard Xavier Simpson will have their hands full Friday while guarding one of the country’s most versatile and efficient point men in Oklahoma State sophomore Jawun Evans. The point guard was the Big 12’s second-highest scorer in the regular season —averaging 19 points per game — while also leading the conference in assists per game (6.2).
By themselves, it would be impossible for Dakich or Matthews to be able to imitate Evans’ game after the Wolverines learned their opponent just days ago. But together, the pair can each mimic one of Evans’ key skills and prepare the other guards one facet of the game at a time.
“That’s the nature of the scout team,” said senior forward Sean Lonergan. “Sometimes we’ve got to mix it up and make it work with whatever we can. They did a great job, especially Dakich in two roles — jacking it up as (Oklahoma State fifth-year senior Phil) Forte and trying to get downhill as Evans today.”
On Wednesday in Ann Arbor, Matthews was given the assignment of pretending to be Evans, focusing on driving the ball to the basket from the point and getting off quick shots.
For Walton and junior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, it was a challenge to contain Matthews based on his combination of height and speed. Half that problem will go away while facing Evans, who is five inches shorter than Matthews. But the experience of defending someone who can match the athleticism of Evans like Matthews — despite the fact he has no experience playing at the point — will surely give Michigan guards an advantage heading into the matchup Friday.
“I think it better prepares you when someone’s that tall,” Abdur-Rahkman said. “He can move well and plays just like (Evans). When he’s out there playing like that in practice, it makes it easier in the game.”
Added Dakich: “Evans is really good at getting his shot off. Charles is the best on the team at getting his shot off. That’s the correlation right there. They are both really athletic obviously, there’s no hiding that.”
Since Matthews was ineligible to travel due to NCAA transfer rules, Dakich took over duties as scout team point guard when the Wolverines held practice in Indianapolis on Thursday.
The senior was asked to focus Thursday on imitating Evans’ ability to find passes off the pick-and-roll, while trying to get into the lane when he can.
That was a big change for Dakich, who the day before was asked to simulate a shooting guard in Forte. The fifth-year senior had some of the best shooting statistics in the Big 12 during the regular season, and it was Dakich’s job in practice to try and free himself from defenders and get a shot off whenever he could.
Forte has been know to launch shots from anywhere on the court, and Dakich was asked to do the same, whether it was a bad attempt or not.
“I was shooting from half court,” Dakich said. “There was not a bad shot out there.”
For Dakich and freshman wing Ibi Watson — who took over the role of simulating Forte on Thursday — the goal wasn’t to score, but get the other guards familiar with the motions and movements of the Cowboys’ backcourt both days of practice.
That meant Lonergan was also playing an essential role creating that simulation, as he had the job of imitating Oklahoma State junior Jeffery Carroll, despite the fact that Matthews seemed the more natural fit to play the role in practice since the ‘3’ is his best position and his athleticism is a near match of Carroll’s,
Lonergan was asked to focus on Carroll’s 3-point shooting ability in the corner. The Wolverines felt outside shooting was the most important part of Carroll’s game that they will need to shut down on Friday, and Lonergan had a great understanding of what the Cowboys’ forward would try to do to get those attempts off.
“We know Carroll’s a big corner-three shooter off penetration,” Lonergan said. “When the rest of their guards get downhill, they’re really elite at jumping out of bounds and hitting the opposite corner or hitting the same side corner with help off of it. I was definitely getting off corner threes when I could, but he scored in a lot of ways.”
All together, Dakich, Matthews, Watson, Lonergan and the rest of the scout team have helped give Michigan’s starters and role players an accurate simulation of a team they had no knowledge of before this week and little experience with in terms of Oklahoma State’s style of play.
“This offense is new, so we mess a few things up here and there,” Lonergan said. “Our goal is to try and give (the starters) the most realistic simulation for our guys to at least get the actions right and see what’s coming.”