Zavier Simpson, Eli Brooks, David DeJulius — it didn’t really matter who was guarding, Marcus Carr was running the show.
All three Wolverines struggled to contain the Minnesota point guard as he shot 7-for-12 from the field, scored 21 points and had 12 assists in a 75-67 win over the Michigan men’s basketball team last season.
Twelve months later, Brooks and graduate transfer Mike Smith now make up the Wolverines’ backcourt and will be tasked with guarding Carr in Wednesday’s matchup against the 16th-ranked Gophers. It’s a task few have succeeded at so far this year. Carr, a redshirt junior, is fourth in the Big Ten in scoring at 22.1 points per game and leads the conference in assists.
Michigan knows it will have to disrupt Carr’s rhythm if it’s going to avenge last season’s loss.
“Just pressure him and make him go to the rim more,” Smith said. “He loves to shoot the ball, he’s shooting the ball well from outside. And try to send him to the big and just pressure the ball.”
As the Wolverines’ best on-ball defender, Brooks will likely be assigned to guard Carr a majority of the time. From a size perspective, Brooks also matches up with the 6-foot-2 Carr better than Smith does, who’s listed at 5-foot-11.
“He’s quick as a cat, and he’s really lanky,” Smith said of Brooks. “If he stands straight, I think his hands touch his knees and it’s crazy. I think he’s got a 6-(foot)-4 wingspan and he’s what 6-(foot)-1, 6-(foot)-2. … He can also jump out of the gym. Against Maryland, he had that block, and I was like, ‘Oh my god, he came out of nowhere.’ ”
Despite his stature, Smith is a capable defender. The former Columbia standout is known more for his offensive production, but has held his own against opposing Big Ten guards so far this season.
Smith credits Michigan coach Juwan Howard with helping him develop on that end of the floor.
“We work on post-line defense a lot,” Smith said. “I think it’s heart over height any time of the day and that’s why the coach believes in me. … I think I’ve done a really good job out there, I can obviously do better, but it takes time and coach is pushing me each and every day.”
Whether it’s Brooks or Smith charged with slowing Carr down, both seem up for the challenge. In fact, according to Smith, going up against arguably the best point guard in the conference brings out the best in competitors.
“If I get my chance to guard him, I’m gonna take it personal cause they have him as the top guard in here, and I wanna prove I’m just as high level as he is,” Smith said. “It’s a competitive nature, and he has to guard me as well. So it’s gonna be a battle for sure.”
Still though, Smith realizes he can’t approach the matchup solely as a one-on-one contest. Beating Minnesota is more important than outdoing Carr individually.
While it’ll take a collective effort from the Wolverines to curtail Carr, Michigan’s guards hope to prevent him from commanding the game as he did a year ago.
“Me and Eli, for sure Eli, have been playing really great defense on the ball on their best players,” Smith said. “So we need to just continue to play hard and play with effort.
“Tomorrow’s gonna be a long day for Marcus Carr hopefully.”