John Beilein says he’s not bothered by it. Manny Harris says he’s not getting frustrated. In fact, the whole Michigan men’s basketball team doesn’t seem to be paying it any attention.
But “Manny Fresh,” the Wolverines’ sure-thing scorer, has gone stale recently. Harris has just 12 points in the last two games on 3-of-19 shooting. He hasn’t made a 3-pointer in more than 80 minutes.
Harris is a great player — he scored in double figures in every game this season before last week’s Penn State debacle, but he needs to shake this slump immediately if the Wolverines are going to make a push for an NCAA Tournament bid.
In the locker room after Michigan’s 68-59 win against Northwestern, Harris wasn’t upset about his eight points, saying that if his shots aren’t falling, he can contribute in other ways. And he did, dishing out four assists and grabbing 12 rebounds.
Sure, Harris’s newfound versatility is a major reason for the Wolverines’ drastic turnaround this year. Sure, he was getting double-teamed most of the night. Sure, open shot opportunities are few and far between for the Big Ten’s No. 2 scorer.
But Harris didn’t take advantage of the chances he got, rimming out shots and not finishing on lay-ups. Even though he is on track to double his assists total from last year, Michigan is not going to thrive until he finds his shot again.
“I’m not worried about mine,” Harris said. “ I’ll get mine eventually. Just doing other things, get a couple assists, rebounding. The key is that we won.”
But how long can the Wolverines keep winning if Harris doesn’t come out of this scoring slump?
Before Saturday, no Michigan fan could have possibly imagined a scenario in which Harris notched 10-plus boards and didn’t register a double-double. Even if Harris is gutting out the tough plays, hustling on the court and helping his teammates, there’s been a giant hole in Michigan’s offense when he’s not scoring. His 351 points on the year make up a quarter of the Wolverines’ total offensive output.
It doesn’t stop with Harris, either. Junior DeShawn Sims, who needs to shore up the paint if the Wolverines are to find success, has struggled to uphold that responsibility lately.
When he scored the Wolverines’ first nine points on Saturday, I thought Sims was finally adapting to the role of Michigan’s post presence. He tallied just one more field goal in the game’s final 37 minutes.
It’s no secret that Beilein’s squad is in desperate need of a post game. Sims can’t be held quiet for so long against one of the smallest teams in the Big Ten. If lowly Northwestern can keep Sims’s post-play in check, what will seven-footer B.J. Mullens and Dallas Lauderdale of Ohio State do this Wednesday when Michigan travels to Columbus?
Twenty-three combined points from your two stars is not enough.
Even with other players like freshmen Stu Douglass, Laval Lucas-Perry and Zack Novak stepping up, how long can Michigan hold on when nearly 50 percent of its expected point total, contributed by Harris and Sims, is curbed?
Douglass, a streaky 3-point shooter, and Novak can’t be expected to carry the team. Sophomore point guard Kelvin Grady ¬— even though he drained two from downtown Saturday — isn’t going to shoulder the load. No one but the opposition wants the ball in Zack Gibson’s hands in the waning seconds of a tight game.
It’s simple — the Wolverines can’t afford to rely on the players they don’t normally rely on to score for too much longer. If Harris and Sims continue to struggle down the stretch, so will Michigan.
It’s great that Novak, Douglass and Co. are stepping up, but Harris and Sims need to start leading the way.
— Reid can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.