In front of the largest crowd at Crisler Arena yet this season, the Michigan men’s basketball team overcame a 20-point halftime deficit to win in overtime over Savannah State.
The team was ecstatic after the game, trading congratulatory hugs and high-fives. The crowd celebrated like the Wolverines had just pulled off a miracle. The first 20 minutes of the game, in which Michigan scored just 19 points, were largely forgotten when junior DeShawn Sims’s buzzer-beating shot sealed the victory.
It was the fourth game in a row the Wolverines got off to a sluggish start. Four-minute field goal droughts plagued them against UCLA and Duke in the 2K Sports Classic in New York. Those droughts lasted until Sims checked in to provide some much-needed energy off the bench.
Against Norfolk State, Michigan started the game 0-for-10 before Sims came in to help flip the switch. The Spartans were — and I’m being nice — a terrible team, and Michigan was lucky to overcome such a bad start and still win by more than 30.
And Saturday, the opening lull lasted for the entire first half. The Wolverines could not find even a hint of rhythm, turning the ball over 12 times and struggling to simply set up the offense, let alone run a coherent system.
Fifth-year senior David Merritt said the defense was the biggest flaw in the first half. If poor defense can explain six total field goals in 20 minutes, the awful ball handling, the inability to crack the Tigers’ aggressive full-court press, the 0-for-8 from behind the arc, then Sims’s superior defensive skills are clearly needed in the opening minutes of the game.
It was, without a doubt, the worst 20 minutes of basketball I’ve seen in a long time. It’s great that the team can overcome that kind of sloppy play and win, but guess what?
Savannah State ain’t Duke — or even Maryland for that matter. Those two teams happen to be Michigan’s next two opponents.
Michigan coach John Beilein knows it, saying Saturday, “Obviously, the Maryland and Duke games are at a different level than the Savannah State game.” But is he doing anything to change it?
The Wolverines have had the same starting lineup for all season — sophomore Manny Harris, redshirt junior Zack Gibson, Merritt, freshman Stu Douglass and redshirt sophomore Anthony Wright. Sims, who’s clearly the team’s second-best player, comes off the bench.
Sims is the spark for this squad. He played 23 minutes after halftime against Savannah State, grabbing four offensive rebounds that were all converted into points, pouring in 15 points (including the game-winner at the overtime buzzer) and committing zero turnovers after the break.
To anyone that’s seen a game this year, it’s clear that the Wolverines are a better team when he’s on the court. Why not have that kind of energy from the get-go?
Because Arizona transfer Laval Lucas-Perry will become eligible after the semester ends, Beilein has said he doesn’t want too change up the lineup too much.
“When Laval Lucas-Perry becomes eligible in December that will be another component that you’re looking at to how does that affect him?” Beilein said after the Norfolk State game. “You know, he’s obviously a good player. He’s going to be in the rotation. … I think we’ll just wait and see. Until it costs us a game somewhere down the line, we won’t make any changes.”
Beilein thinks that a change to the lineup before Lucas-Perry becomes available might disrupt the flow. The Wolverines will have to “change pregame warmups, change everything.” Maybe that’s what they need. Maybe the current starting lineup hasn’t been detrimental yet, but I’d be willing to bet it will be against Duke and Maryland.
Sims needs to start the next two games to give Michigan a chance of stealing one or both from the Blue Devils and Terrapins. It’s as simple as that.
— Reid can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org