I really didn’t think I’d be writing this column. A week ago, I wondered who’d want to read about why Michigan was able to crush High Point.
But a lot has changed in the last week with Daniel Horton out indefinitely, Lester Abram out for the season and Graham Brown gone for more than a month. It’s a brave new world for the Michigan basketball team. It appeared the Michigan frontcourt would be responsible for carrying most of the offense until Horton comes back this season. Reserves would be called upon to fill the void, and the remaining starters — Dion Harris and Courtney Sims— would have a bigger role to fill.
Or so I thought. Imagine my surprise to see Sims out of the starting lineup against High Point for the first time in his Michigan career. It seemed obvious that Harris would have to carry the load for the guards and Sims would have to carry the frontcourt. But coach Tommy Amaker decided to put Chris Hunter in Sims’s spot. When asked about the decision after the game, he didn’t seem to offer much insight.
“I didn’t think that Courtney was playing as well,” Amaker said curtly.
Before the game started, I really questioned the decision to start Hunter. While Hunter has made the most of his limited minutes so far this season, Sims had been Mr. Consistency so far. I figured that Michigan might get dominated in the post, as Hunter doesn’t have the bulk that Sims does (Sims has 20 pounds on Hunter). He was always good for about 10 points, eight boards and a couple blocks.
I was pleasantly surprised by Hunter’s play, as he scored a career-high 22 points. But Sims made a statement to Amaker and the coaching staff that he wasn’t going to give up the spot that easily. He scored all of his 12 points in the second half. Sims’s point total was also Michigan’s second-highest point total behind Hunter, despite the fact that Sims played just 17 minutes. When asked about Sims again later in the press conference, Amaker offered praise for the sophomore’s play, and he singled out Sims in his postgame speech in the locker room.
“I thought he responded (well),” Amaker said. “He didn’t hang his head. He battled and he did his job. It was a very solid game (for him).”
The last few games have been somewhat of a mystery for Sims, who had seen a reduction of playing time since the beginning of the season. Sims began the season averaging about 30 minutes per game and saw that number cut down to the mid-20s during the Preseason NIT. The last two games saw that number fall down into the teens.
I’m not trying to create any conspiracy theories, but it would seem that while Sims has maintained consistent stats throughout the season, he has done it with decreasing playing time. Sims indicated that the coaches didn’t tell him the reason why he didn’t start, but he believed it had something to do with rebounding or defense.
“Anyone who competes wants to start,” Sims said. “Of course I want to start. But I don’t think it really matters.”
With Horton out for an indefinite amount of time (he was scheduled to have an MRI on his knee last night) and Abram gone for the season, Michigan’s frontcourt will be called upon for scoring and especially offensive rebounding. The Wolverines have been fairly weak rebounding this season, pulling just 88 off the offensive glass in seven games heading into last night’s contest. Perhaps the most troubling trend has been a negative rebounding margin, something that hurt in Michigan’s loss to Arizona.
Sims said that he didn’t think his play showed he deserved the spot back — Hunter made a pretty strong case as well — but I think the coaches may have been too harsh on him. There has been some discussion that Sims isn’t playing up to his potential and his declining minutes are supposed to reflect this. But I think he’s been performing well in the role that was created for him: be a dominant rebounder and chip in some points from time to time. Sims is leading the team in offensive and total rebounds, while still contributing around 10 points per game — sounds like he’s been playing pretty well so far. With injuries becoming a major factor in playing time this season, Michigan shouldn’t be so quick to deny playing time to players who have been solid contributors thus far.
Brian Schick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.