When it comes to pure talent, it’s hard to question what Courtney Sims brings to the table. With his long 6-foot-11 frame, jumping ability and general basketball instincts, Sims can take over games, either by scoring in the post or by dishing to open teammates when the defenders collapse.
On the defensive end, Sims can be a terror as well. On one play during Friday’s season-opener against Central Michigan, Sims came out near the foul-line to trap, but the Chippewa made a perfect bounce pass to a streaking player near the hoop. Somehow, Sims recovered, dashed across the lane and blocked the shot out of thin air.
On Friday night, the junior big man also demonstrated just how dominant he could be offensively, pouring in 20 points on 9-of-10 shooting. Sims simply had his way down low, displaying a dazzling array of post moves to free himself up for easy buckets. In a particularly impressive two-and-a-half minute stretch in the second half, Sims accounted for eight points, allowing the Wolverines to pull away and seal the lopsided 87-60 final score.
But while Sims dominated parts of the game, he occasionally displayed the maddening inconsistency that plagued him all last season. On one play early on, Sims let 6-foot-7 forward Justin Blevins back him down hard for a few seconds, allowing Blevins to convert an easy layup. Similarly, Sims went in and out of the offensive flow, controlling the game for a few minutes, and then sitting back for the next few. Without exaggerating, Sims could have easily put up 30 or more if he stayed active on the offensive end.
Of course, Sims won’t have such an easy time once the tough battles begin. The Central Michigan matchup illustrated a common phenomenon in college basketball. Big name teams invite weak mid-major squads into their gyms for an old-fashioned whooping and an easy ‘W.’ And it’s hard to blame them – too many nonconference losses can doom a team’s at-large hopes for the Big Dance.
So, Central Michigan wasn’t quite the ultimate test for Sims and the Wolverines. But for a first effort against a sub-par opponent, Michigan looked strong. With the exception of some generally sloppy play and a couple of rough patches at the beginning of each half, the Wolverines were clicking on all cylinders. On both sides of the ball, on the perimeter and in the post, the Wolverines’ talented rotation simply overwhelmed the Chippewas.
Sims certainly wasn’t the only Wolverine who brought his ‘A’ game to Crisler on Friday. Junior Dion Harris, for one, looked comfortable returning to his natural off-guard position and put in 13 points. Jerret Smith raised some eyebrows in his first collegiate game, dishing nine assists and drilling a couple treys. The freshman’s natural quickness and court-savvy were apparent, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what he can do as he becomes more polished. As usual, senior Graham Brown was all over the place, pulling down 11 boards.
On paper at least, only Daniel Horton had a disappointing season opener for the Wolverines. The senior looked stellar throughout the exhibition season, averaging 17.5 points a game. But he never seemed to find his groove against Central Michigan, scoring just four points on 1-of-4 shooting.
I really expected to see Horton come out fired up from the opening tip after a suspension sidelined him midway through last season. Instead, the guard seemed content to let his teammates pick up the scoring slack. But I’m not complaining about Horton’s lack of production – Michigan won by 27 points anyway. So don’t raise any red flags on Horton just yet.
While Horton let his teammates take the spotlight in his comeback, redshirt junior Lester Abram came out like a bat out of hell in his big return from last season’s shoulder surgery. Abram said after the game that he felt like a kid out there – and he looked it.
Usually, Abram lets the game come to him, naturally working his way into the offensive flow. But against Central Michigan, Abram wanted to create his own rhythm. He scored on a backdoor cut 10 seconds after the opening tip and never looked back, finishing with 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting.
Even though Abram stayed one step ahead of Central Michigan throughout, he also seemed out of control at times – especially early on. He finished with four turnovers, and could have easily committed more if a few bounces went the Chippewas’ way.
Overall, though, I was impressed with Abram’s performance. I’ll chalk up the sloppiness to first-game jitters – Abram said he didn’t sleep the night before – and I expect to see more balanced play from him as the season goes on.
It’s hard to make any significant judgments about a team after its first game – especially against a pushover squad like Central Michigan. But it’s at least a good sign that Michigan didn’t play down to its opponents’ level. The Wolverines were a vastly superior team, and for one game, at least, they played like it.
Matt Singer can be reached at email@example.com.