In the Michigan basketball team’s loss to Boston College last week, senior and second-leading scorer DeShawn Sims notched four points and four rebounds in just 23 minutes.
Part of the issue was foul trouble. But the bigger issue was that Sims just didn’t show up.
Saturday was a different story. At halftime of the Wolverines’ 67-53 win against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Michigan was tied at 32 with an 0-5 team relatively new to Division I. And this time, Sims was the only one who played well — he had 15 points at the break.
While it was great for fans to see Sims coming back and looking like the dominant player he can be, his performance pointed to one of his greatest flaws: inconsistency.
This has been a knock on Sims ever since he first donned the maize and blue — it’s old news. The not-so-old news: Michigan needs him to start finding some consistency fast, because he is the single most important player on the team.
The question is how can Sims, a player with talent through the roof who at times disappears in stretches during games, find a way to perform at a high level, game after game?
While Saturday’s game against the Golden Lions may have seemed like a ho-hum, somewhat disappointing game, it holds the answer to that question and the key to Michigan’s success this season.
In fact, Sims himself touched on it in the locker room after the game.
“They just went to me,” Sims said. “Coach stressed that we play from the inside out today and we executed the game plan.”
There it is — inside out. A phrase Michigan fans have been dying to hear all season after watching an offense that seems to always be going outside in. Throughout the early season, Michigan coach John Beilein has said Sims is working on being a more complete player — refining his outside shot and his ability to score from the wing — even though he has traditionally found success down low.
“We’re trying to win games, but we’re also, in practice, trying to develop him so that he can play at the next level,” Beilein said after a game against Northern Michigan on Nov. 14. “And his next level is not as a post man. We want him to have a skill level where he can do things on the outside, and he can use some athleticism.”
Beilein said that after the team’s season-opening win in which junior Manny Harris posted a triple-double, Sims had a double-double and freshman Matt Vogrich went 5-of-5 from 3-point land.
Those were better days, to be sure.
Now, Sims is disappearing at times during games, Harris’s hamstring is bothering him more than ever, and the thought of any Wolverine going 5-of-5 from beyond the arc is about as far-fetched as Terrelle Pryor finding a cure for cancer.
It would be nice if Sims had the luxury of playing outside and fine-tuning his guard skills to prepare for the NBA, but he doesn’t. Michigan’s recent struggles have upped the stakes in every game they play before the Big Ten season starts, which means it needs Sims to perform now more than ever.
And Saturday’s game proved that in order for Sims to play well, and Michigan to win, he needs to return to his roots.
“I was definitely more focused on staying on the block and showing my moves,” Sims said after Saturday’s win. “And I was efficient today.”
In the first half, like the halves in all of Michigan’s losses, the Wolverines couldn’t buy a bucket. So they dumped the ball in to Sims and let him go to work down low, and he put on a clinic against the Golden Lion big men who couldn’t keep up with his speed.
With the threat of Sims in the post, the defenders were forced to stay behind on him and not follow Michigan’s shooters all the way out to the 3-point line. This led to more open looks, which the Wolverines took advantage of — the second half of the game was the first time in three games the team cracked 30 percent from beyond the arc.
The defenders staying home on Sims also opened up opportunities for Harris, who scored 16 of his 18 points in the second half.
But most importantly, this win more than any other proved that while Harris is the biggest name on the team and certainly a great player, Michigan goes as Sims goes. It may sound like blasphemy to the Manny Fresh worshipers, but the numbers back it up.
In Michigan’s two worst losses, against Marquette and Boston College, Manny Harris had 22 points and 19 points, respectively. Sims? Eight and four.
In the only game that could even remotely be considered a signature win for the Wolverines, Sims notched a double-double, with 16 points and 11 rebounds.
The point is, while Manny Harris is the best player on the team, DeShawn Sims is the most valuable.
And as Saturday’s game proved, the only way for Michigan to get the numbers it needs from its most valuable player on a regular basis is to feed him in the post.
Only then will Michigan consistently win.