Everywhere you looked, there was a problem. Everywhere you looked, there was a culprit, someone or something to blame for Michigan’s latest loss.
But then, seemingly in the middle of it all, there was someone missing — the invisible DeShawn Sims.
He posted seven points, which would be respectable for any Wolverine not named DeShawn Sims or Manny Harris, but two came when the game’s outcome was already decided. He sat out a large part of the second half due to foul trouble, eventually succumbing to his fifth in the game’s final minute. And perhaps most frustrating for the Wolverines, when the outside shooters struggled, he wasn’t there to take the ball in the paint and give the Michigan offense another dimension.
It hasn’t been a secret this year — the Michigan men’s basketball team goes as Sims goes. He’s more than just a backup plan, and his role on the team goes beyond his points down low. Though there were plenty of concerns after the Wolverines’ loss Tuesday night, Sims’s seven points certainly stood out.
The only times Sims has scored fewer than seven in a game this season? A pair of four-point performances, in — not surprisingly — two Michigan losses (Boston College and Northwestern).
“I don’t know how many shots I took, but I wasn’t efficient,” said Sims, whose stat line read 3-for-12 from the field. “I guess offense wasn’t clicking for me today. The team went otherwise.”
But when the team plays without Sims at his best, it often struggles. The Wolverines don’t just miss his scoring, either. It’s his height down low, his rebounding and the way he draws defenders.
Sophomore guard Stu Douglass said it’s “hard to kind of get things going” without much action from Sims, whom Douglass called “arguably the best low-post offensive big man in the Big Ten — maybe sporadically, but at times, he can be unstoppable.”
“We’ve been going through him a lot this year,” Douglass said.
Douglass said the team didn’t ignore the Sims-in-the-post option during practice this week, but it wasn’t as available Tuesday as it has been in recent games. The Fighting Illini had a considerable size advantage, with two 6-foot-9 guys and a 7-foot-1 center in their starting lineup. That, undoubtedly, made the game plan a bit more difficult to execute.
Sims mostly worked against the 7-foot-1 junior Mike Tisdale, and after the game, Illinois coach Bruce Weber said he was pleased with the way Tisdale guarded Sims.
“(Sims is) 6-7-and-a-half up against a 7-1 guy, for some reason it wasn’t working with him today, for obvious reasons, I should say,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “He’s not going to post up and score over the guy inside. He had a couple of wrinkles that I think he could have got there, but did not have a great game.”
Both Beilein and Douglass made note of senior forward Zack Gibson’s performance in Sims’s absence, and spoke highly of the 6-foot-10 big man whose playing time has fluctuated all season. Douglass said Gibson provided a spark to the team during the game’s second half. Beilein went so far as to call Gibson’s recent play a “bright spot” during the team’s latest “funk.”
Though Michigan is trying its best to find and focus on positives right now, like Gibson’s performance, doesn’t exactly make up for the glaring absence of Sims, one of the Wolverines’ most important players.
After Sims fouled out with 28.7 seconds remaining in Tuesday’s game, at the end of the de-facto senior day, the student section chanted an appreciative “Thank you, Peedi,” referencing the four years of work he’s put in.
Maybe he wasn’t invisible after all.