Tonight, Courtney Sims may have the toughest matchup of any Wolverine when Michigan (1-0 Big Ten, 10-5 overall) takes on Northwestern. This trial comes at a time when the 6-foot-11 center is not quite living up to the inundation of preseason hype that was part and parcel with his 25-pound weight gain and his 68 blocked shots that placed him at the top of the Big Ten last year in that category.
Sims must battle Wildcats center Mike Thompson, a Duke transfer who Michigan coach Tommy Amaker described as a “big, strong post player who is highly regarded and who was highly recruited.”
And on the night of this considerable task, Sims could be without his usual frontcourt counterparts. Sophomore Brent Petway and junior Chris Hunter both sustained injuries in Saturday’s game against Fairfield and may not be able to take the court this evening against Northwestern (1-1, 8-6). With the health status of junior captain Graham Brown still uncertain, Sims could be the lone usual starter getting knocked around in the paint.
This is not to say that Sims has not been a force for Michigan thus far — he currently leads the Wolverines in rebounds and is second on the team in blocks. But Amaker believes that Sims’s formidable reputation, as well as the absence of other dominant frontcourt players, has made him a target on other teams’ scouting reports.
“I think what we have to do with Courtney is that he has to make quicker decisions,” Amaker said. “I think he’s taking too much time on the post. We have a saying around here that sometimes you have to make the shot before you take the shot. He has to have that kind of preparation as he’s posting.”
While Sims and Thompson match muscles down low, sophomore Dion Harris and junior Daniel Horton will split time at point guard. Horton is still working his way back into the lineup and, according to Amaker, may return to his starting position tonight. Horton is in no particular hurry to be on the court at tipoff.
“If I start, I start,” Horton said. “If I don’t, I’d feel fine coming off the bench. Those guys have played well for over a month without me being in the starting lineup or playing at all.”
Michigan will have to cope with Northwestern’s Princeton-style offense, which is an anomaly in the Big Ten. The Wildcats beat Indiana last week but then suffered quite a blow when they traveled to East Lansing and were crushed by Michigan State.
The Wolverines will also have to deal with junior forward Vuksic Vedran, who averages 16.3 points per game.
The Big Ten has already proven to be an evenly matched conference — Indiana has beaten Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio State have beaten previously No. 14 Iowa, and, last night, Wisconsin toppled the Buckeyes. Only No. 1 Illinois and No. 15 Michigan State have 2-0 conference records.
In a league where it is abundantly clear that no win is a gimmie, the Wolverines must operate under just one motto tonight in their opening Big Ten game at Crisler Arena.
“That’s one thing that we always strive to do since I’ve been here is protect our home court,” Horton said. “We had one disappointing loss at home this year, and we’re trying to make that the only one.”