Sunday, January 6, 2008

Harris, Sims must lead Michigan


Here's what someone who didn't watch Michigan's 65-58 loss to Purdue Saturday might glean from today's game story:

These Wolverines, now 4-10, are the quickest team in school history to reach double digits in losses.


But watching the Wolverines battle Purdue on its homecourt Saturday, I saw hope in the form of two young players.

Freshman Manny Harris and sophomore DeShawn Sims.

The guard-forward duo simply refused to let Michigan receive its annual shellacking at Mackey Arena.

Despite going nine minutes, 37 seconds without a basket in the first half and trailing by 14 at the break, Harris and Sims ignited a furious second-half rally that pulled Michigan to within two points on three occasions.

Sims initially pulled got the Wolverines within a basket by swishing two 3-pointers, including a contested 3 after he used a jab space to create a small sliver of space.

Then the freshman took over, consistently driving to the basket and scoring or getting to the free-throw line, where he didn't miss in the half. Harris also showed his versatility, stepping back for a late jumper that pulled Michigan within three.

Purdue's young squad, however, refused to miss free throws in the final minutes, making seven in a row and 11 of its last 12 from the line to pull out the win.

And leave Michigan with another loss.

But here's another great thing about the precocious Harris. As hard as losing hits him, he finds light in each "L," always looking toward the future — which is the only way this history-making (in a bad way) Michigan team can stay positive.

"Our best is still to come, and we're still getting better," Harris told the Ann Arbor News. "You can pull a lot of positives out of this game, but it's still a negative because we lost."

Well-said, Manny.

In all, Harris (25 points) and Sims (15) scored 29 of Michigan's 38 second-half points. And that was with Purdue's defense keying on them. A player is good when he can score against a team-focused defense. A player is great when he can score when a defense is determined to stop him.

Let's be realistic. As much as any good player and any good coach wants to win every single game in which they compete, this season isn't — and shouldn't be — about wins and losses. It would be unwise for John Beilein or any player to set a goal of, say, 15 wins.

They'd just be setting themselves up for disappointment — a common theme under Tommy Amaker's six Michigan teams.

Rather, this year is about the underclassmen becoming comfortable with each other and Beilein's complex Princeton-style offense and 1-3-1 trapping defense. It's about this team showing in spurts what it can be — all the time — two years down the road.

And it's about the future leaders of that future team emerging.

If it wasn't clear before Saturday, it is now that Harris and Sims are Michigan's "dynamic duo," the pair that might finally lead the Wolverines back to the NCAA tournament.

Sims is the player who best understands Beilein's system. He knows that big men like him must step out to shoot 3s over defenders unwilling to defend on the perimeter. And he made a beautiful bounce-pass feed to a cutting Ron Coleman for a layup in the second half Saturday.

Harris is easily Michigan's most talented player. He still makes freshman mistakes — on a side note, is "freshman mistake" still a viable phrase in today's freshmen-dominated college basketball environment? — such as his pair of bad passes out of bounds Saturday, and he finished with a team-high four turnovers.

But when he also leads Michigan with those career-high 25 points and five rebounds, the giveaways don't look so bad.

What's most important is that Harris is a player who can create shots for himself and get to the free-throw line — from which he's money — when nothing else is working offensively. He played a team-high 36 minutes versus Purdue, but he also scored Michigan's last four points to keep it in the game. His legs were far from dead in the closing minutes.

So now the brutal road continues with a home contest against No. 12 Indiana on Tuesday. The game will mark six ranked opponents in Michigan's first 15 games.

Again, ouch.

But even with each loss, Michigan fans can hold out hope that an NCAA tournament birth isn't that far down the road thanks to the play and leadership of a freshman and a sophomore.


Tyler Hampton said...

I think that leadership from underclassmen is the best possible thing that could happen to Michigan right now. I am looking for some of that in Illinois, but have failed to find it. Good young players gives the team a couple years to get some more really good young guys who can come up following the soon to be seasoned veterans who are making a name for themselves now. I wish all big ten teams well when they aren't playing Illinois.

zekejennings said...

A much needed win over the Wildcats. It's sad to say, but with what Michigan has this season, every victory is at a premium.

You're right about Harris and Sims. That's basically all Michigan has in the way of good Big Ten talent. Everybody else is a role player, at best, or doesn't even belong on a Big Ten roster. Laval Lucas-Perry shoud help next season and the returning players should be that much better after a full season under Beilein. I don't know about an NCAA Tournament bid, but I think there will be dramatic improvement.

How are things in Carolina?

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