Michigan junior Zavier Simpson and Purdue junior Carsen Edwards are plenty familiar with each other. Saturday will mark the sixth time they?ve met on the court as opponents and fourth time as starters. While Edwards is drawing early consideration for National Player of the Year honors, Simpson is Michigan?s defensive engine; the pit bull that leads The Luke Yaklich death machine the Wolverines top-ranked defense has become.
?I know that he (Zavier) is gonna see a lot of great point guards this year and he is just gonna keep working and working,? said John Beilein of tomorrow?s matchup between Edwards and Simpson. ?But Carsen is a different one now, 25 points a game. That is special.?
Edwards faced Michigan three times last season, but had a worse day out as the games progressed:
At Michigan (1/9/18) 30 min, 7/14 FG 19 PTS 1 AST 5 REB
Vs. Michigan (1/25/18) 32 min 4/9 FG 13 PTS 3 AST 1 REB
Big Ten Tournament 37 min 4/16 FG, 12 PTS 8 AST 3 REB
?It is tremendous; it will be a good experience for the both of us and for both of our teams,? Simpson said about Saturday?s Big Ten opener. ?Last year, I don?t feel like it was just myself that made him have some not good games. I think it was a team effort for everyone on court knowing what type of player he (Edwards) is.? He continued when asked about shutting down one of the Big Ten?s best as Michigan won its second-straight Big Ten Tournament title in March.
At the podium, Beilein alluded to Simpson and forward Charles Matthews as two of the most defensively driven players he has coached in his 12 seasons at Michigan. ?It is like football, like having a great shutdown cornerback that you can just play him man to man and he is fine.? The comparison was fitting for Simpson, who played some cornerback in peewee football on Ohio before switching to basketball full-time after eighth grade.
?Definitely since I?ve been here,? Simpson answered when asked about his defensive prowess and aggression. ?It is just more of a pride issue; there is no secret to defense? Defense is not a science, I don?t think about this guy goes left, this guy goes right, it?s just more mental, there are no secret weapons to defense,? he stated plainly.
Despite the Wolverines’ top-ranked defense and three quality wins in hand (Villanova, Providence, UNC) the coach and his team are refusing to get ahead of themselves after finishing November undefeated for the first time since 2012 (you may remember that Michigan team made it all the way to the national championship.)
?This is unusual to have seven games in, and it?s just November,? Beilein commented. This season?s November 6th opener is a far cry from Beilein?s first year at Canisius (his first Division 1 job) when the Golden Griffins opened their season at Duke with a 110-62 loss to Mike Krzyzewski, Bobby Hurley, Grant Hill, and Cherokee Parks. ?I am trying to pace it, but there should not be in our minds any difference in what we just did, or in the middle of the season or playing Michigan State, turn around and play Purdue, and turn around and play Northwestern the next day. It should not be any different for us.? Beilein?s mentality of keeping his team on its toes has worked so far, and after this week the Wolverines will get a chance to rest with only four games from December 8th to December 30th.
Saturday will give Michigan a chance for its third win in four tries at home against Purdue. The lone loss came in January where the Boilermakers escaped with a 70-69 victory marred by a controversial finish. Charles Matthews had the ball knocked loose while driving to the basket but the referees granted Michigan possession. A lengthy video replay review then gave possession to Purdue, and an Isaac Haas free throw gave Purdue the winning point. Simpson says that game comes to mind, but cannot cast a cloud over Michigan?s preparation. ?We do, but then again we just have to move on, we are taking steps forward, not trying to look behind us? reflected Simpson. ?Obviously that was a pretty crucial moment for the loss we took here, but then again, it be like that sometimes.? he put plainly.
Saturday?s matchup is a game between likely conference frontrunners but is also the only meeting between Michigan and Purdue this year barring a rematch in Chicago during the Big Ten Tournament. Coming off the win Michigan had against UNC, the Wolverines don?t want to suffer a letdown at home, but as he says about most games not played in March, John Beilein viewed Saturday as an opportunity.
?If we shoot like we did against North Carolina, we got a chance; if not, it?s really gonna be a tough night so we just gotta work at defending, shooting, just feeling who we are, and how we can continue to grow,? Beilein said near the end of his press conference.
Every game is a chance for growth for a team as young as Michigan?s, and a win Saturday will continue a growing hope for the program, and its fans, that Michigan can win the Big Ten regular-season title that has eluded them since 2014.