Sophomore guard Zavier Simpson is known more for his tenacious defense than his opportune offense.
So, it might come as a bit of a surprise that Simpson is Michigan’s leading 3-point shooter through 13 games at 47.4 percent.
“Isn’t that something?” coach John Beilein said following Michigan’s 90-58 win over Detroit Mercy last weekend. “He deserves it. He’s another one of these guys that you worry about him because he spends so much time getting extra shots up.”
That extra work seems to have paid off for Simpson as of late. Through the first nine games of the season, he was 4-for-12 from 3-point range — with several bad misses — and scored in double figures just once.
But over the past four games, Simpson’s production has picked up off the bench. He has scored at least 11 points three times and has knocked down 71.4 percent (5-for-7) of his 3-pointers, including both of his deep balls against Detroit Mercy.
Granted, starters Duncan Robinson (27-for-78), Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (18-for-55), Moritz Wagner (18-for-47) and Charles Matthews (14-for-38) have at least twice as many 3-point attempts, but all four are also more relied upon on the offensive end than Simpson is.
As a result, Simpson’s numbers are a byproduct of him taking advantage of his limited opportunities.
“I think that by trying to do less, he’s doing more,” Beilein said. “He and (fellow point guards) Eli (Brooks) and Jaaron (Simmons) were always taking extra dribbles. They still need to score to make their team win. I want them to look to score, don’t get that wrong. But they got to hit the open man quicker.”
Simpson finished with 12 points on 5-for-7 shooting, seven assists, five rebounds, three steals and no turnovers in 19 minutes in the win over Detroit Mercy. But the most important stat to Beilein was the zero personal fouls.
“Putting teams in the 1-and-1, putting them in double bonus has been an albatross that’s been around his neck the whole time,” Beilein said. “That has really kept him from really being a better player. He can guard without fouling, and he did it (Saturday).”
While Simpson has embraced his role as a tone-setter and go-to defender in crunch time, his recent scoring surge is a boon with the resumption of Big Ten play on the horizon.
“He’s growing a lot,” Robinson said. “I think he’s just getting more and more comfortable out there. Obviously he brings so much defensively for us. He’s so tough on that end, but I think you guys have really seen his game grow on the offensive end more and more. We see it a lot in practice and it’s great that he’s starting to experience a lot of success in these games.”
Beilein was confident Robinson’s shooting numbers would regress toward the mean. It seems all it took was a bout with laryngitis and a new venue to help snap his slump.
Prior to last Saturday, Robinson was shooting 20.6 percent (7-for-34) from the floor and 18.5 percent (5-for-27) from 3-point range over his last five games.
Against Detroit Mercy, Robinson scored 11 points — all in the first half — and was dialed in from long range. He knocked down three of his four 3-point attempts, with one make coming from well behind the arc.
“It makes a big difference for us when he can do that,” Beilen said. “I see it in practice. He hasn’t had an off day in practice yet. He just had four or five games that were very not typical of him.
“He was 42 percent last year, he was (45) percent (the year) before. He’ll get back to 38, 39, 40 percent. The bad start might affect it now, but as we get into games people wouldn’t realize that he gives us so much more space on the floor. People haven’t left him for two years now.”
Robinson is shooting 34.6 percent from 3-point range for the season, which ranks sixth on the team for players with at least 15 3-point attempts.
Michigan added freshman Rico Ozuna-Harrison to the roster as a walk-on earlier this week.
Ozuna-Harrison, a 5-foot-11, 165-pound guard, played two varsity seasons at Detroit Cass Tech and was a team captain his senior year.
He has been practicing with Michigan as a member of the scout team since walk-on tryouts in late October and might start dressing for home games. He will wear No. 14.
Alabama A&M at Michigan
Tip-off: 9 p.m. Thursday, Crisler Center, Ann Arbor
TV/radio: ESPNU/WWJ 950
Records: Alabama A&M 0-11, Michigan 10-3
Outlook: Michigan is 6-0 at home and will play four of its next five at Crisler Center … Alabama A&M ranks 347th in the nation in RPI and is one of six Division I teams with a winless record. Ten of its 11 losses have been by double digits.