Sophomore point guard Zavier Simpson was replaced in the starting lineup five games into the season.
Following his solid two-way performance in Tuesday’s win at Iowa, it appears Simpson has a chance to regain the role from freshman Eli Brooks.
“He’s got more experience right now,” Michigan coach John Beilein said of Simpson during his weekly radio show Wednesday night. “Eli is certainly giving us some really good minutes. You look at him, for a freshman he’s done really well.
“But at the same time, that position as it goes along there will always be a challenger there and I got to watch the next two days of practice. Either guy could start coming up this Saturday (against Illinois).”
Simpson started the first four games of the season but the offense sputtered and was stagnant at times. After a narrow loss to LSU in the opening round of the Maui Invitational in November, Beilein opted to swap out Simpson for Brooks in the lineup because the offense flowed better with the freshman on the floor.
Brooks has started every game since, while Simpson has assumed the role of the closer and go-to defender down the stretch.
But Simpson’s offense and passing has picked up in recent weeks. He leads the team in 3-point shooting at 44 percent (11-for-25), and ranks second in field-goal percentage at 56 percent (32-for-57) and total assists with 49.
Over the last five games, Simpson has 33 points, 26 assists and four turnovers and Brooks has four points, eight assists and three turnovers.
That includes Tuesday’s performance where Simpson spearheaded the bench effort with 15 points, seven assists and no turnovers all while disrupting Iowa guard Jordan Bohannon on defense. Simpson also started the second half and played 32 of the final 34 minutes of the game, while Brooks was scoreless and had one turnover in eight minutes, his least amount of playing time since the third game of the season.
According to Beilein, the task for Simpson is to consistently bring that same type of effort every single night moving forward.
“I feel like I’m capable to be a leader of the team,” Simpson said following the win at Iowa. “For example, whenever I come in, I have to play great defense so it can spread to my team.
“They feel the intensity. They can feel my energy. ‘Oh, he’s playing great defense. I don’t won’t to be the one that when my man catches the ball that I’m lackadaisical or not able to play defense.’ So, I just feel like whatever I do out there I just want to be contagious.”