DeShawn Sims and Manny Harris have scored at least 20 points each in six games this year -- and Michigan has won all six times.
The highest-scoring duo in the Big Ten at 35.9 points per game, Sims and Harris account for 55 percent of Michigan's offense, though they haven't always been clicking at the same time.
Harris, the Wolverines' leading scorer (18.4 ppg), has struggled with slow starts. He scored two points in the first half of a road loss to Indiana, had two field goals in the first 35 minutes of a loss at Wisconsin, and slumped through a two-point first half in a win over Penn State.
Harris has taken more of a lead role in most of the games both he and Sims have hit the magic 20-point mark. He scored 11 points in the first half of a win last week against Minnesota, and, more important, got to the free throw line four times.
Sims, Michigan's top scorer in conference play (19.5 ppg), still finished with a game-high 27 points against the Gophers, but he's better able to weather a secondary role early. Michigan's only post threat, Sims is guaranteed to get his share of touches inside (he had four offensive rebounds against Minnesota).
With no reliable third scoring option and one of the thinnest benches in the league, Michigan's best chance to finish the season strong is to keep Harris aggressive by making him the focal point of the offense early in games.
--True freshman point guard Darius Morris has been a sliver of hope in Michigan's otherwise disappointing season. Morris is averaging 8.0 points over Michigan's last three games and has proved to be a solid floor general since returning to the starting lineup at Wisconsin. He's gone five straight games with more assists than turnovers.
--Michigan's 71-point outburst last week against Minnesota was its first 70-point game since a Jan. 3 win over Evan Turner-less Ohio State (73-64). In the 10 games in between, Michigan went 4-1 when it scored at least 60 points and 0-5 in games it was held below 60.
--Manny Harris told reporters after Michigan's loss at Northwestern that he plans to return for his senior season. "A lot of these guys, like myself, got to come back and play next year," Harris told The Detroit Free Press, adding that he's confident in his decision.
ON THE SPOT: Michigan plays nine men most nights, with inconsistent shooters Laval Lucas-Perry and Anthony Wright its top two subs. Freshman Matt Vogrich doesn't even make the scouting report -- he's scored 13 points in 12 Big Ten games -- and Zack Gibson gets bit minutes only because of his size. Coach John Beilein might consider trimming his rotation even more if Michigan's going to make a run and reach the NIT.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "During the practice time we've had the last couple of weeks, we've really worked at just seeing the floor better, not running plays but being a player. Sometimes we don't see anything and then we go around like robots. That's been a major emphasis the last couple of weeks." -- Michigan coach John Beilein on his team's improved play of late.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SEASON RECAP: Michigan stopped an ugly slide, in which it had lost five of six games, with a win at Minnesota. Still, the Wolverines season would be an unqualified disappointment. Michigan began the season ranked in the top 15 and might not even make the NIT. The Wolverines are 12-12, including a win over Division II Northern Michigan, and lack size, consistent shooters and leadership.
PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters -- G Manny Harris, G Darius Morris, G Zach Novak, G Stu Douglas, F DeShawn Sims. Key Subs -- G Laval Lucas-Perry, F Anthony Wright, C Zack Gibson.
Northwestern 67, Michigan 52
Wisconsin 62, Michigan 44
Michigan 71, Minnesota 63
at Iowa, Tuesday, Feb. 16
vs. Penn State, Saturday, Feb. 20
vs. Illinois, Tuesday, Feb. 23
at Ohio State, Saturday, Feb. 27
vs. Minnesota, Tuesday, March 2
IN FOCUS: Michigan had one of its best defensive efforts of the season in a 60-46 win over Tuesday's opponent, Iowa, earlier this year. The Wolverines jumped to a 17-2 lead and held the Hawkeyes without a field goal for the first nine minutes. The Big Ten's second worst field-goal defense team, Michigan held Iowa to just 30.9 percent shooting.
--Redshirt freshman Ben Cronin, who's out for the season with complications from hip surgery, told AnnArbor.com he still hopes to resume his basketball career. Michigan coach John Beilein said Cronin's career likely was over when he announced the 7-footer's injury earlier this season. Cronin, who missed most of last year with a left hip injury, still walks with a noticeable limp.
--Center Zack Gibson has played more than 10 minutes just once in Big Ten play, but Gibson could see more court time in the coming weeks as Michigan plays teams with big front lines like Minnesota and Illinois. He made two 3-pointers in last week's win against the Gophers, his first two triples since a Dec. 2 loss to Boston College.
--Stu Douglass continues to struggle with his shot -- he's 10-of-35 from the floor (28.6 percent) since scoring 13 points against UConn last month -- but the sophomore guard is contributing in other ways. Douglass has seven assists and no turnovers in Michigan's last two games and notched a career-best five steals at Minnesota.
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