1/13/2019 – Michigan 80, Northwestern 60 – 17-0, 6-0 Big Ten
The inevitable question came in the post-game press conference: what was the difference between Zavier Simpson's shots tonight and the ones that got him lifted for crunch time in Welsh-Ryan? Beilein went for the laugh line first: "the ball went in." The assembled press duly laughed. Same question to Chris Collins, same answer.
One question, to both head coaches, and the exact same answer.
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) January 14, 2019
But because John Beilein is John Beilein, he realized that was flip and dismissive. So he quickly followed that up with "that's a great question" and noted two things. The first: Northwestern was the first and to-date-only team to leave him open like that. The implication was that despite the shots being open Simpson was maybe not mentally prepared to take them.
The second: Simpson took the Northwestern sag as "a personal affront." Northwestern made Zavier Simpson mad. This is inadvisable.
So anyway there was a heat check at the end of that. It followed on from the first step-back 18-footer of Simpson's career and five makes from three in nine attempts. Heat checks are generally annoying since they are by definition bad shots.
This one had to be taken. Zavier Simpson had to continue shooting ever more improbably until he missed. If he hit the heavily contested off the dribble three that clanged, the next time down was going to be a flip throw.
This is not 'Nam. There are rules. Flip throw.
Perhaps lost in the second-half delirium was the first-half delirium when Jon Teske did more or less the same thing, flinging in three first-half three pointers and subsequently breaking the brains of his opposition. Dererk Pardon went from nine career three point attempts to thirteen without banking another one in. Pardon's backup, Barrett Benson, flung one so wide of the backboard it might have been a poorly-disguised assassination attempt against a photographer.
Northwestern's centers were convinced that this was magical opposite day. They thought they might live out their Steph Curry fantasies, and who could blame them? I counted my limbs last night and was unsure whether to be relieved or disappointed when there were still four of them. Surely in such circumstances a tall man will be permitted to hit career three pointer #3, in Crisler Arena where the walls between dimensions are thin.
It was not to be so for Pardon and Benson, who don't have the reserves of sheer cussedness that Simpson does. They cannot refine their anger to a fine white-hot line and use it for revenge and mincing garlic.
Simpson can. His career has been one long exercise in proving the skeptics wrong. And there were many skeptics, including yours truly. I may have wondered in the MGoSlack chat what Beilein saw in a 5'10" point guard who couldn't shoot. I still wonder what Beilein thought he was getting when he got tired of waiting for Cassius Winston. Beilein's as close as anyone can be to a genius when it comes to doing the basketball, but I struggle to believe even he saw a world in which a player who is the very opposite of everything he's done in 40 years of coaching became the beating heart of a 17-0 team.
But then nobody envisioned a Zavier Simpson heat check in a pulsating arena, either. Expectations are just another way to piss off the last man in the world you want to motivate.
[After THE JUMP: Fun With Torvik, Teske edition.]