Matthews/Simpson - best defenders in UM basketball history?

Submitted by ypsituckyboy on January 7th, 2019 at 9:41 AM

After watching Charles Matthews eat Indiana's lunch in the 1st half of the game on Sunday, it got me wondering if he and Simpson may be #1 and #2 on the list of best defenders in Michigan basketball history. They're definitely the best I've seen during the time I could actually analyze the game.

I assume Gary Grant may also be in the conversation, but I was probably too busy playing with my blocks when he was showcasing his skills.

Old guys, any other names that you think would be ahead of them?



January 7th, 2019 at 9:53 AM ^

He's the one you hear the most about, but I honestly can't even think of any UM players in the past 25-30 years that were lockdown defenders.

I don't recall any UM players being in contention for Defensive Player of the Year in the B1G. Not sure how long the award has been around, though. Maybe Wolverine Devotee can find the list. Couldn't find it via google.


January 7th, 2019 at 9:53 AM ^

Gary Grant and Joe Johnson are definitely more than "in the conversation".

Johnny Orr's teams, in general, played outstanding defense...they were always small but quick and tenacious. I will never forget the night Wisconsin came in to town deciding to go big, 6'11", 6'11", 6'11", 6'7", 6'7", and go over the top of Michigan. The only problem is they ignored the fact the you, realistically, cannot play this game without dribbling the basketball...I don't know how many steals and fast break lay-ups Joe had that night...but it was damn entertaining-for Michigan fans!!!


January 7th, 2019 at 9:53 AM ^

I never thought Loy Vought got the accolades deserved.

His defensive rebounding was beautiful thing to behold. And the guy had moxie. 

He's up there with Juwan as one of my favorites of all time.


January 7th, 2019 at 9:53 AM ^

I never thought Loy Vought got the accolades deserved.

His defensive rebounding was beautiful thing to behold. And the guy had moxie. 

He's up there with Juwan as one of my favorites of all time.

Mike Damone

January 7th, 2019 at 9:54 AM ^

During the mid-80s, Roy Tarpley was not only a great offensive player, but was a really terrific defender in the post.  Believe he still has the most shot blocks in a season for the Wolverines.

He had a few terrific years in the pros as well - but his legendary and infamous substance abuse at Michigan and later years caught up with him.  If not, who knows how good he could have been.


January 7th, 2019 at 12:33 PM ^

My best friend's son lived next to Tarpley and Relford. Knocked on their door one day, because Tarpley had parked his SUV (A nice new Bronco from Varsity Ford) in his spot. Tarpley answered the door stoned. Haze of smoke in the apt. There was a huge bong on the kitchen table. He said they were leaving for practice as soon as Relford and his girlfriend were "finished."My friend's son asked him how he could practice like that. His response was that he'd been doing it since 8th grade, and wasn't stopping now.


January 7th, 2019 at 9:58 AM ^

The Shigs Higgins comes to mind for his put back bucket against Illinois in '89.  Has nothing to do with defense or this thread, but just a great little memory to ease me into a Monday morning.


January 7th, 2019 at 9:59 AM ^

Here are a couple of names who stood out for their defense. Some of them had pretty good offense as well:

Gary Grant

Loy Vaught

Juwan Howard

Ricky Green

Maceo Baston

Ray Jackson

Trey Burke


January 7th, 2019 at 12:13 PM ^

Burke also wasn't a great defender.  He was good sometimes as he gambled and thus could come up with some steals here and there (the big one obviously being the one against MSU), but like most of the rest of that 2013 team, he didn't really put forth the effort on that end of the floor on a consistent enough basis and isn't naturally long or quick enough to get away with that.

Not really his fault, the staff didn't hold guys accountable for defense not put them in the best positions for success during those years. And that's the biggest difference between then and now.  Had Tim Hardaway, Glenn Robinson and Trey Burke (and for that matter, Jalen Rose, Chris Webber, Darius Morris, etc.) been coached by Luke Yaklich, there's no reason they wouldn't be in this conversation as well.


January 7th, 2019 at 10:00 AM ^

I wouldn't limit the defensive talent to two guys, the TEAM defense is the best I've ever seen it, having a "defensive coordinator" has really helped, and the guys you mentioned are certainly making a big impact. But the team is making those guys better and Coach B's system enables any or all of them to shine.


January 7th, 2019 at 1:01 PM ^

Totally agree because Teske and Livers are in this conversation too and it's no coincidence that four guys on the same team are playing stellar defense.  They've bought into playing focused, playing hard, and playing smart on every possession.  That's a testament to Yaklich and team leadership.


January 7th, 2019 at 10:06 AM ^

I would put Simpson's defense on par with Gary Grant and Ricky Green, but the offense is where he (Simpson) falls short.  Both Grant and Green could regularly light up the scoreboard both driving and shooting.  Simpson can drive, but he's left alone and asked to shoot by the defense - not by his own teammates!

And honestly, I'm not sure Green's defense was as consistently good as either Grant or Simpson.  He was so far back that even my 'get off my lawn' memory is fuzzy!

Section 1.8

January 7th, 2019 at 10:14 AM ^

My top 3:

1. Wayman Britt

2. Gary Grant

3. Steve Grote

My choice of Wayman Britt is "by far" Number 1.  Isn't the basketball team's award for "Best Defensive Player" the Wayman Britt Award or something like that?  Wayman Britt was unbelievable on defense.  He was a totally undersized forward whose assignment was usually to take on the absolute best offensive player from the other team and play him man to man.  And Wayman won a lot of games for Michigan by shutting down the opposition's best scorers.

Gary Grant was to defense what Glenn Rice was to offense.  A collegian, who was already playing at an NBA level in Crisler Arena.

And Steve Grote was the all-time best hustler and disruptor I think we have ever had on defense.  I am a bit surprised that with all of the younger fans here, nobody has mentioned Zack Irvin.  But Steve Grote was a much better defender.

I also think that a very underrated defender was Jalen Rose.  By far, he was the best underclassman defensive player we've ever had at Michigan.


January 7th, 2019 at 10:36 AM ^

I almost included Britt with my original take, here. He was built like a brick-was a college version of "The round mound of rebound". He was likely only 6'2"...playing forward. And a couple years ahead of him "Bird" Carter was playing forward-at about 6'0"...I don't know what that kid's vertical was but he could sure "fly". Fun memories...and Rudy T averaging 30 points a game...OMG could he shoot the rock...and that was before the 3 point shot!


January 7th, 2019 at 10:40 AM ^

It ain't the Wayman Britt award for nothing.

Grote played some nasty defense. The Bruce Parkinson blast to the face alone will always put him near the top of any defender list for me. 

Joe Johnson was/is underrated from that same group of teams.

Phil Hubbard was a way under appreciated defender, particularly, pre knee injury. He had off the charts quickness both laterally and off the floor.

Gary Grant was a dominate defender.

Nobody wanted to handle the ball much around Ricky Green.

Most people have never got that the Fabs did it with defense. They were all so long and played Fischer's double down thing so incredibly well. Those teams made good offenses play so incredibly ugly. Which with the ugly the Fabs brought to the table on offense, made some of those games historically ugly. Juwan Howard was probably the best defender in a really strong group.

Section 1.8

January 7th, 2019 at 11:13 AM ^

I'll just add one name because some readers here might be interested from the inter-generational standpoint...

That name is Dan Fife.  The father of Dugan and Dane and a 2-sport stud at Michigan.  Captain and MVP of the basketball team in 70-71.  Drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks but entered major league baseball as a pitcher for the Twins.



January 7th, 2019 at 10:35 AM ^

Jordan Morgan was probably the best hedge and recover defenders I have ever seen. He probably was our best post defender in the past decade, but Teske is approaching that level now.


January 7th, 2019 at 11:10 AM ^

Big men - C. Webb & Loy Vaught 

Wings - Bernard Robinson & Jimmy King

Guards - Gary Grant & Rumeal 

This is, collectively, the best "team defense" I have seen in all of my years watching us. 


January 7th, 2019 at 11:29 AM ^

I'm going to miss Simpson when he graduates. Sure he can be frustrating when it comes to free throws or his 3 point shot, but his defensive ability, leadership, and his knack for getting to the rim and making tough shots will be missed. 

I truly believe he is the lifeblood of this team and a major reason why they have gone on this great run.


January 7th, 2019 at 11:52 AM ^

Jordan Poole by the end of the year

I kid...maybe...don't underestimate anything he can do...his complete game including some damned good defense...seems to improve weekly.

Wayman Britt and Zack Novak were two great defenders by their senior years.



January 7th, 2019 at 1:44 PM ^

Zack Novak does deserve honorable mention too.  He was the emotional leader of his teams in the way that Simpson is now.  He got guys to play hard with him. 

That 10-11 team with Douglas, Morris, Novak and Morgan was on par with the 12-13 national title team on the defensive end (both teams were 37th in the kenpom) as the best pre-Yaklich defensive teams Beilein ever had.  That's pretty amazing given the talent disparity between those teams and is very much a credit to Novak (and Stu).


January 7th, 2019 at 11:53 AM ^

Simpson is really good defensively, but Grant was on another level. Z gives up about 5 inches to Grant. In the WMU game, they had a bigger, taller PG who could shoot over Z. That wouldn’t have happened against the General.

Beilein 4 Life

January 7th, 2019 at 11:55 AM ^

I’m surprised there is only one mention of CWebb. He cleaned the boards and had a lot of blocks. Was he not a good on the ball defender? I always thought him and Howard were really good defenders


January 7th, 2019 at 12:15 PM ^

not the best, but mcgary was a very good rebounder and defender.  i've never seen a center get so many steals, especially at the top of the key, then often go coast to coast for a dunk.  would have liked one more year out of him.


January 7th, 2019 at 1:04 PM ^

The defensive award is named after Wayman Britt for a reason.  A 6'2" forward who usually drew the opponent's top forward and almost always gave away a lot of height. He was amazing in how he could stay with guys and interfere with their positioning and their shots in spite of being several inches shorter.

Steve Grote was also an excellent defender on those teams.  Yeah, I had season tickets in '75-'76 and, yeah, I'm old.  Most fun Michigan team I have ever seen.  Two JUCO transfers (Hubbard and Green) and out of nowhere we go to the championship game and lose to the last undefeated BB team, IU.