Michigan targets improved defense vs. Southern Utah

NCAA Men's Basketball

It will be a homecoming of sorts for sixth-year Southern Utah coach Todd Simon when he takes his Thunderbirds to visit Michigan on Saturday in Ann Arbor.

Simon, a native of Fowler, Mich., earned his bachelor’s degree at Central Michigan, about a two-hour drive from the University of Michigan. But this trip will be strictly business as Southern Utah (7-3) opposes the so-far underwhelming Wolverines (6-4), who have tumbled out of the Top 25 entirely after being ranked as high as No. 4 last month.

Michigan’s problems can be traced to the departure of standout guards Isaiah Livers and Mike Smith, both of whom shot over 41 percent from beyond the arc last season, helping the Wolverines to a team long-distance rate of 38.7 percent. Michigan is shooting just 33.7 percent from 3-point range this season.

Coastal Carolina transfer DeVante’ Jones, who averaged 17 points in three seasons for the Chanticleers, is scoring only 6.8 points per game for the Wolverines. He had a season-high 14 points in a 75-65 loss to Minnesota on Saturday yet still was 0-for-4 from long distance and is shooting 25 percent on 3-point tries.

Michigan coach Juwan Howard said his team was “not ready to start the second half” against Minnesota. “There were too many blow-bys,” in other words, defenders letting players go right past them. One would think that would be less of a problem against a team from the Big Sky Conference.

The Gophers shot 50.9 percent from the floor, and Howard said, “There was too much inconsistency (on defense).”

Simon’s team should be fresh, coming off a 100-61 pounding of NAIA Saint Katherine (Calif.) on Tuesday.

“I thought for 40 minutes 12 guys gave all they had, which was outstanding,” Simon said.

John Knight III leads the Thunderbirds with averages of 18.1 points and 4.0 assists.

Knight had 31 points in a double-overtime loss at California on Nov. 18. That defeat is notable because Simon produced video evidence, verified by an ESPN.com reporter from the Pac-12 Network broadcast, that Southern Utah was shorted a point in regulation on a made free throw. It was not restored despite Simon’s protests.

Obviously, the game may have played out differently had that foul shot been properly credited.

–Field Level Media

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