Any scoring guard that’s gone up against Michigan basketball likely does not care for Zavier Simpson. A prime example would be Carsen Edwards, Purdue’s All-American sophomore and one of the highest scoring point guards in the country at 18.5 points per game. In the Big Ten Tournament final on March 4, Simpson held Edwards to 12 points on 4-for-16 shooting. The Wolverines beat the Boilermakers, 75-66, to secure their second straight conference tournament title.
Nearly a month later, Simpson and No. 3 seed Michigan have defended their way to the Final Four. They’ll take on No. 11 seed Loyola Chicago in the first national semifinal at 6:09 p.m. ET on Saturday in San Antonio. A win would secure a date with either Villanova or Kansas on Monday night and a shot at the program’s second-ever national championship.
Should the Wolverines go all the way, Simpson’s defense on opposing backcourt players will likely be a significant reason why. So, let’s learn a little more about the sophomore floor general from Lima, Ohio.
1. It’s Zavier Simpson now, not Xavier Simpson
Well, it was Xavier. He went by Xavier, or “X”, as a freshman last season.
But before the 2017-18 campaign, he changed his name to Zavier, his birth name, due to a personal issue he declined to discuss.
The letter swap took some time for Simpson’s coaches and teammates to get used to, but by after a quiet start, he’s become a household name for the Wolverines.
2. A heralded recruit, Zavier Simpson rarely contributed as a freshman
Coming out of Lima Senior High School, Simpson appeared to be a player that could contribute to a Division I program right away. According to 247Sports, Simpson was a 4-star recruit and the No. 67 overall prospect in the country for 2016. Furthermore, he was the 13th-best point guard in a loaded class. Simpson was also named Ohio Mr. Basketball and the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year.
Instead, Simpson spent his freshman year behind All-Big Ten guard Derrick Walton. While Walton averaged a team-high 15.5 points per game, leading Michigan to a Big Ten tournament title and an appearance in the Sweet 16, Simpson scored less than 2 points in 8.7 minutes per game.
3. Zavier Simpson has had a significantly larger role as a sophomore
With Walton off the the professional ranks, Simpson has taken the reigns of the Wolverines.
He’s played in all 29 games, averaging 26.3 points, 7.5 points, 3.7 assists and 3.3 rebounds per game. He also leads the team with 1.3 steals per game.
With Simpson leading the way, this year’s Michigan team enters its eighth-ever Final Four on a 13-game winning streak.
4. Zavier Simpson is not a good free throw shooter
Simpson presents a tough decision for coach John Beilein at the end of games. He’s a sure-handed point guard, so it makes sense to keep him on the floor when teams are pressuring and trapping in an attempt to get back into the game. On the other hand, Simpson is the exact player opposing teams want on the foul line at the end of tight contests.
After shooting around 71 percent from the foul line last season, he’s just a shade over 50 percent this year. That’s the worst percentage on the team among rotation players.
5. Zavier Simpson has tried to combat his poor free throw shooting with an unusual routine
Simpson was not satisfied with his free throw shooting percentage, so on Feb. 19 against Ohio State, he unveiled a new routine.
He took one dribble to his right and placed the ball on his right shoulder before releasing. It worked, at least in that game, as Simpson shot 4-for-6 from the line in the win. That brought his percentage up to 49.1 percent.
But based on his season-long numbers from the charity strike, the new routine has not made much of a difference.